Gin Blossoms and others headline Flood City festival
BY KAYLA PONGRAC
Our Town Correspondent
This summer’s AmeriServ Flood City Music Festival line-up has been announced.
The top acts are Gin Blossoms, Cowboy Mouth, Ghost Light, and Brownout presents Brown Sabbath. The bill will be rounded out by the following 13 acts: Dale Watson; Red Baraat; Bill Kirchen; Davina and the Vagabonds; Sue Foley Band; National Park Radio; The Plate Scrapers; Adler and Barath Blues Band; Essential Machine; Jeff Perigo and Friends; Elias Khouri; Afro N’At and Jeff Webb and the Delectable Sound.
This year, Ron Carnevali has returned to his role as festival chairman. He previously served in this role from 1993 to 2012, and he was also instrumental in helping to secure funding for Peoples Natural Gas Park prior to its grand opening in 2012.
Over his 19 years as festival chairman, Carnevali helped bring to Johnstown the following acts: Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown; Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings; Bettye LaVette; Tom Russell; Tab Benoit; Dr. John; Gregg Allman Band; Derek Trucks Band; Grace Potter; Los Lobos and Anders Osbourne, plus many more.
When Carnevali reassumed his position as chairman for this year’s festival, he got to work booking bands that were known for their stellar live shows.
This year, Carnevali was also determined to strengthen what he referred to as the festival’s “midbill.” “Midbill” refers to the artists scheduled to perform “in the middle” of the festival who don’t have as much name recognition. By strengthening the midbill, Carnevali said, the festival itself will become even stronger from start to finish. Some of the artists on this year’s midbill include Davina and the Vagabonds and Bill Kirchen.
“Davina and the Vagabonds ... gosh, Davina is one of the best singers I’ve ever heard,” Carnevali said. “She gives me goosebumps. I think she’s going to be one of our festival’s biggest stars.”
He also mentioned how excited he is to welcome Bill Kirchen (“one of the best guitar players in the world”) back to Johnstown.
“He’s about as nice a guy as you could ever meet, a real pleasure to work with, and our audience just loves him,” Carnevali said.
Shelley Johansson, JAHA’s director of marketing and communications, chimed in with a story about one of Kirchen’s past AmeriServ Flood City Music Festival performances: “One year when Bill Kirchen was here, a train went by and sounded its horn. Bill was in the middle of a song, and without missing a beat, he honked back. The train and Bill continued that call and response, and the audience was on its knees in delight. It was one of the most remarkable moments between an artist and our crowd I’ve ever witnessed at the festival.”
And then there’s Dale Watson.
“Years ago, I tried year after year to get Dale Watson,” Carnevali said, “and I finally got him this year. Our festival-goers have really embraced his style of music.”
When it comes to the festival’s top acts, Carnevali discussed what makes each special.
Gin Blossoms are best known for their hits “Hey Jealousy,” “Follow You Down,” “As Long As It Matters” and “Found Out About You.” The band rose to popularity in 1992 after releasing their album “New Miserable Experience,” which eventually went quadruple platinum and kept them on the charts for nearly three years. Their most recent album, “Mixed Reality,” was released last June.
“Gin Blossoms are a band that has continued to work, record and tour,” Carnevali said. “What I like the best about the Gin Blossoms is they still have a lot of relevance, and the original line-up is very nearly intact.”
Cowboy Mouth, from New Orleans, fuse rock with punk, blues “and the attitude of the Big Easy.” They are fronted by Fred LeBlanc, a former member of the punk band Dash Rip Rock.
“I’ve had the pleasure to see Cowboy Mouth many times,” Carnevali said. “They really engage the audience. They’re a good, old-fashioned rock and roll band that knows how to please a crowd.”
Brownout featuring the music of Brown Sabbath is a nine-piece, Black Sabbath covers-playing horn band formed in 2003 by members of the Grammy Award-winning Grupo Fantasma. They’ve performed at Bonnaroo, High Sierra Music Festival, Pickathon, FFFFest, Bear Creek Music Festival and more, and they also served as backing band for Prince, Daniel Johnston, GZA and Bernie Worrell.
“This is the band that I’ve been hearing the most buzz about more than any other on the line-up,” Carnevali said. “I think they’re going to be a huge hit. There’s even a Boston Globe article that quotes Ozzy Osbourne saying that he heard their stuff and thought it was cool.”
Then there’s Philadelphia’s Ghost Light. They recently released their debut album, “Best Kept Secrets.” Formed in 2017, the group brings together five musicians with five uniquely different approaches and musical backgrounds.
“Ghost Light is sort of a jam-band supergroup,” Carnevali said. “Tom Hamilton is their lead guitar player, and he’s also a member of the band Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, a Grateful Dead cover band. J-RAD, as they are known to fans, is very popular. The band also includes Holly Bowling, who is famous for her piano arrangements of Grateful Dead tunes. The really cool thing about this band is that they are selling out every venue that they play. I feel like I may have found a four-leaf clover when I booked these guys.”
A strong half-dozen bands or musicians on the line-up are local or regional, including Adler and Barath Blues Band, Jeff Perigo and Friends, Afro n’At, Essential Machine, Elias Khouri and Jeff Webb and the Delectable Sound.
“Essential Machine has been recommended to me by a whole host of people,” Carnevali said. “Elias Khouri is only 17-years-old, but he has a lot of skill and he’s been doing a lot of great performances throughout Pittsburgh. I think he’s got a bright future ahead of him.”
Carnevali mentioned that something he loves about the festival is how it gives people an opportunity to discover new bands.
“Frankly, I think that’s an important part of the mission of the festival,” he said.
The public’s overall response to the line-up has been positive so far, he added.
“If you’re happy with what we’re doing, the biggest vote of support you can give us is by purchasing a ticket,” he said.
The festival, as always, will take place the first weekend in August (this year, that’s Aug. 2 and 3) at Peoples Natural Gas Park.
Carnevali reiterated organizers’ appreciation for AmeriServ’s continued support.
“We are grateful to AmeriServ for this impressive record of corporate support,” he said.
This year will mark 25 years that AmeriServ has served as the event’s title sponsor.
“This festival has provided countless hours of entertainment and community camaraderie for our city and the region while providing us with an opportunity to showcase bands that many may not have the opportunity to see or hear otherwise,” said Susan Tomera Angeletti, senior vice president of marketing and alternative delivery at AmeriServ. “We are looking forward to another great festival and we thank the folks at the Johnstown Area Heritage Association for all that they do to make this possible.”
Tickets for the AmeriServ Flood City Music Festival are on sale now, and early-bird ticket pricing is in effect. An Oilhouse (VIP) Pass includes access to the VIP Lounge and the site’s only full bar and indoor restrooms, as well as a special viewing area at the mainstage.
Single-day tickets are to go on sale May 1, and that’s when early-bird pricing expires. Members of Johnstown Area Heritage Association who buy a two-day pass will get a free upgrade to an Oilhouse Pass, but members must purchase tickets in person to take advantage of this special offer.
Tickets can also be purchased at 1st Summit Arena at Cambria County War Memorial during box office hours. Carnevali said he highly recommends that locals who wish to take advantage of the early bird pricing (and who are not JAHA members) go to the arena’s box office because they can save money on ticket fees.
Though the festival is months away, Carnevali said he has one word of advice for festival-goers: come early. Some of the festival’s “biggest acts,” such as Davina and the Vagabonds and Bill Kirchen, are scheduled to go on early, not late.
For more information about the festival, or to purchase early-bird tickets, visit www.floodcitymusic.com.
Proceeds from AmeriServ Flood City Music Festival benefit the Johnstown Area Heritage Association. JAHA operates several local museums, including the Johnstown Flood Museum, The Heritage Discovery Center and Johnstown Children’s Museum. The organization also operates Peoples Natural Gas Park and the Wagner-Ritter house in Cambria City, and is working toward restoring and preserving the Johnstown Train station complex.