Altoona First Frontier Festival Day 2: Free bands, craft beers, food trucks, artisan goods

Courtesy photo Stephanie and the Wild Hearts will perform at noon at Downtown Altoona’s Heritage Plaza at noon July 27. From left are: Chad Morral, bass guitar; Bob Onkst, vocals/rhythm guitar; Stephanie Onkst, lead vocals; and Doug Fetter, drums.

The Saturday edition and second day of the Altoona First Frontier Festival features four bands performing at Downtown Altoona’s Heritage Plaza July 27 while attendees partake of craft beers, food trucks and artisans from noon to 6 p.m.

With no admission charges, it’s an opportunity to stretch musical preferences as the diverse performers offer a variety of musical stylings from tribal rock, danceable covers, blues and alternative country.

Stephanie and the Wild Hearts play alternative country at noon

Newly re-named Stephanie and the Wild Hearts, this Hollidaysburg-based band founded by Bob and Stephanie Onkst were gaining regional recognition when a certified letter necessitated a name change.

An international jewelry firm issued a “cease and desist” order forcing the band to change its name but not its Outlaw Country sound.

It’s been six months since The Chrome Hearts morphed overnight into Stephanie and the Wild Hearts leaving Chrome Heart fans lost, merchandise including a new CD languishing and the band re-gaining momentum after that unexpected hiccup.

Stephanie and Bob decided not to fight the David vs Goliath — like battling against the jewelry company that specializes in celebrity clientele.

“We had a day to get a new name,” Stephanie explained as the couple didn’t want the expense of being sued.

“Here’s this international jewelry company with celebrity clients whose lowest-priced offering is $15,000 telling us a band with 3,000 likes to stop marketing ourselves,” she said.

So, band members agreed to put Stephanie’s name out front just as she fronts the Outlaw Country band. Six months later with a new website, a new name and an on-going search for a permanent guitarist, the band is excited to participate in The Altoona First Frontier Festival.

The band fits somewhere between country and rock and roll with a raw energy and original song list including “Jealous of You,” “Money,” and “Oh No.”

“We’re playing the same outlaw or alternative country,” Stephanie said. “It’s a mix of alternative country; rock and roll like Johnny & June, Dwight Yocum, Little Big Town, Jason Aldeen and Luke Bryan, but we give it a harder edge. The rock we play is CCR (Credence Clearwater Revival), Eagles, the Stones, Lynyrd Skynyrd. We keep our audience dancing from the first set to the last set. We only play a slow song if requested. We cater to the audience.”

According to their website, the band previously played such venues as The Grange Fair, where they opened for “The Voice’s” Josh Gallagher, the People’s Choice Festival, the Fulton County Fair, Hollidaysburg Wing Festival, and even a private party for President Jimmy Carter.”

“Our goal is to make audiences happy,” she said, while having fun themselves. “Although the name has changed and our lineup has changed, the people who have heard us and liked us in the past come and listen. Now is your chance to see. We’ve been slowly expanding our reach and playing at different gigs. I always tell people their favorite national act once started as a local band. I’m pretty tenacious and want to take this as far as it will go.”

Cover band r2b2 will play hits from four decades at 1:30 p.m.

For the past nine years, r2b2 has been a popular cover band in the region, well known for playing tunes from the past four decades, such as Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” and Prince’s “Let’s Go Wild” to Jennifer Lopez’s “Let’s Get Loud.”

While the lineup of veteran talent has changed, the current musicians have played together for the past five years, according to Rick Wertz, who describes the band’s performances as “high-energy” that gets audiences dancing to a mix of pop and funk tunes.

Wertz, who attended the inaugural Altoona First Frontier Festival last year as an audience-member said they are looking forward to being a part of the show this time around.

“If people want to experience a mix of genres then this is the day to do it,” Wertz said. “Each band offers something different.”

r2b2 plays regionally and is comprised of music veterans who are noted for smooth harmonies backed by guitars, drums, bass and compelling synth and bass sounds.

Miss Melanie and the Valley Rats deliver the blues at 3 p.m.

Miss Melanie and the Valley Rats are a Mid-Atlantic region touring group based in State College with a well-deserved reputation for delivering soul-scorching blues through naturally-talented lead singer Melanie Morrison who is backed by veteran musicians — guitarist Mark Ross, organist James Harton and drummer Christopher Coyne.

Morrison credits her wide range, compelling tone and substantial vocal chops to her church choir director. Her voice captured the attention of Ross who asked her to narrate a children’s audiobook. At the time, Morrison was newly divorced and been a stay-at-home mom wondering what her next step would be.

“I happened to run into Mark and he had heard I could sing,” Morrison explained. “Really he just wanted to hear me sing. He suggested we get a band together. It was so completely new and terrifying, but I thought if not now, then when?”

Morrison grew up on R&B and hip hop so singing blues with Mark, she said, “seemed very organized and natural.”

“We represent many aspects of the blues, not just one style but many styles, some R&B; we give everything our own take and paint everything with our own brush. We feel the energy of the crowd and each other’s energy and we make it unique and heartfelt.”

One of the band’s most memorable performances came in State College when they opened for the legendary BB King at the 2013 Central Pennsylvania Arts Festival.

“It was a once in a lifetime, amazing experience,” she recalled. “It was five days after our youngest was born, so the older kids were in the audience with my husband and the baby was waiting to nurse back stage. We were in our hometown and our fans came out and everyone was so proud, excited and rooting for us that it kicked the nerves away.”

(Note: Jim Donovan and the Sun King Warriors will perform at 4:30 p.m. at the Heritage Plaza, Downtown Altoona, on July 27. See the July 12 issue of Go for more information.)

Mirror Staff Writer Patt Keith is at 949-7030.

If you go

What: Altoona First Frontier Festival Day 2

When: Noon to 6 p.m. July 27

Where: Heritage Plaza, Downtown Altoona

Tickets: No admission fee; beer, food, crafts for purchase.

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