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Millennium Music Conference Recap, Night One

February 15, 2008 - Jim Price

As I reported last week, the 12th annual Millennium Music Conference is happening this weekend in the Harrisburg area.  If all goes according to plan, I hope to keep you updated on happenings at the conference with daily updates through the weekend.


Although the Millennium Music Conference doesn’t officially begin until Friday, Thursday night is when the showcase performances commence. 


After arriving and checking into my hotel room at the conference site, the Radisson Penn Harris Hotel and Convention Center in Camp Hill, I made my way to Molly Brannigan’s Irish Pub in downtown Harrisburg, one of three venues running showcases on this light first night of showcase activity.


Maybe it had to do with Valentine’s Day and all the romancers not being in the mood for bars or live music, but Molly Brannigan’s was relatively empty; far less busy than when I was here last year during Millennium (on a Saturday night, this place was wall-to-wall people then).  I ran into one of my Harrisburg area friends, Shel Hoachlander of promotion organization Black Thorn Entertainment and writer for Philadelphia-based local music publication Origivation Magazine.  Shel was in a little bit of “shell” shock, after just paying $14 for a pitcher of Coke!  (14 bucks!?  Was the bartender selling her soda or white powder?)


I thought I had arrived late and would miss part of the first band of the showcase, Harrisburg’s The Illuminati.  However, one of the scheduled performers at this showcase bowed out at the last minute, so The Illuminati started later than their originally-scheduled 9:30 start time, and I didn’t miss any of their performance.  Comprised of singer/guitarist Stephen Musti, guitarist/keyboardist Aaron Hoke, bassist Matthew Boyer and drummer Dana DeLong; The Illuminati presented an overall sound that refuses to be pigeonholed.  This group dabbles in a variety of styles and sounds, ranging from Pink Floyd-like comfortably numb progressive passages, harder rock and funk, trippy 60’s-styled psychedelia and more.  They introduced a number of new songs this night, including the punk-edged “Whole Wide World,” “The Passenger,” and a song that Steve dedicated to presidential hopeful Barack Obama called “New Hope New Voice.”  The group also did songs from their past, including tunes from their most recent CD, Love and Hate, such as “Holiday” and the surging and powerful closer “Picture.”  Although continuing to defy categorization, The Illuminati continues to carve a unique niche for themselves, using the divergent parameters they established on their first two recordings.  Their showcase set was a very solid performance.


After a changeover intermission, the second band of the showcase, Allentown-based trio The Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs, took the stage.  Featuring singer Erin Fowler, guitarist/bassist D.W. Pickman and drummer Bret Talbert, this group played a stripped-down, basic brand of indie/alternative rock slightly reminiscent of the Pixies.  Singer Erin and guitarist D.W. were almost secondary to drummer Bret, whose animated and inventive beats often carried the group’s song material.  The group did mostly original songs from their forthcoming debut CD; including the galloping “Countdown,” “Big Sky” and “Green Eyes;” they closed their set with two covers, Cheap Trick’s “Hello There” and CCR’s “Fortunate Son.” 


Attrition took its toll on what small crowd was in attendance at Molly Brannigan’s, and by the time the third and final band of the evening, New Jersey’s Phoenix Down, took the stage, only a handful of people remained to view them.  Six members strong, Phoenix Down demonstrated a melody-based hard rock sound that was modern, yet tapped the keyboard-driven hard rocking dynamic of more famous Jersey rockers Bon Jovi.  Drummer Joey Napurano sings lead vocals, and the rest of the group harmonizes well with him.  Due to the lack of crowd, Phoenix Down only did five songs before calling it a night, including two songs from an EP they were handing out to fans this night.


Although quiet as opening nights for this conference go, this showcase at Molly Brannigan’s provided three bands with different flavors, and provided a good opening chapter to what should be an exciting weekend of music in the Harrisburg area in the days ahead.

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Stephen Musti of The Illuminati.


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