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A Salute to The Hurricanes

November 6, 2009 - Jim Price
This Sunday night, November 8, musicians and fans from far and wide will converge on 30 Something in Greenwood to honor the Hurricanes’ two decades of live performances and service to the local community, plus raise some funds to help the band with travel expenses when they represent western Pennsylvania in the International Blues Challenge in Memphis in January.

Organized by a number of the group’s musical peers, the “20 Years of the Hurricanes” tribute will begin at 6 p.m., and feature performances from several area and regional blues-based groups.  The Hawks from Altoona will kick off the music, followed by Johnstown blues-rock favorites Who’s Your Daddy, Latrobe’s Tony Mollick Project, a performance by the Hurricanes themselves, and a jam session to finish the show.  Admission to the event is free, and a Fender Highway One Stratocaster guitar will be given away during the event.

It was 20 years ago that a fledgling band called The Hurricanes surfaced out of Gallitzin and began to perform on local stages.  That original Hurricanes line-up featured Felix Kos on lead vocals and guitar, Phil Kolarczyk on bass and (the late) Tom Berardinelli on drums.  The Hurricanes mostly played on stages around the Cresson-Gallitzin area at that point, frequenting venues such as the Blue Moon Saloon and Frank’s Pier (now Mug Shotz) in Gallitzin, and The Hill in Cresson.  The group slowly stretched into Blair County, as Kos began to show up at the weekly Wednesday night jam sessions at Hollidaysburg’s U.S. Hotel with the U.S. Hotel House Band (see my previous blog, “The House Band: A Legacy Lives”).  In 1991, the current edition of the Hurricanes – Kos, Bedford’s Jeff Clapper on bass and Bob Watters on drums – first started playing together.  Clapper and Watters departed the group to focus on other projects in 1993.  Kos continued the Hurricanes with new members, teaming up with former Ozone Rangers bassist Bill Nusom and drummer/singer John McKnight.  This line-up soon secured a weekly Tuesday night gig at City Limits (now 30 Something), and started to build a healthy following in the Altoona area with the weekly performances.  This edition of The Hurricanes lasted until late 1997, when McKnight departed the group to relocate to Atlanta (where he has since become one of the Southeast’s most in-demand drummers).  By 1998, the earlier Hurricanes roster of Kos, Clapper and Watters had reunited, and has been going strong on area stages ever since.

Besides the aforementioned names, many musicians have participated in and contributed to the Hurricanes’ legacy over the years; as fill-in players, regular and special guests, and more.  Call them “honorary Hurricanes” – including Dick Kos (Felix’s brother), Jason Ebersole, Trace Baker, Paul Parrish, Monte Michelangelo, Kevin Siegel, Ron Dalansky, Joe George, Mickey Luckenbaugh, Pat McGinnis (who plays bass during the Hurricanes’ current weekly Sunday night shows at Shaw’s in Juniata), Randy Rutherford, Harold Hayford, Mark Rossi, Chuck Knepper, Dave Villani, Tony Mollick, John Stevens, Fritz Wyland, Clint Carothers, Tom Keith, Steve Bidoli, Lisa Fazenbaker, Jimmy Lee, Barney Sledge, Big Jim Ricotta, Kent Martin, Tom Fronauer, Don Osborn and more; plus lately, Priscilla Gati (known as “Priscilla the Tambourine Lady,” she can be seen keeping time on tambourine in front of the stage at Shaw’s on Sunday nights).  The group has lost a few musical brethren and honorary members along the way; including the aforementioned Tom Berardinelli, Don Ruzzi, Jeff Wallack, Jason Zarecky and Scott Madison.

Besides providing good times and scorching blues and classic rock on stages over their two decades, the Hurricanes have also been one of the most charitable bands in the area; frequently donating their talents to help out benefit events.  The group has performed at Red Cross blood drives, Christmas season Toys for Tots benefits, children’s benefits (such as the annual End of Summer Jam for Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh), community nonprofit benefits, and multiple benefits to help friends and community members in need.  Along with their talents, this community-minded aspect has also contributed to The Hurricanes’ growing popularity and legacy through the years.

In recent years, the Hurricanes’ popularity has grown across the state.  For the past several winters, the group has toured and performed at various state penitentiaries.  The Hurricanes have also been participants in the Western Pennsylvania Blues Challenge.  They won this year’s Blues Challenge at Moondogs in Blawnox (northern Pittsburgh) in April, in the process punching their ticket to appear at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis in January.  Here they will compete against more than 150 other blues bands and performers from around the world for cash, prizes and a date with career destiny.

It has been a storied ride for The Hurricanes over the past two decades, and the group shows no signs of slowing down.  This Sunday night, their 20-year milestone will be recognized and celebrated at 30 Something; and more memorable moments are in the forecast for this musical storm.

30 Something is located at 1524 East Walton Avenue in Greenwood.  For information, call 296-2680.

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It promises to be a legendary evening!


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