Bob Wolensky, organizer of Anthracite Heritage Month, which is this month, said for the first time a night of music will be a Heritage Month event.
The no-cover event will be here in Greater Pittston, from 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 26, at the Susquehanna Brewing Company, 635 S. Main St., Pittston. There’s a free brewery tour at 6 p.m. and food from food trucks and SBC beer will be available for purchase.
“It’s something we never tried. It should be a lot of fun,” Wolensky said. Masters of ceremonies are Ed Philbin and Erica Funke. Philbin approached Eddie Meier at SBC about hosting the event.
“They were great,” he said. “No hesitation. They made it easy.”
Billed as an Evening of Anthracite Region Music, performers are Don Shappelle and the Pickups, a folk-style group; Jay Smar, folk singer; Joe Husty and Bob Wolensky, accordionists, and Lex Romane, singer/songwriter.
In January 1959, when Lex Romane was 11 and living in South Wilkes-Barre, his father took him to Pittston to witness the Knox Mine Disaster rescue effort.
He grew up to be a guitarist. He and his partner, the late saxophonist Joe Riilo, developed a unique swing/blues style melding folk, jazz, country, blues, Texas swing and originals. Billed as Lex and Joe, they played legendary rooms around the Wyoming Valley in the 1960s and ’70s like the Naked Grape, Deep End and Kiln House and earned a reputation as an alternative to the Rolling Stones/Doors cover bands.
Thirty years ago, Lex and Joe moved to Maine, where they became staples of the New England small club circuit and released four CDs.
But Lex never forgot where he came from or his visit to the Knox Disaster site as an 11-year-old. A folk player at heart, he took to wondering if the Anthracite Region had a folk music history akin to the bituminous “hillbilly” music.
That’s when, Romane said, “I stumbled on George Korson, during a visit to the valley.”
Korson is considered the father of industrial folklore and music.
“He was very interested in folk singing in the coal patches. The songs weren’t written down so he recorded them live in the coal fields in the 1940s.” The songs were housed in the King’s College Library on two LPs and are now archived in the Library of Congress.
After learning about Korson’s recordings, Roman went back to Maine and recorded a CD of coal mining songs, “Diggin’ Dusty Diamonds,” with both old standards and originals such as “Breaker Boys” and the “Knox Mine Disaster.’
Dave Brocca, producer of the Knox Mine Disaster documentary film, heard Roman’s CD and asked him to be part of the film, providing both music and narration.
Romane recalled when he played his mining songs at the 45th anniversary of the Knox Disaster at the Anthracite Museum in Scranton.
“Survivors and families were there and they were crying. It’s the heaviest thing I ever did,” he said.
Wolensky explained in an email how he wound up on the performers list.
“I asked Joe Husty, former professional accordion player, to play at the event. But Joe, a good friend, would only agree to play a few tunes if I, a rank amateur, would play a couple. Joe and I had a jam session on the accordion at his mother’s house in Wilkes-Barre last September. She made us a good Slovak dinner to go with it. We will all play traditional songs related to the anthracite region’s history and culture. That is, tunes addressing topics such as coal mining, garment making, hard work, etc., as well as ethnic music, the polka, waltz, Irish jig, Ukrainian folk dance, Italian Tarantella, etc.”