Reunion concert raises funds for recording studio

The 10th Reunion Benefit Concert will help those with a song instead of a sickness.

The Labor Day weekend musical gathering at Up a Creek Tavern in Howland has raised money — more than $45,000 in its first nine years — for a variety of causes, from breast cancer to Alzheimer’s to fellow musicians battling disease.

This year proceeds from event will help pay for a recording studio at Howland High School.

“All I can think of is, if I’d had a recording studio facility available when I was in high school, it would have supercharged my career,” said Tommy McCoy, a 1973 Howland graduate and one of the founders of the annual concert. “Look at ‘American Idol,’ kids could be recording their audition tapes there. Some of these girl who play ukulele and write their own cute little songs. Now, with this do-it-yourself world we live in, you can write, record and produce a song, put it on iTunes, and it’s available to the world. You can sell your one song to the world. It’s amazing. It really, truly is amazing.”

Having done research online, McCoy said they can equip the high school with everything it needs for a recording studio — computer, software, monitors, microphones, etc. — for between $3,500 and $5,000. He and other local musicians plan to donate new or gently used equipment to the cause as well.

“I think we can put a decent studio in there with what we raise this weekend,” he said.

Over the years, the concert has featured a variety of local musicians who regularly played the bars, school dances and other venues in the Mahoning Valley in the late 1960s and ’70s. Some are still active today; others use the event as a reason to break out their instrument and jam once again with old friends.

The lineup will include acts that regularly play out in the area, such as Testify featuring Damian Knapp and Bill Scudier and Sideshow, and acts exclusive to this event. Music vets Gary McCoy (Tommy’s older brother) and Roger Lewis will team up as Guitar Godzillas, playing rock instrumentals like “Walk, Don’t Run” and “Pipeline.” Also performing this year will be Columbus acoustic blues act Keith Colbert, who Tommy McCoy invited to play after judging his performance in Memphis at the International Blues Challenge.

This year, several musicians will pay tribute to Warren native Roger Hatfield, a Grammy Award-winning musician and producer who played in several local bands, including I Don’t Care (which was signed to Buddha Records in the mid-’70s), My Uncle’s Army Buddies and Network.

“From my perspective, he was so helpful in helping me product the “Rustbelt Legacy Recordings (a collection of songs by local artists released at last year’s benefit concert),” McCoy said. “I’d send him a track that needed a saxophone and an hour later it would come back produced. He was really incredible in that respect. Just his whole professionalism is to be admired. He certainly was an inspiration to many.”

Singer Doug Thomas, who was a member of My Uncle’s Army Buddies and I Don’t Care, said, “He really was not bound by any genre. He just took the music wherever it wanted to go. He was someone with so much natural ability and talent. His toolbox was huge. He played in rock band, funk bands, jazz bands, fusion — it was limitless.

“There are a lot of musician who are going to want to come out just to pay homage to Roger. There’s not a music lover in this town who doesn’t know who he was and what his influence was here.”

Thomas, drummer Gary Sloas and keyboard player Dave Mazzochi were part of a tribute to Hatfield this summer at the Warren Community Amphitheatre as part of the River Rock at the Amp concert series, and they and the other musicians will expand on that set for Sunday’s concert.

“He was just a great guy, but what he brought to his instrument was unbelievable,” Sloas said. “He was a great keyboard player, but that was wasn’t his first instrument. It was woodwinds — clarinet, saxophone. He wrote a lot of music. In my opinion, he’s one of the greats who came out of this area. We had a lot of great musicians, but he was at the top.”