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Dance band heats up Youngstown

Disco was as divisive as it was popular in the 1970s.

“Saturday Night Fever” was a box-office hit and songs from the soundtrack dominated top 40 radio, but there were just as many cases of Disco Sucks-itis as there were Night Fevers back in the day.

Disco Inferno frontman Sonny D. Lite (real name David Maffei) understands that attitude. Those who know where to look can find a photo of one of his early bands, Toy Razor, where the current disco king is wearing a ripped T-shirt that says “Disco Sucks.”

Now he appreciates the skill of the musicians in Earth, Wind & Fire and the players who back the Bee Gees on its biggest hits. And he meets other converts wherever Disco Inferno plays, and the Cleveland-based dance band will kick off the Premier Bank Community Event Series at the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre on Saturday.

“I’ve done more talking to people in between sets who say, ‘Man, I don’t even like disco, but I like you guys. You’re always fun,'” Lite said. “That makes me feel I’ve done a good job.”

Lite has led Disco Inferno since mid-’90s. He moved to Cleveland from Southern California to play in a rock band. But when some of his California friends started drawing crowds by playing those ’70s dance hits, they formed Perfect World Entertainment and started franchising the concept to other markets.

While the some of Perfect World’s acts transitioned from disco to ’80s music as tastes shifted, Disco Inferno’s popularity has continued. Until 2020 the band had averaged about 140 shows a year for the last decade.

JAC Management Group Vice President Ken Bigley said about the band when the series was announced: “Disco Inferno, we’ve been working with them for over 20 years now. They’re always a great time, a great band and the area always comes out to see them.”

A crowd that dances is a crowd that drinks — folks gotta stay hydrated — which makes club owners happy.

“And women like to dance,” Lite said. “The more women who come to dance, then the guys come.”

Lite believes the music fills another important need today.

“Disco music is fun, it’s danceable,” he said. “We you start playing ‘We Are Family’ or ‘Dancing Queen,” for a short period of time they’re forgetting their problems and what’s going on, not working or what not, their kids being home from school. Just the genre itself leads to happy times and not thinking about what’s going on around you.”

The COVID-19 pandemic caused the cancellation of three quarters of Disco Inferno’s bookings between March and Labor Day, and the band has made some changes in its live set due to the coronavirus.

“Before we could have people coming on stage and dancing, but we’ve had to eliminate that because you don’t know what’s going on and you can’t risk it.”

But Lite promises to bring a party this weekend, even if thosew dancers need to socially distance more than normal.

“We all have fun together. If you’re having fun on stage, people see that and respond to that if you’re not just going through the motions.”

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