By JOHN PATRICK GATTA | METRO MONTHLY STAFF WRITER
The Cedars 32nd Anniversary Reunion will occur over two nights from Saturday, Dec. 22 through Sunday, Dec. 23. Performers on Saturday, Dec. 22 include: Nancy Bizzarri, 8 Balls, Sharkbites, The Infidels and Sacksville R&B Band. Performers on Sunday, Dec. 23 include: Strange Desires, The Factors, Illuminatus, The Shivers, The Bangorillas, Up for Adoption, Rayna Terra, Soylent Green, Johnny Clampett and the Walkers. Both nights are scheduled to start at 9:30 p.m. Admission is $6.
For more information, call 330-743-6560.
Reunions are normally uncomfortable events. Dates with former high school classmates or reunions with family members can include fond memories and old wounds rediscovered. It’s rare to revisit a period in life when being with a particular group of people became cause for one celebration after another.
That’s one of the benefits gained when the Cedar Lounge celebrates its history with the Cedars 32nd Anniversary shows on Dec. 22 and 23. The two-day event will feature music from the first wave of Youngstown-area bands that took their own DIY approach to music from the punk and New Wave movements in the U.S. and Great Britain.
“Not only will these nights be a chance for these musicians to play together one more time but it’s also a great opportunity for anyone interested in the history of the Cedars music scene to see those who pioneered it and/or shaped it into what it is today,” said Pete Drivere, who acts as the club’s talent buyer and sound engineer.
“This will be a ‘first wave’ show, with the exception of Illuminatus. We decided to include it [the band] because they are currently doing a reunion show themselves and Tony Mentzer, who was a founding member of the Infidels, is a key member in the band.”
Drivere defines the first wave of Cedars bands as those involved through 1985, with the majority playing a wide spectrum of punk/New Wave music that encompassed experimental artsy sounds, power pop and straightforward rock and blues.
“I thought it was long overdue,” said Tony Dudzik, who’ll be reuniting with The Factors. “Sonny’s [of Sacksville] benefit at Cedars put a lot of people in the same room, which got a lot of gears turning.”
Typical of his style of humor, Dudzik added, “Even if the music sucks, it will be great to see everyone again.”
While the Cedar Lounge existed as a downtown bar in 1975, it wasn’t until Tommy Simon, a Youngstown State University graduate with an anthropology degree, took over the family-run business that new original music acts got their chance on a local stage. Previously, he had jazz musicians performing there. Then, in June 1981, Simon booked the bar’s first New Wave act. The B-Minors played that night, laying the groundwork for a thriving music scene that continues to this day.
“The bands started playing on a Wednesday, which was a pretty slow day, and they brought in a lot of people. From there, they didn’t have to convince me. Eventually, we had ‘em on weekends,” Simon recalled.
Prior to Cedars, fans of the punk/New Wave bands traveled to Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Akron to catch local and national acts. Eventually, even artists on indie and major labels would play at Cedars. Such groups included The Dead Boys (with Girard’s Stiv Bator), the Goo Goo Dolls, Cracker, Jonathan Richman, Royal Crescent Mob and The Producers.
“There was an audience out there that hadn’t been tapped. Nobody was doing it. When we started doing it, we kind of cornered the market, just for a little while,” Simon said.
It also helped that Youngstown State University was located a few blocks away, allowing any promotion to reach a diverse set of people immediately. “It was mostly flyers and word of mouth that brought new people down to Cedars,” said Dudzik. “Cedars was an interesting mix of artists, musicians, punks and even frat boys that lived in peaceful co-existence.”
“All-in-all everyone got along pretty well, especially in the early days. We were all looking for different music than what was playing on WHOT, so any alternative seemed better,” he said.
The idea of putting together this month’s reunion show came to Drivere while he was doing sound. A series of e-mails and phone calls brought about reconnections to the past. Musicians living in the Mahoning Valley and other parts of Ohio, along with some as far away as California, are scheduled to participate.
The holiday season normally attracts “alumni” from the club’s history, with occasional reunion shows occurring while members of a one-time group happen to be in town visiting family.
“The reunion concept is popular,” admitted Drivere. “The lure of its sweet ambrosia tends to get people excited about seeing a band ‘one more time.’ As far as Cedars goes, in the last several years there have been a number of impressive reunion shows with the Infidels, Boogie Man Smash, several by the 8 Balls, and most recently a double bill by Figure Ground and the Februarys.”
Drivere has had a long history at the Cedars. He played there as a 15 year old – the year after it started booking New Wave and punk acts.
“I had heard that it was the only venue in Youngstown for punk rock bands to play. In those days, the Infidels were a punk band. Cedars was a must-play venue for us and quite a big deal to us.”
“We opened up one winter night in late 1982 for the 8 Balls. They must have been pretty desperate to seek us out! Timmy Gilliland looked like a rock star and I can still remember Bob Cerny explaining to us that we would have to play for free since it was our first time there. I jokingly repeated his words back to him, in the same back room, when his band from New York came down to open for the Infidels in 2003. After that first show, the Infidels never went penniless from Cedars again.”
Drivere continues to record and play live with The Infidels and recently formed Deadbeat Poets with Infidels drummer/vocalist John Koury. On the other hand, Dudzik had a rollercoaster ride on his way to forming The Factors, and then reuniting with his original band mates – Tony Zizzo (guitar/vocals), Mike Klanica (drums/vocals) and Mark Fontanerosa (bass).
“While going to Cedars had a lot of artistic influence, the event that really sparked my interest was the Sons of Italy party [in Brier Hill] that featured Tequilla Mockingbird, Phil-N-The-Blanks, the Blind Dates and, I think, Rayna Terra. Members of those bands went on to form the 8 Balls, the Sonics, Shivers and a few other early bands,” Dudzik said.
“I opened for the Shivers solo on acoustic guitar one night, which led to me joining the Shivers and eventually getting kicked out. That led to me starting a band called Problems with Dave Lisko and John Koury (both now in the Infidels), which broke up a few months later. Members of The Chairs were at Cedars the night we [our band] broke up and invited me to join. The Chairs became the Factors with a new bass player.”
Dudzik currently lives in Columbus and owns a business named Pickguardian, which makes custom pickguards for guitars. He’s also kept up his musical chops with acoustic and electric gigs with another Youngstown transplant, Fritz Fekete.
Prior to Cedars, the area lacked a single consistent performance venue for punk/New Wave acts. Despite occasional rivalries and differences of opinion as to what constituted a good song (three-chord rock with a memorable hook versus something complex), what caused the Cedars community to grow into an extended family spread out across the globe was the passion that musicians and the rest of the regular crowds at the Cedars had for music that didn’t cater to the ordinary or the mainstream.
That attitude caused a long line of local bands to form, dissolve and mutate into new line-ups with new sounds and new songs.
“Not only will this be the reunion for several bands,” explained Drivere. “It will also be a celebration of the Cedars, a place for most who attend this event that holds lot of nostalgia and fond memories. In retrospect, Cedars has pretty much defined the original music scene in the greater Youngstown area since the early 1980s. I think that people are starting to recognize this as fact.”
Added Dudzik, “Cedars was about the only place many of our bands could play on a regular basis in the early days. We all owe a lot to Tommy Simon for giving us a place to play and allowing us to earn enough at the door to cover our bar tab . . . most of the time!”