The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

June 13, 2013

Coal Town Rounders bring musical heat to Bloomsburg

By Jeffrey Allen Federowicz
For The Daily Item

BLOOMSBURG — Christopher Kearney wants to sell you something that is bargain-priced. In fact, it’s free.

It’s not a set of encyclopedias, a bridge in Florida or even some stale Halloween candy.

Instead, the Scranton-based musician is trying to sell an evening of music and merriment slated for tonight when the Coal Town Rounders heat things up at the Turkey Hill Brewing Company in Bloomsburg.

“It’s not offensive. You won’t get hurt. No mosh pit. We sing nice and we’re nice people. I like the music we play and you also might. We’re all sort of handsome. We have a really good time when we play. It’s contagious. You may inadvertently have a good time,” he said.

While Kearney probably won’t win any awards for his salesmanship, he and his fellow bandmates will no doubt garner kudos and a few accolades for their musical styling that blends  traditional and contemporary-styled tunes that are 90 percent pure and simple bluegrass music.

Hailing from Scranton, Coal Town Rounders features the talents of Matthew Hiller on mandolin and vocals; Ian O’Hara on every bluegrass musician’s must-have, the beloved banjo; Jason Zarnowski provides bass and vocals with Kearney rounding out the Rounders with some smooth vocals and hot guitar playing.

“Our music is mostly old bluegrass tunes for now. It’s kind of the way bluegrass is,” he said. “The music catalog is seemingly endless. There’s so many great tunes that we have so much fun playing we haven’t gotten around to really working up our own tunes. There’s a few in the works but for now I guess we’re a cover band.”

While their music echoes of days long past,  Scranton’s hardscrabble history has helped shape the band’s musical style as well as their name.

“Scranton’s rich anthracite coal mining history — we are very proud of it. Scranton is known as The Electric City and Steamtown but if it wasn’t for coal, none of that would’ve came about,” Kearney said. “Most of the small towns surrounding Scranton are more coal mining towns with little houses and corner bars. The mines have all shut down but most of the people in this area have relatives who worked in the mines.

“A rounder is sort of a not-so-nice person, not to be trusted.  Maybe a gambler or a drunkard. Someone who ‘makes the rounds.’ None of that really applies to us. We just thought Coal Town Rounders has a nice ring to it and sounds old-timey.”

Their name isn’t the only thing that has a nice sound since the jovial band knows how to get the most out of their instruments and create a sound that is old-timey, yet not corny or dull.

From upbeat tunes to woeful tales of heartache and lonely nights, their music tells a tale of a life that is raw and real with no sugarcoating.

The good, the bad and the ugly times all set to a toe-tapping tune that will make its Bloomsburg debut tonight.

“It’s always tough to play somewhere new. But every new place we play, people seem to enjoy the music and I think even if they’re not fans of bluegrass they tend to enjoy themselves,” he said. “We work hard. We play around one microphone and it’s a bit of a dance we do to share it for singing and instrumental breaks. We love what we do and I think it shows. We’re all very close friends and we have a good time on and off stage.”

Most recently the Rounders have played with regional bluegrass acts such as Cabinet at a bluegrass festival at Montage Mountain in addition to performing at venues across the Susquehanna Valley and occasionally share the stage with some noted musicians.

“We got to play with some pretty amazing people, most notably Emmylou Harris. We had a chance to open up for her last fall and it was awesome,” he said. “It was a hometown crowd in a big theater in Scranton. She put on a great show and we got to meet her afterward. She was extremely nice, very funny too. We really enjoyed that.”

Kearney noted that opening for Emmylou Harris will be a story that will be told to his grandkids and great-grandchildren years from now.

No doubt Kearney will also recount another tale, although for totally different reasons.

“We also opened up for The Lumineers last summer and personally, I had no idea who they were and how famous they were. They’re MTV-famous. I felt a little dumb not being familiar with them when we met them. They were super nice though. I know how popular they are now!”