I got in contact with Joe to meet him and Robby at his place in Bethlehem. Joe is living with his one friend, Dylan Smith, who is a great artist.
He has done merch designs for a lot of famous metal and hardcore bands. He agreed to join in on the discussion of Poconos music since he is originally from there too.
I was slightly taken aback when I walked into their place. There was a lot of taxidermy around the living room and dining room.
There were also a lot of knickknacks that looked like they could have been from the 19th century. It wasn’t too surprising, though, for Dylan’s art is, for a lack of a better term, on the “darker side.”
We first got lunch at a Mexican restaurant. I got some fish tacos that were good but slightly overpriced.
As we got back to their home, I realized that three people talking during one interview were going to be great for getting a dialogue going.
I knew from talking to Joe and Robby before that they had a very specific idea as to why the scene died, too. They got their start not only in the Poconos but also in Florida during their early childhood.
Joe and Robby certainly look like brothers, but there are still some distinct differences in their looks. Joe has dark, black hair while Robby’s is more of a lighter brown.
Joe is around 5’8. Robby is around 5’10. Robby is especially skinny and has been since I’ve known him. He probably doesn’t weigh more than 135 pounds.
They both have intense stares that seem to lighten up when they find something comical or interesting.
They both usually wear a lot of black, maybe Robby more so than Joe; their attire consists of a lot of band t-shirts.
Dylan has a similar aesthetic to Robby and Joe, but I think he brings it up a notch or two.
He has dark, slicked-back hair that always looks like it’s styled with pomade. His hair is almost like how Jon Hamm styled his in Mad Men, but there are some obvious clothing choices that set these two worlds apart. Dylan is almost always wearing black.
He often has on a leather jacket with studs all over it. He has a problem with his eyes, so to alleviate any symptoms, he wears an eye patch for most of the day.
This would typically look out of place with most people, but it actually doesn’t with Dylan, and may even add to his style. I started this interview much like I did with Sean.
“I got into heavy music when I was around 12 years old,” Joe said. “I started listening to nu-metal like Slipknot and Mudvayne and shit like that. That was kind my gateway.
“Then I started at East Stroudsburg High School and met people like Kasey Bergen and all the hardcore kids like Chuck Daniels and Steve Warner, and the people in Before Night Falls [a local metal band] like Richard Blackmore. They kind of took me under their wing, and I started going to shows with them. One of the first shows I ever went to at the Elks Lodge in East Stroudsburg,” Joe said.
Dylan was different in that he got into the scene through punk music rather than metal music.
Joe and Dylan met through a show, and they both mentioned the beauty of hardcore is that it brought the punk and metal kids together.
Being that Robby is Joe’s younger brother, he followed suit in many ways through music. Robby explained how Florida was kind of the epicenter for nu-metal when they were growing up, so it was foundational for both of them.
There could be a myriad of reasons as to why the scene died. It could have been from venues closing down, or maybe because the younger generation never followed with any interesting bands. But they all pointed their fingers at one person in particular for the scene dying.
They blamed Rich Berkowitz, the owner of the Sherman Theater.
They didn’t think it had anything to do with technological advancements.
“You can’t blame it on YouTube. That’s total bullshit,” Joe said. “I’ll tell you why the Stroudsburg scene died: it was Rich Berkowitz. Because he decided he wanted to be the kingpin of Stroudsburg; he decided he wanted the sole source of entertainment income in Stroudsburg. He went through the whole process to make the Sherman a non-profit, which is a joke. He literally single-handedly destroyed the scene. He choked the fucking life out of it; He got the Penn Monster Factory shut down.”
The Penn Monster Factory was another venue in East Stroudsburg. It was north on Route 209, getting closer to Marshall’s Creek.
There was a fair amount of shows at that place around 2006-2008. By that time, the Penn Monster Factory was the only real competition for the Sherman Theater involving bands within the scene.
“At the end of the day what kind of catches Rich Berkowitz red-handed with his bullshit was he saw that the Penn Monster Factory drew away all the hardcore and punk kids from his spot,” Robby said.
“There was a show going on there, and he just showed up. It was like some hardcore show, let’s say, I don’t know, whoever was playing. He just showed up, and nobody knew why he was there. He was just kind of acting suspiciously. The Visconti’s and their dad [the family that owned the Penn Monster Factory] were kind of just like ‘what the fuck is he doing here?’ He was there to snoop. At the end of the day, he was looking for something to catch them on, you know, couple guys drinking beer in the parking lot, and he popped the place on that and got it shut down.”
Dylan agreed with the Vena’s on their views of Rich Berkowitz, but he thought a lack of participation was a contributing factor to the scene’s demise, as well.
“I also think there was an absolute lack of D.I.Y.,” Dylan said. He mentioned how there isn’t even a major venue in the Lehigh Valley, but kids still show up and pack places from wall to wall when there is a show.
He went to a show the night before I interviewed him and said that it was refreshing to see so many kids excited to see live music.
Dylan also doesn’t see how there could be a crossover between national venues and small punk spaces.
“The kids that are going to shows at TLA [a big venue in Philadelphia] or any of those other bigger venues, aren’t really giving a shit about D.I.Y shows in some punk house in West Philly. There’s no reason why the two can’t both exist because there is such little crossover,” Dylan said.
“Why can’t that happen in Stroudsburg?” Joe asked.
The Vena’s talked about how even after the scene died, so many people still had a desire for live shows: “When they had a show at the Delaware Water Gap house [a local house show spot], that got busted by the cops, Robby said everybody and their mothers were there, and that was a few years after everything kind of collapsed in on its self,” Joe said.
They said it got busted by the cops because so many people left their cars at the park & ride, the tourist spot where people can be driven around on a boat while on the river.
So much rides on this idea that the Vena’s and Dylan have, that one man could be the sole reason for the collapse of the scene.
Is this the total and absolute truth? Is it perhaps more complex than painting a venue owner as someone who is malevolent and unjust?
I drove from Bethlehem on that rainy February day conflicted. I didn’t want to think about growing up in the music scene this way, that one person was responsible for its downfall, and that a time that feels so far back in my life is now gone because of reasons I may never truly know.
I now knew that I couldn’t get the full story by just talking to musicians close to me. I had to talk to Rich Berkowitz and see what he had to say about the matter.
Check back next week for part four.
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