It was easy for me to know who to talk to next. Richard Blackmore and Kevin Hartranft have started playing music around the Poconos since the late 90s to early 2000s.
They were in a pop-punk band called Steady Hands for Steady Hearts, but they both became annoyed by the other members who approached the band with a more business mindset than a purely musical one. Eventually, they formed a metalcore band called Pearl Heart. If there was any band that I thought would have gone anywhere back in the heyday of the scene, it was them.
They’re both roommates, living just down the street from East Stroudsburg University. I was hanging out with them one Friday night, kicking a few lagers back around their kitchen table. Both Richard and Kev have huge beards that they have grown over the years. Kev has light brown hair and blue eyes and has an average height for a dude.
He has scars at the side of his head that came from an operation that needed to be done when he was born. Richard has black hair, hazel eyes, and is short and husky. They’re both great friends of mine, and I know they have a pretty neutral idea of why the scene died: they don’t think any one person is to blame.
They both got started playing music around 14 years old. Kev is unique in the fact that he grew up in Lake Ariel, Pennsylvania, so his introduction to the scene was closer to places like Scranton and Moosic. Rich went to East Stroudsburg South, so his foundation is mostly grounded within Monroe County. He started playing music with his friend James Litts,
“We became Forever is Lost [Rich and James’ band], which was our hardcore band. We wanted to be Poison the Well . . . we wound up playing the Underworld [a venue] in Sciota a bunch,” Rich said. “The Underworld was originally on Ann Street in Stroudsburg, right by the Ribbon Factory. The Sanctuary [another local venue] was where the Gamer’s Edge is. At the time the Sanctuary came around, the Underworld was already in Sciota, where that big sports dome was.”
“Earth Crisis ended up playing Sea Sea’s [a venue in Moosic],” Kev said. “Then we realized they had shows all the time, this was like weekly. So, we went to a bunch of shows . . . and we were played our first show at Sea Sea’s.
“I found pahardcore.com,” Kev said. This was a site back in the early 2000s where people would connect through music and find different bands to join, and different venues to play.
“Me and my girlfriend were falling apart, and I knew it was coming,” Kev said. “And I posted, ‘hey, I used to be in a bunch of local bands, this one band in particular, and I’ve been playing guitar for this many years. . .and it didn’t take long, a couple hours, and I got hit up by Mike Schupp and Shawn Milligan to come down and try out for From the Ashes. I made the cut, and started playing music again, and we started touring a bunch and hitting the road . . . the girlfriend left me, obviously like I knew she would, and I moved down here [East Stroudsburg] because I had nothing really holding me in Scranton anymore.”
Rich and Kev both naturally segued into my next question, talking about the reasons the scene died. Out of all the people I have interviewed, they both have definitely played in the most bands, and have played the most shows out of the bunch. So, because of this, they have a well-rounded opinion.
“I kind of feel like technology killed it a little bit,” Kev said. “Back then, people didn’t have anything to do, so you call your friends on the phone, everybody’s going to the fucking show. So what do you do? Are you sitting at home, or are you going to the fucking show? Because sitting at home sucked . . . there’s gonna be sweet music, and there’s gonna be love, and you’re gonna walk in the place and hug like 40 people before you kind of get to relax and enjoy bands.”
“I don’t think it has anything to do with any person, or anything like that around here, because I see it everywhere. Local shows do not happen the way they used to. Unless you’re in a city, people are not attending shows the way they used to. I would say it’s really a sign of the times. People aren’t making as much money as they used to. People are living lives in little dank apartments. What are you gonna do? If you’re driving everywhere every night you’re spending gas. Gas is a lot more than it used to be,” Rich said. “So you kind of got a choice. You can go to shows, or you can hole up in your little apartment that you pay out the ass for, because that’s where we’re at. Because of that, you don’t get a lot of people attending shows anymore. They’ll just watch videos of it on YouTube. They don’t have to play shows because the internet loves them.”
Both Rich and Kev think young kids aren’t willing to take the time to learn an instrument within the context of a band, and that a lot of the young kids growing up nowadays don’t understand concepts like groove and chemistry. They also think many people now decide to go solo and play on the internet rather than taking a chance at playing a show to ten people.
Venues and bands aren’t the only aspects that took a hit. They mentioned how music stores have dwindled because of the rise of technology, as well. They think that if a music store doesn’t transfer the majority of their sales to online shopping, there isn’t a strong chance of survival. There was a shop on Main Street back in the day literally called “The Music Store.” They changed names and relocated to a much smaller place. One could speculate that the correlation of this has to do with the changing of times, since they left their Main Street around the demise of the scene.
I asked them how they think the scene could come back, and there were no clear answers. They questioned how abandoning the internet and doing it with flyers and word-of-mouth would do, but they also considered this suicide in a way, too. Another venue opening up might shake things, they thought, but they acknowledged that it would likely not be a profitable business by this point.
After the interview came to a close, I spent the rest of the night drinking with them, shooting the shit until the early morning which was when we all decided to close our eyes and sleep.
Where did it all go? Where did all the kids go that used to crowd in a room together to talk, laugh and cry until the music faded into nothingness? I’m not sure if I know now, or if I’ll ever really know. Nostalgia is a shapeshifter. It extends its hand outward, reaches towards the ones that are lovesick for the past. And just as the fingers are close enough to touch, it disappears to a dominion of memories and dreams. It is a stone thrown in the sea, never to be found again.
I walked past Toast again with my friend Zack VanWhy the other day. This was accidental, for I wasn’t even thinking of this story, but I was reminded of it as I saw the old, red-painted building. I stopped walking and stared at it.
“I heard they’re going to tear it down soon,” Zack said.
“Oh, yeah? Well, that’s a fucking shame,” I said.
I walked closer to the abandoned building, and figured I’d take some pictures of it before they tear it down for good. I took a picture of the front, standing far away to get a whole shot of the place. Then I went to the side, and took some pictures of the parking lot. Zack told me what they were going to replace the old Toast building with. I can’t remember what he said, but it somehow doesn’t seem to matter what they turn it into. It will be a new building that will not be a music venue.
I walked towards the front again to take a good look at it. The glass door was still there. As I walked towards the door, I saw my reflection staring back at me. Then I looked inside.
“Is there anything in there?” Zack asked.
“No,” I said. “There’s nothing left.”
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