For openers, Kittanning concert series turns to locals

| Friday, June 21, 2013, 7:36 a.m.

Before world-renowned Celtic rock band Gaelic Storm brings Irish and Scottish flair to this year's Arts on the Allegheny free summer concert series Saturday evening, fans will be treated to a pair of performers with a more homegrown style.

Local rock outfit Ben Valasek and the Growlers and violinist Matt Janovsky, both from West Kittanning, will take the stage as openers at the John P. Murtha Amphitheater in Kittanning Riverfront Park.

For Valasek, who opened for Gaelic Storm the last time the group played the series in 2011, it's an immense opportunity to perform his brand of roots rock before so many eager listeners.

“Gaelic Storm are the best there is in terms of Celtic rock,” Valasek said. “Even though we don't play the same type of music by any means, I think the audience that shows up for Arts on the Allegheny concerts are good music listeners who want to hear new and original stuff.”

Valasek, 39, is no stranger to local stages. A native of Ford City and a 1992 graduate of Armstrong Central High School, he first arrived on the area music scene in the mid-'90s as a member of a cappella act the Distinguished Gentlemen. Later, as a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh, Valasek started the Awakening Ritual, a popular modern rock band that once finished runners-up in the prestigious, now bygone Graffiti Rock challenge.

“After that band, I took some time off, got married, had kids and wrote music on my own,” said Valasek. “I started hitting some open mic nights with new material about three years ago and (recently) met up with the guys I'm playing with now.”

Valasek and the Growlers — guitarist Zach Wolfe of Ford City, bassist Ron Leard and drummer Michael Starr, both of Kittanning — will be playing songs from their new album, “ Time Waits For No One,” which was released June 1.

“We're gonna try to cover the whole album and see how it goes,” said Valasek. “We're really excited to expose more people to new music.”

But before that, the audience will hear songs that might be more familiar to them, only played in a style that might not be.

Nineteen-year-old violinist Matt Janovsky, who opened for Buckwheat Zydeco during last summer's Arts on the Allegheny concert series, will return with his energetic, contemporary blend of classical and popular music.

“I play the music of violinist Lindsey Stirling,” said Janovsky, referring to the former finalist on NBC's “ America's Got Talent.”

“She's one of the inspirations for why I do what I do,” he said. “And I also like to play (songs by) the Charlie Daniels Band and the Piano Guys.”

A 2012 graduate of Kittanning Senior High School, Janovsky first picked up a violin when he was 7.

“When I was in elementary school, I wanted to play saxophone for the school band, but I ended up getting a letter from my music teacher saying I wasn't coordinated enough to play an instrument,” he said. “When I started playing violin, it was more or less to prove everyone wrong.”

After years of lessons with local music teacher Elizabeth Cramer, Janovsky started traveling to Indiana University of Pennsylvania to study under student teachers — and now he attends the school as a music performance major. Although he's performed in plenty of recitals over the years, he said his first real solo show was opening for Zydeco at the amphitheater, which means he already vanquished any jitters last summer.

“Playing in front of so many people just adds to the excitement,” he said. “All musicians want is for someone to listen to us. Whether it's 10 people or a lot more, as long as there's someone there, it's always fun.”

Janovsky will open the concert at 6 p.m. Saturday, followed by Ben Valasek and the Growlers at 7 p.m. and headliners Gaelic Storm at 8:30 p.m.

Tim Karan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-543-1303 or

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