Spotlight | A Life in Music Brings the Roxbury Man into Historical Preservation Work – | Start Classified

Chris Verbano is a well-known face on the local music scene.

The 55-year-old singer and guitarist is currently a member of three bands. Whiskey River Panhandlers and Rusty Shackles each performed during Thunder in the Valley. Screech Owl is just getting started but will be playing at the Roxbury Bandshell on August 28th.

His interest in music started in his childhood when he got his first turntable around the age of 3. His father Don Verbano’s bowling hobby broadened his musical horizons.

“My dad bowled for more than 50 years,” said Chris Verbano. “Every Tuesday he would come home with a new ’45 record single for me.”

He listened to the records over and over again.

It was the beginning of what he calls a “constant urge to see more music, hear more music, experience more music, and expose other people to more music.”

musical influence

The record gifts were just part of his father’s musical influence. Although he has never performed in public, Don Verbano has been close to the music scene for years.

“All his friends are musicians,” said Chris Verbano.

“His best friend was Frank Filia.”

Johnstown-born singer and jazz musician Filia returned to his hometown after a successful career in Las Vegas.

In recent years he has performed regularly at Harrigan’s Cafe and Wine Deck.

When Filia died last month, he was remembered as “the music man of Johns-Town”.

As Verbano’s musical interests expanded, he was drawn to perform the songs.

In elementary school, he tried violin and saxophone lessons, but never stuck with either instrument.

Found his niche

He found his niche in junior high school.

“In eighth grade, I saw Steve Martin on ‘Saturday Night Live,'” he recalls.

“I told my dad that week that I wanted to take banjo lessons, so we went to Wiser’s Music and I said to the guy, ‘I want to sign up for banjo lessons.’ He said, “We don’t have anyone to teach banjo. Would you like to play the guitar?’ So that’s how it started.”

He joined his first band in high school.

“It was called Exit because we thought every place would have our sign.”

Their first “gig” was at a birthday party near Dilltown.

He also played with a band called RUEZ (Are you easy?).

College years at Lock Haven University interrupted his public appearances, but he was back at it immediately when he took a job in northern New Jersey.

The band was Sonny Fitch and the Ditchdiggers, named after Johns Town musician Bo Moore’s father’s band, backhoe Eddie and the Ditchdiggers.

He returned to Johnstown and was living in the Roxbury section in 2002 to reacquaint himself with the local music scene when he learned the Roxbury Bandshell was facing difficult times and was about to be demolished. He immediately wanted to join the effort to save him.

“Angel of the Park”

“My mom loved the bandshell. She called it the angel of the park,” Verbano said.

Verbano turned to his love of music and contacted more than a dozen local bands for a day-long concert in 2005 at the Bandshell.

“I asked the city if I could host an event there, partly to try to raise awareness,” he said.

Saturday in the Park featured 14 bands with a good crowd despite some rain. It also brought together those working to preserve the beautiful stone structure.

“There were some influential people that I met that day who were willing to help lift the torch,” Verbano said.

One of them was Joe Balon of Upper Yoder Parish.

“This is the guy I met who wanted help,” Verbano said.

“He stepped out of the crowd. We got talking and that’s how it started. We teamed up with Mary Borkow (President of the Roxbury Bandshelll Preservation Alliance) and it took off from there.”

First obstacle

The first obstacle was a $20,000 demolition contract that the Johnstown City Council had signed with a construction company.

Unless the construction company was paid $20,000, the demolition plans remained active.

This time a stranger stepped forward with the needed cash.

Luke Speicher from Boswell came to Roxbury with a strange request.

“He just showed up one day and asked for a ride to the courthouse because he had $20,000 bail,” Verbano said.

“That really, really made it possible.”

Still unconvinced, the city council gave the site over to those already working on the restoration.

The deal required the group to make significant progress on repairs or return ownership to the city within 18 months.

Eighteen months of volunteer work put the band on the path of restoration, and the Roxbury Bandshell Preservation Alliance continued to oversee ongoing repairs.

Several special projects continue to support the work, including the Sunday concert series, which Verbano continues to oversee and field bands to fill the summer schedule.

Of course there are always bands with Verbano on the schedule. Rusty Shackles played with the Evergreens on July 3rd. Whiskey River Panhandlers and Striped Maple Hollow are playing on Sunday and Screech Owl is playing on August 28 along with Untucked.

Verbano said he still enjoys working with people who are interested in music and heritage preservation.

“It’s always great to be around people who share your passions,” he said.

Randy Griffith is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 814-532-5057. Follow him on Twitter @PhotoGriffer57.

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