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Longtime Party Band The Poets Plans Farewell

March 3, 2019

At some point, the curtain must close.

One of Northeast Pennsylvania’s most influential and popular party bands, the Poets, will take its final bow next month.

The band — made up of Alan Shields, Pat and Nick Luongo, John Hollenbaugh, Frank Gervasi and Marc Lucarelli — has had a storied career spanning five decades. It will host “Thanks for the Memories — The Poets Farewell Performance” on Sunday, April 7, from 4 to 9 p.m. at Genetti Manor, 1505 Main Ave., Dickson City. While tickets to the show sold out just two weeks after its announcement, the group’s members have not ruled out the possibility of a second performance.

“We’re open to anything,” bass player Nick Luongo said. “Nothing is etched in stone.”

The show is merely a way to “say goodbye to 700 of our closest friends,” said Pat Luongo, guitar player and Nick’s brother. It also aims to show appreciation to the thousands of loyal fans the group has encountered over the years, as well as Genetti Manor, with which the band has had a great relationship.

The decision followed a natural process for the band begun when drummer Lucarelli joined in 2017, promising that he would only stay for two years. The band members each plan to stay active in music, with side projects and playing as duos or with other musicians. As for the Poets, though, they just feel it’s just the right time to bow out.

“Look at us,” lead singer Gervasi joked. “But really, it’s time.”

‘We found our sound’

Started by the Luongo brothers and Gervasi, the three boys from Scranton’s Bunker Hill section couldn’t have imagined the ride their neighborhood band would take them on. Each picked up instruments before they entered middle school and played in garages, on street corners and on family members’ porches with other neighborhood kids.

“The old saying was, ‘If you had an accordion or an acoustic guitar, you ate on Saturday night,’” Gervasi said, adding the band had both instruments in its lineup.

In July 1963, the band, then known as the Five Dimensions, played its first gig at a small local haunt, Club Avalino, where patrons “passed the hat” to pay the then-teenagers. The boys’ first big show was at teen club Twist-Teen in Scranton before they decided to change the band’s name to the Poets. They also made friends with Terry McNulty, a DJ with radio station WARM 590-AM, who helped the band book gigs and make connections.

Soon after, the band made some lineup changes, ditched the accordion and added an electric keyboard; Nick Luongo switched from guitar to bass. Changes happening in music at the time also inspired them. With electric guitars and multiple harmonies, the Beatles proved to be a huge influence on the newly minted Poets, as did the Beach Boys and the Four Seasons.

“That changed everything,” Gervasi said.

“We found our sound and knew what we wanted to be and where were going,” Pat Luongo added.

Not long after, the Poets became staples at local clubs such as Gallagher’s and Wooden Nickel, as well as at Rocky Glen Park and concerts the radio station hosted. Each weekend, dozens of high schools and colleges around the area held dances where the Poets headlined or opened for national acts, including Bobby Rydell, Tina Turner and the Monkees.

The group not only opened for its idols, the Four Seasons, but also met and had dinner with the band after the show. Four Seasons bassist Joe Long let them in on secrets to musical success, such as to never fade out a song and always be the best dressed in the room.

Shortly after, the band incorporated big beginnings and endings into its sets and also began to coordinate outfits. Whether in white jackets and pink shirts, Hawaiian print button-downs or classic black tuxedos, the Poets never performed without looking sharp. The members’ looks once earned them a standing ovation from a crowd before they even played one note.

Decades of hits

The Poets’ ability to stay true to who it was as a group but also adapt to the times contributed to the group’s longevity. For years, the Poets learned the top pop songs on the charts to keep current. Over the years, it has dropped or added material, but its audiences know the band will provide a great party filled with hits from yesterday and today.

Always there for a good time, the band has played thousands of weddings, birthdays, anniversaries and other special occasions over the years. It also inspired countless local musicians to pick up an instrument or start a band.

“We’ve had so many people come up to us and say we influenced them,” Nick Luongo said. “There’s nothing better.”

Along the way, the lineup changed, too, but the band avoided a revolving door of members. Most stayed with the group for several years, including drummers Toby Naro and Joe Doherty, and keyboard players Jerry Czyminskis, Ray Kowalski, Ned Dructer and the late Steve Aquilina. The most current members after Lucarelli, Hollenbaugh joined in 2002 and Shields in 1995. Shields had just left another NEPA party band when he heard the Poets had an opening. Hollenbaugh was working in casinos, convinced he would never play music again — until he heard the Poets.

“A band like that, that could make me want to be part of a band again,” Hollenbaugh said. “There’s also nothing like a Poets crowd. It’s an experience like no other.”

The group gets together each week to practice and never missed a gig. Members recalled numerous times the crowds were surprised to see them, given extreme weather they endured and the far distances they traveled.

“It’s such a testament to the people here that we just love to play music together, and we really enjoy each other’s company,” Shields said.

The band members also extend thanks to those closest in their lives. Their parents formed the foundation of their music careers early on, driving them to gigs before they could drive themselves or letting them practice at all hours of the night. They also mentioned the good fortune of understanding wives. Each member knows it’s not easy to be married to a musician, and their wives always have supported them.

Ultimately, the Poets attribute their success to their fans. Many couples booked the Poets for their weddings decades ago and enlisted them again for their children’s weddings years later. Nick Luongo noted how, in recent years, prospective brides have called with glowing recommendations from their parents and, sometimes, grandparents.

Fans have stuck with them through the years. Before Facebook and other social media sites allowed bands to promote their performances, the Poets relied on word of mouth and getting out in front of as many people as possible. The musicians consistently worked to perfect harmonies, tighten the instruments and put on the best show they could so people would come back for more. That formula worked over the years and cemented the band’s place in NEPA music history.

The legacy of the Poets will go on. The band never rules out the possibility of another gig for a special occasion, but it sees the farewell show as a chance to thank everyone who made the Poets the Poets.

“From our parents and our music teachers to our families, our wives and children, the fans and, especially, our bandmates, it’s a culmination of what we’ve done and who we’ve met,” Shields said. “That’s what makes this special.”

Contact the writer: gmazur@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9127; @gmazurTT on Twitter

The Poets

 

Established: 1963 (as the Five Dimensions)

Genre: Party band

Members: Frank Gervasi, lead vocals; Pat Luongo, guitar and vocals; Nick Luongo, bass and vocals; Alan Shields, guitar, keyboard and vocals; John Hollenbaugh, keyboard; and Marc Lucarelli, drums

For fans of: The Four Seasons, the Beach Boys, the Beatles

Online: thepoetsband.com or the Poets on Facebook