John Pehnke plays the banjo at ArtsQuest on Friday, Dec. 2, 2016. This was Steel City Sunrise's last show. (Malcolm Scobell/B&W staff)

Steel City Sunrise plays final ‘last show’

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The Lehigh community has seen local band Steel City Sunrise perform what was supposed to be its “last show” a few times now.

Still, members of the community gathered at the Blast Furnace Room of the Steel Stacks on Dec. 2 for what the band reinforced as their final “last show.”

“This actually is our last show,” said lead singer Mikale D’Andrea, ’15, with soggy eyes but an ear-to-ear smile. “But I’m not counting out a reunion show when we’re all 45.”

Since its start playing basement shows at off-campus houses and open mic nights at Lamberton Hall, the band has produced and played both original songs and unexpected covers, such as Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.” Hours of performance and practice have made the band one of the most influential acts in Lehigh’s music scene.

“They were the visionaries that made Lehigh’s music scene exist,” Ryan Loftus, ’18, said.

Chris Dallao, ’18, said it was sad to see them end, but that he was privileged to say they were a big part of his college experience.

That sentiment was echoed by drummer Evan Eckersley, ’17.

“These guys literally changed my life,” Eckersley said. “You can feel when there’s chemistry in a group, and these guys have it.”

Initially the band truly formed when there was a battle of the bands in the spring of 2013, and the winner would get the chance to open for Third Eye Blind, the group’s original bassist, James Copti, said.

Although Sugar Rae ended up taking Third Eye Blind’s place for the spring concert, Steel City Sunrise won the contest and were the openers.

After that performance, the band’s future was uncertain. However, Copti credits D’Andrea as the core reason for why they became as successful as they are. When Copti heard Eckersley playing drums in a Zoellner practice room, he said the band changed for the better. Before Eckersley, Steel City Sunrise did not have a percussionist.

“(Eckersley) and (D’Andrea) really made (stuff) happen,” Copti said. “I was there to start it and bring everyone together, but they’re the ones who really put the bulk of work into the band.”

Although the band has previously articulated that past performances were supposed to be its “final show,” this time they insisted they really mean it. With Copti working for a California startup and D’Andrea following a similar path and moving away from the Bethlehem area as well — continuing to play together seemed impractical.

Many members of the band are continuing to advance their music careers on their own accord, Copti said. For instance, Copti founded a music collective called The Satsuma Collective with two other Lehigh students.

“The idea is the pre-implantation of classical music, jazz, etc. in modern pop music,” Copti said.

Toward the end of the show D’Andrea took a moment to personally thank the people who were responsible for making Steel City Sunrise a success. He began by giving out sunglasses to banjo player John Pehnke, ’16, and a water gun to ukulele and vocalist Jacob Newman for when he gets “too sweaty” on stage, D’Andrea said.

He went on to give toy saxophones, tell anecdotes about new bassist Alan Brucher’s dark sense of humor and joke about Eckersley’s ability to, “study for an exam in an hour and take it in 45 minutes.”

The show ended with D’Andrea thanking fans.

“I’ve said it many times before, and I’ll say it again— you guys are in the band,” he said. “We wouldn’t be here without you.”

The major theme fans seemed to express about their time being listeners and friends to the band was they found a place in which they feel accepted. Even Copti went on to communicate his sentiments about how he found his place at Lehigh through attending the Music Box and Steel City shows in D’Andrea’s basement on Montclair Avenue, giving him an alternative to the fraternity party scene.

Dallao agreed, he said going to these shows is where he made his first friends at Lehigh and where he feels accepted at college.

“(The show) was bittersweet,” Loftus said. “It’s amazing seeing how far they’ve come, and their legacy will be forever cherished.” 

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