The people have spoken.
Music fans throughout Northeastern Pennsylvania flooded our phone-lines, had our fax machine working overtime, and filled out hundreds of ballots in clubs across the region. In total, over 600 people responded to The Times Leader's first "Sound Choice" readers' poll, which asked our readers to name the area's favorite group.
The word: The Badlees are the hottest act in town.
Based out of Selinsgrove, The Badlees are Pete Palladino, lead vocals; Bret Alexander, guitar, mandolin, vocals; Jeff Feltenberger, guitar, vocals; Paul Smith, bass, vocals; and Ron Simasek, drums, percussion. The spirited group has packed local clubs for several years, released two critically acclaimed independent albums, crafted one of the area's most entertaining live shows and was the hands-down winner of our poll, taking over 40 percent of the vote.
"It's just nice to know that you're appreciated," said Palladino when he heard the news. "We go out and play every night and try to put on the best shows we possibly can and try to put together the best songs that we can. It's nice to know that that comes across. A lot of times, especially playing all over Pennsylvania and New York and New Jersey, you get a bit jaded and a bit cynical. It's nice when people say 'thank you.'"
In a market where cover material is usually the music of choice, perhaps the most promising aspect of The Badlees topping the poll is that they are an all-original act who still manage to draw large crowds.
"It's kind of cool that an original band was picked out and appreciated," says Simasek. "It may be a change in a trend."
Voters in the poll who chose The Badlees cited several reasons, including their live performances, enthusiasm, energy, friendliness, the fact that they mingle with the crowds at their shows, and Palladino's charismatic stage presence. But the most frequent response was clear: the outstanding quality of their original music.
With songs highlighted by dynamic arrangements, eclectic sounds, fine melodies, universal and regional themes, outstanding harmonies and well-crafted lyrics, critics have also taken notice. The group's two full-length albums, 1991's "Diamonds In The Coal," and 1993's "The Unfortunate Result of Spare Time" received a rush of critical acclaim in the local and national rock press — including The Album Network and Billboard magazine.
Last summer, the group was asked by their sponsor, Budweiser, to perform in China at the Tsingtao Beer Festival, where they played to thousands of enthusiastic fans. Not satisfied with past achievements, the group is now poised to release a new album, titled "River Songs," due Feb. 28.
"It's nice to know somebody's listening and somebody's paying attention," says Alexander. "It's hard to guess if what you write in your basement or your living room is going to come across and say anything to anybody."
The Badlees garnered votes by phone, fax, mail, and a large quantity in ballot form from Jitterbugs in Edwardsville, where the group frequently perform.
"The music is wonderful," wrote Ruth Slivinski of Wapwallopen, and Kim Snyder of Selinsgrove says "The Badlees are the greatest, phenomenal — definitely the best."
Smith says long-time Badlees fans should be just as pleased with the group's forthcoming release. "It's the most focused, definitive thing we've done as far as songwriting, arrangement and instrumentation," he says. "It's definitive Badlees... a lot of acoustic instruments, mandolins, dulcimers — different kind of ethnic things happening."
"It's a good representation of what we want to be and what we want to be doing," he adds. "We can build on this with our records down the road. We found out what we're about."
Both Alexander and Palladino say the talent in Northeast Pennsylvania is strong, and say they hope their success will ease the pressure on other acts attempting to perform original material.
"We have a lot of friends in bands who are doing the cover thing and just playing and playing and complaining about not being able to play original music," says Palladino. "Look at us."
Palladino says that some groups may be putting their energy in the wrong direction. He says that when The Badlees decided to focus on original material four years ago, they realized it may have meant fewer bookings and fewer club dates — but they knew it was the only way they'd be happy.
Alexander says other groups deserve the same chance.
"We've met a lot of those guys and they're great guys and they're great bands," says Alexander of the local scene. "We'd like to see more of the original thing going on up there. There are other areas that aren't any larger or don't have any more clubs that have that going. It's just a matter of the people supporting it and the bands stepping up and doing it."
In the Times Leader reader's poll, music fans did just that. The Badlees have received national recognition, and possess all the ingredients to achieve national stardom. And by selecting such a talented and entertaining band as the "hottest act in town," local music fans have clearly made a very "sound choice."
Congratulations to The Badlees.
Why The Badlees?
"The Badlees have a fresh new sound. The band lends a lot of energy to the music they play. The music is well-written and well performed." — Cassandra Warner, Kingston
"The Badlees are superior to any other local band because of their stage presence, performance, lyrics and incredible talent. They've got it all." — Robin Croman, Harveys Lake
"Great energy, very entertaining, superb songs — wonderful guys." — Liza Zabriski, Wilkes-Barre
"'The Next Big Thing'" (title of a Badlees song.) — Jill Walsh, Larksville
"The band plays music that you can relate to and understand." — Delynna Jetton, Wilkes-Barre
"They're a bunch of great guys that make great music. They deserve recognition." — Kristine Sgrignoli, Selinsgrove
"They're a step away from prime-time." — Jeff Ray, Kingston
"They have one of the most exciting frontmen that I've seen in a long time." — Bill Boyle, Dallas
"They're a band that we can all call our own. The lyrics remind me of living here." — Joseph Kiran, Moosic
"They remind me of home — what it means to be a Pennsylvanian." — Pam Novicenskie, Laflin.
"The Badlees don't only play music — they make the music flow inside every vein in your body. You not only hear, but feel every beat." — Lynn Knight-Kunis, Nanticoke
"They command your attention and respect — excellent entertainers." — Kevin Kistier, Shavertown
"They do a great job writing their own music and performing. They are definitely the best local band." — Joanne Pape, Edwardville