Thursday, July 7, 2016


Maximum Respect: A Benefit for George Wesley

Local Music Community Uniting to Support One of Its Own
July 7 2016
A few months back, the people who organize the Electric City Music Conference and the Steamtown Music Awards dropped me a line. They were making plans for this year’s event, and they asked if I had any suggestions for the recipient of this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award. I’ve been covering music in NEPA for almost 25 years, and I was the recipient of that same award two years ago, so I guess that has earned me a vote. It is much appreciated.

My suggestion came quickly and easily: George Wesley.

Wesley is an icon within the musical community of NEPA. He is insanely talented, and he’s been making fine records for more than 30 years. He’s also always stayed true to his musical roots and ideals, and he’s done it all with grace and humility. I once introduced him on stage as “the coolest human being I have ever met in my life.” And within our own music scene, he has always been the reigning king of reggae.

Of course, the folks at the Steamtown Music Awards said that they, too, had Wesley in mind. And it was soon decided that he would be the one to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award on Sept. 15 in Scranton. Right around the same time this was first announced, just a few weeks ago, we also got word that Wesley is not well. He is battling cancer. And apparently, it hit him fast and hard. Immediately, the good people at Mountain Sky, a gorgeous outdoor venue north of Scranton, put together a two-day benefit show for Wesley. I was able to attend and, I must say, it was very well done and there was much love for Wesley there. Billed as “One Love: A Benefit for George Wesley,” it raised a significant amount of money. And on behalf of everyone who knows Wesley and cares about him, we all say thank you to Mountain Sky.

If there is one place, however, that is almost synonymous with Wesley, it is the River Street Jazz Café. It is Wesley’s home base. It is where he has held his CD release parties, his birthday parties and his anniversary parties, and where he has entertained thousands of people over the past 20-plus years. It is his room. And thus, shortly after the most recent benefit, a few of us who also know and care about Wesley began planning something for him there. And to say that it all came together quickly and easily would be an understatement. And that is simply because of how much people love and respect him.

“Maximum Respect: A Benefit for George Wesley” will take place on Friday, Sept. 2, at the River Street Jazz Café, 667 N. River St., in Plains. Artists confirmed to be performing are Mother Nature’s Sons, Strawberry Jam, Mike MiZ, Tom Flannery & The Shillelaghs, Bret Alexander & Eddie Appnel, Stingray, Bobby Clark and the Phyllis Hopkins Electric Trio. There will also be raffle items from SI Studios, Saturation Acres Recording Studio, Wayne’s World, Rock Street Music, Gallery of Sound, The Pennsylvania Blues Festival, The Pennsylvania Music Festival and photographer Jim Gavenus. More music and raffle items will likely be added. And as you would expect with any musical event that involves Wesley, there will be some jamming.

Whether you’re simply a fan of his music or someone who has gotten to know him personally, it seems everyone has a Wesley story. Some of mine are funny. Some are poignant. All are good. For me, more than anything, he has always just been there. I remember when I first started covering music in NEPA, one prominent club owner had a framed, painted portrait of Wesley hanging in his office. That was almost 25 years ago, but even then, he was legendary. I’ve interviewed Wesley many times over the years for newspapers, and for his last record a few years back, he invited me to his home for the interview. I play his music on my radio show all the time, he has been a guest on my show, and he has played at the live monthly music series I host several times, both at The Woodlands and at Breakers. He also played at the former “Concert for a Cause” several times and contributed songs to the annual album, and when I organized the “We All Shine On: A Tribute To John Lennon” event at the River Street Jazz Café, I asked Wesley to close the show. He did. And everyone else on the bill got up on stage with him at the end of the night and sang “Instant Karma.” It was, to this day, one of the coolest things I have ever seen.

They say it’s hard to do a benefit show on a Friday night because that’s a night most bands are out making their living. And that is true. But again, this one came together easily. So many of Wesley’s musician friends simply said, “We will be there.” That says a lot about how much they love him.

“Maximum Respect.” That has always been one of Wesley’s favorite expressions. When he says it to you, it is a great compliment. And on Sept. 2, that’s what we all hope NEPA will show him. Lord knows how many benefits he’s played over the years to help others in need. Probably hundreds. Now, it’s time for us to give back something to him. And when he picks up that big award of his in September, we all want him feeling better and knowing how much he means to us.

Maximum respect, George.

Maximum respect.

Maximum Respect: A Benefit for George Wesley
Where: River Street Jazz Cafe, 667 N. River St., Plains Township
When: Friday, Sept. 2, 6 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Donation: $10
Info: 570-822-2992
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