The Eighth Street Bridge playing reunion show at River Street Jazz Cafe in Plains April 30
PLAINS TWP. — From approximately 1967 to 1975, the Eighth Street Bridge was one of the most active, successful and popular bands in Northeastern Pennsylvania, filling music clubs throughout the region with young people eager to hear both hits and deeper cuts from the revolutionary, pioneering rock and roll movement of the time.
Featuring original members Bill Space, Dave “Steve-O” Steve and Carl Belcastro, the Eighth Street Bridge will play its first official show under that name in 41 years from 8 to 11:30 p.m. April 30 at the River Street Jazz Cafe.
The event is presented by Space’s duo The Great Rock Pair with the Bridge’s original rhythm section of Space on rhythm guitar, Steve on drums and Belcastro on bass joined by lead guitarist and singer Karl Metzger (Space’s partner in the duo) and longtime collaborator and singer Betsy Prokopchak.
Although Space, Steve and Belcastro performed at an impromptu gathering with former Bridge guitarist Jack Wargo in 2014, Space said this is the first reunion that has been deliberately planned and rehearsed.
“It can’t be a full fledged reunion because our leader and founder, Butch Mattei, passed away,” Space said. “Jackie Wargo lives in California, and others aren’t interested. And so, the three of us who made up the original rhythm section of the band, the ones who still play together, have decided to do this while the opportunity is at hand.”
The Eighth Street Bridge was formed in Exeter by singer and arranger Roy “Butch” Mattei, and the band became known throughout the region for its impeccable reproductions of songs by various other bands.
“It morphed from the Fugitives, which was Butch and Roger Mattei’s band before Butch went to Vietnam,” Space said. “They were just so polished, and Butchy brought that spirit into the Eighth Street Bridge.”
West Wyoming resident Bill Mesaris said he saw the Bridge play between 50 and 60 times in many different places but mostly at The Scene, which was located in what is now the Midway Shopping Center in Wyoming.
“It was a time,” Mesaris said. “Everything was changing, and the band fit perfectly into that time, because they played the music for that time.”
The band was known for covering famed acts like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, but it also surprised audiences by staying ahead of the newest music being released.
“They would introduce bands that were new, like Mike Bloomfield and Al Cooper (on) Super Session and Spirit and Spooky Tooth, that people never heard of before,” Mesaris said. “So we were going out and buying the albums. They broadened our horizons.”
Space said the band proliferated after spending the summer of 1969 in Atlantic City, playing five and sometimes eight hour gigs six days a week.
“We were beside ourselves with fatigue but the band kept getting tighter and tighter,” Space said. “The ungodly hours fostered that kind of a gelling.”
Upon returning, Space said, the band’s name began to grow.
“We’d play four or five nights a week and never play in a bar,” Space said. “There were loads of teenage band places. There was a place on the square (in Wilkes-Barre) called the Naked Grape. I’d go up there to play, and there’d be 600 kids in there.”
Don Hudock, of Exeter, was a few years younger than the band members during their heyday. He said he saw the band at least 30 times.
“Three of the five guys were from my town, so we had a personal connection to the band,” Hudock said. “I’d see Billy (Space) at church or at the store. We looked up to them like they had made it. In the Valley, they were awesome. They had a following.”
Hudock remembers spectacular renditions of “About to Die” by Procol Harum and “Louisiana Blues” by Savoy Brown.
“They had original material that was theirs,” Hudock said. ”Then they’d do songs from other groups. If you closed your eyes, it was just like the record.”
At its height, the Eighth Street Bridge opened for such acts as Steppenwolf and Joe Cocker, stacking up formidably against nationally charting bands.
Space said people can expect to hear some of what they heard during the band’s original tenure but the band will focus on what it can play well with the five people available.
(Karl Metzger) is singing some of Butch’s songs, and he’s doing a great job,” Space said. “We’re going to do something by Cream and Spooky Tooth. We’re doing two sets, an acoustic set and an electric set. In terms of playlist — not only because of Butchy but because of my duo — what was in common to both of those was a lot of Beatles. We’re doing a lot of Beatles.”
Tickets for the Eighth Street Bridge may be purchased for $6.50 in advance by visiting www.riverstreetjazzcafe.com and $5 at the door the evening of the show. Space said tickets are going fast.
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651
IF YOU GO …
What: The Great Rock Pair presents Eighth Street Bridge Reunion
Where: River Street Jazz Cafe, 667 N. River St., Plains
When: 8 to 11:30 p.m. April 30
Additional information: Tickets cost $6.50 in advance and $5 the evening of the show. Advanced tickets cost $1.50 more due to service fees. The band wanted to keep the ticket prices as low as it could, which is why door prices are cheaper than advanced tickets. For advanced tickets visit www.riverstreetjazzcafe.com.