Marking 30 years of music at River Street Jazz Cafe

Nov. 16—If you've been to the River Street Jazz Cafe recently, you know it hosts much more than jazz.

"Now it's any genre of music," said owner Rob Friedman, whose love for jazz and blues led him to establish the Plains Township venue 30 years ago. "Each band brings in a different group of people. The Dead Head crowd is different from a rhythm and blues crowd, different from a jam-based crowd, which I find interesting.

But for the 30th anniversary celebration, set for Saturday, Nov. 18, the River Street Jazz Cafe will return to its roots and host Scranton-based blues and jazz guitarist Clarence Spady and The Electric City Band, with saxophone player Tony Carfora as guest artist. (Doors open at 8 p.m., music begins at 9; tickets are $8 in advance and $12 at the door.)

Friedman likely will join in with the professional musicians that evening, he admitted with a grin.

"Clarence, who's a friend, usually pulls me onstage," he said. "I play a little guitar."

Friedman has long been an admirer of Spady, whose talent helped inspire him to establish the River Street Jazz Cafe, in a space where furniture was once manufactured.

"I really wanted to bring blues and jazz back to the area," Friedman said. "I used to travel to New York and Philly to hear it, and I thought maybe there's a following here."

He invested in a sound system and acoustics that show the musicians' talent to advantage, and brings in professionals from Rock Street Music in Pittston to handle the sound and lighting.

"Musicians appreciate that we're designed for them," he said. "They're not being crammed into the corner of a bar."

Here the music is center stage, Friedman said. "People are interested in the music, whether they come alone or with friends. It's not a pick-up bar."

Over the years the River Street Jazz Cafe has hosted such luminaries as Bo Diddley, Lionel Hampton, Maynard Ferguson, Dickey Betts, Joe Cotton, Average White Band and Roomful of Blues.

Clarence Spady has been a regular, performing at the venue about once every three months for 30 years. He put together the Electric City Band, and Friedman predicts they'll provide "a great show, with a little blues, some funk, some classic rock."

Guest artist Tony Carfora likewise has a long history at the River Street Jazz Cafe, starting when he was an eighth grader from West Pittston who accompanied his parents to the club and asked to play along on a song.

"He was a shy little kid," Friedman said, explaining Carfora is now a successful musician in New York. "There's nothing shy about him now."

Friedman is founder of the Friedman Hospitality Group, which includes the restaurants Kevin's in Kingston, Bank + Vine in Wilkes-Barre; Salt & Pepper Pub in Nanticoke, Cork in Wilkes-Barre, Grico's in Exeter, Rikasa in Pittston, The Beaumont Inn in Dallas, The Greens at Irem in Dallas and Fire & Ice on Toby Creek in Shavertown.

But the Jazz Cafe, with its hardwood floor and lower-level rathskeller ambience, is his labor of love.

"The numbers to make a small music club successful in an area like this one are difficult," he said. "You're busy on Friday and Saturday night, between 9 and midnight. Basically you've got six hours to generate enough money to pay all the bills. It's not profitable by any measure."

Still, he loves the place.

"When I come here and the musicians are playing well and the place is full and people are bobbing their heads in time to the beat," he said, "there's nothing like it."

The first 100 people to come to Saturday's 30th anniversary celebration will get an anniversary t-shirt which incorporates a design of the colorful mural that artist Robin Glazer painted on the cafe wall in 1993. And everyone who comes to this celebration or future concerts will have the joy of supporting live music.

"Even if you don't recognize the band, come on a whim," Friedman urged. "This is where famous bands get their start. So you'll have an opportunity to hear somebody that could be famous in a few years."

Don't hesitate to dance, he added.

"We encourage the dancing," he said. "If you like the music, don't be afraid to get up and move."

The River Street Jazz Cafe is located at 667 N. River St., Plains Township. Tickets are available at



The Times Leader was on hand five years ago when the cafe marked its 25th anniversary. Read more about that here and here.