On Stage: Christine Havrilla fights through a difficult year

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Christine Havrilla

It’s safe to say that 2021 was a tough year for all of us with the pandemic causing major disruptions in health, work, school and just about everything else.

It’s also safe to say that 2021 was a tough year – an extremely tough year – for Christine Havrilla, a talented singer/songwriter/guitarist who is headlining a show at The Queen (500 North Market Street, Wilmington, www.thequeenwilmington.com) on January 15.

For the veteran musician, 2021 was a year of cancer, COVID, less work and difficult times – much like the year before.

A Christine Havrilla Emergency Fund gofundme site (www.gofundme.com/f/christine-havrilla-emergency-fund/donate) was started in mid-2020 with this message –

“Dear friends and fellow music lovers,

“This is about our beloved Christine Havrilla, who has graced so many of us with decades of inspiring music and performances. She is, and has always been, one of the hardest working musicians out there. Also like many hard-working musicians, her health insurance is lacking.

“As you all may have noticed, she hasn’t walked straight in months now, and as it turns out Ibuprofen won’t do the trick this time. So far, Chris needs 2 MRIs for neoplasm of the bone and lumbar radiculopathy. Pending results, many more tests and procedures will likely be necessary.

“So here is an opportunity to give back to the wonderful person who has given so much to all of us. Please consider donating to her cause.”

Havrilla, who lived in West Chester in the mid-2010s, is back performing live onstage as she wages a courageous battle against cancer.

“It all happened right after COVID hit,” said Havrilla, during a phone interview Monday afternoon from her home in Milton, Delaware.

“COVID hit in March 2020, and I was diagnosed with cancer in April 2020. I’ve been on chemo ever since – and chemo messes you up. Chemo affects your white cell count.”

Havrilla was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. The spread has targeted the bones in her hip and pelvis, causing her severe pain and difficulty walking. She has recently finished radiation and is now on a treatment plan that includes chemotherapy, several hormone targeted pills/injections, and a bone strengthening infusion, with morphine to help with the pain.

On December 7, 2021, Havrilla posted this message on the gofundme page –

“Hello everyone and happy holidays! As we wind down 2021 I just wanted to reach out and thank you all again so much for your support over this past year as I have kept the fight up against cancer!

“As you know my treatments were changed up a bit and I started a new chemo as well as adding in new injections that are literally a pain in my ass!

“We are still keeping an eye on what is happening but for now, my white blood cell count has been stable, however, my tumor marker is going up and that is a concern for my docs. We will monitor this into January and then do scans again if necessary and go from there. Last scans showed the spot on my liver getting bigger.

“I am hopeful, of course, and look forward to seeing you or connecting in some way with you soon!”

Havrilla said, “It’s still a fight. Stage 4 is always a fight. I’ll still be doing chemo for a while.

“I stay strong. The first six months were hard but now it’s not bad. I feel great most of the time. I stay positive.

“Music definitely helps. I’ve been staying busy the last few months. Getting to tour for the last six months has been really fun.”

Havrilla, who graduated from long-shuttered St. Pius X High School in Pottstown, has played almost every venue in the area – many of which are now shuttered.

“When the pandemic hit, all my touring stopped,” said Havrilla, who refers to her music style as “neofunkadelicfolkpoptwangrock.”

“I went online and did a lot of livestream shows – all from home. I also did some writing. I just rode out the storm waiting to play live again.

“When I got diagnosed with cancer, it was a good time to slow down. It gave me a good chance to connect with fans online and that helped me deal with cancer.

“The challenge was to connect with people. Being in stripped-down for livestream was cool because people were used to me playing with my band or looping.

“I started playing out again in May or June. It was so extra-exciting to be able to play for my fans in a live setting again.”

The guitar is the instrument that is the foundation for Havrilla.

“I grew up playing music,” said Havrilla. “My father and my aunt played guitar. Music was one of the things that was always there.

“When I was really young, I used to sneak in and get my dad’s guitar from under his bed. I read his chord books and taught myself how to play. I was around five at the time. It was a big guitar, so I sat on the floor and had it on my lap.

“I never studied music — never took lessons. I grew up playing guitar in church. I was always playing with adults. I learned how to harmonize and interact with other instruments.”

Before long, Havrilla’s love of music — especially guitar — evolved into a career in music.

“I put out my first album in 1996 — back when independent artists were putting out their own CDs,” said Havrilla. “It was self-titled. I went to a studio on Ardmore with a full band. I did fund raising and pre-order sales. It was all home-grown. By 1999, I was doing music full-time.”

Havrilla’s latest album brought her back to the Brandywine Valley.

“In 2019, the band and I put an album out, ‘Soulless Escapade,’” said Havrilla. “It was self-produced and self-released.

“We recorded the album at Studio 1311 in Chester Heights. My bass player Keith Giosa owns the studio.”

Havrilla is definitely staying busy. She has around 20 shows booked between now and the end of February – including the Kelly Center in Havertown on March 19.

“I’m doing a lot of solo work in smaller rooms,” slid Havrilla. “It just feels so good to be able to play a lot of shows for my fans.”

Video link for Christine Havrilla — https://youtu.be/pR8vZXWmeVI.

The show at The Queen will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $18 with a BOGO (buy one get one free) option available.

Vanessa Collier

On January 13, The Queen will host a show by Vanessa Collier.

When the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in 2020, it forced Collier to abandon a spring/summer tour after just one show and to push back the release of her new album. It also wiped out a blues cruise in the fall on which she was scheduled to be a featured performer.

Fortunately, Collier, a resident of Chadds Ford, has been able to book shows again – a lot of shows.

After her gig in Wilmington, she rounds out the weekend with shows in Massachusetts and New Hampshire and closes the month with a show in D.C. on January 22.

Collier visits Chester County for a concert on February 3 at The Soundbank in Phoenixville. February’s schedule includes gigs in Wheeling, and Tampa, two shows in Syracuse, two in Lima (NY) and two cruises — Rock Legends Cruise and Joe Bonamassa Keeping the Blues Alive Cruise.

For her, it’s a welcome relief from the days of the pandemic shutdown.

“I played a show at the Arden Gild in February 2020 and a few other shows after that,” said Collier, during a phone interview. “My last gig on the tour was March 12 – the first show of a Midwest tour. We played Mojo’s Boneyard in Evansville, Indiana. That same day, the NBA and MLB stopped their games.

“I realized it was serious, so I said to my band – ‘let’s play this show and go home.’ I love to talk to people after my shows. I just like chatting with my fans, but I couldn’t do that. Instead, the show ended, and I had to head back to the Green Room. I like hugging people, but I didn’t want to put them at risk.”

Collier released her latest album “Heart On The Line” in August 2020 – an album that has received rave reviews from music critics and fans alike. Still in her mid-20s, Collier has toured all over the world numerous times and has released three solo albums. With searing saxophone solos, soulful vocals, and witty lyrics, her songwriting features a blend of blues, funk, rock, and soul.

Collier’s impressive vocals and stinging saxophone work saw her light up stages as part of Joe Louis Walker’s band in 2012 and 2013.

In 2014, her debut album “Heart Soul & Saxophone” won her accolades as a “Best of 2014 Blues Breaker.” In March 2017, she released her sophomore album “Meeting My Shadow.” Collier’s third album “Honey Up” was released on July 6, 2018.

Collier is primarily a sax player, singer and songwriter but is also well-versed in playing clavinet, flute, electric organ, and percussion.

“When I was little, I really wanted to play piano,” said Collier. “I don’t know why. I started taking piano lessons but didn’t like the teacher, so I quit after six months. I saw someone playing sax on television and fell in love with it. We rented a sax for me when I was in fourth grade. That was in school. Then, I studied with a private instructor for a few years.

“Then, I took lessons with Chris Vadala, who played sax with Chuck Mangione. I studied with him for seven years – classical, jazz and funk. He started me doubling on flute and clarinet. I still play those instruments. Mainly, I play sax — tenor, some soprano and some baritone.”

Collier’s previous album “Honey Up” was released almost two years and was nominated for Blues Music Award (BMA) Contemporary Blues Album of the Year.

“That album did well right from the start,” said Collier. “It was a Top 5 Billboard Blues Album and was well-received by radio deejays.”

Collier was nominated in 2017 for a Blues Music Award in the “Instrumental — Horn Player of the Year” category. She also won first place in the “Lyrics Only” category of the 2017 USA Songwriting Competition. In 2018, Collier was nominated in two categories at the Blues Music Awards – “Contemporary Blues Female Artist of the Year” and “Instrumental — Horn Player of the Year.”

In 2019, she was again nominated in same two categories at the Blues Music Awards – “Contemporary Blues Female Artist of the Year” and “Instrumental – Horn.” She claimed first place in the “Instrumental – Horn” category.

“Honey Up,” which had a three-month residency on Billboard’s “Top Blues Albums Chart,” provides a good look at Collier’s influences.

“With jazz, the first person I was turned on to was Cannonball Adderley,” said Collier. “Other major influences were John Coltrane, Junior Walker, and Maceo Parker. Vocally, I started with Etta James, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan and that morphed into Norah Jones and Bonnie Raitt.”

Collier recorded “Heart on the Line” at Hearstudios in Camden, Maine and released it on her own label – Phenix Fire Records.

“It’s the same studio I used for ‘Honey Up’,” said Collier. “I used the same engineer – Mark Wessel. He was a professor I had at Berklee for a course in music production. He really captures each instrument as it sounds in the room and is absolutely wonderful to work with.”

Video link for Vanessa Collier — https://youtu.be/oams93CwIKU.

The show at The Queen on January 13 will start at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10 with a BOGO (buy one get one free) option available.

Danny Paisley

Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center (226 North High Street, West Chester, uptownwestchester.org) had three shows scheduled for the next few days — Joe Conklin and City Rhythm Orchestra were listed for January 13 and 14. Danny Paisley’s show was scheduled for January 15.

Paisley, an Avon Grove High alumnus who lives in Landenberg, is the leader of a national bluegrass act — Danny Paisley & Southern Comfort.

Danny Paisley and the Southern Grass play powerful, unadorned, and intense traditional bluegrass. Their combination of instrumentation and vocals convey the energy and emotion of classic bluegrass and country music.

Paisley was looking forward to a “hometown” Chester County show to perform his new album, “Bluegrass Troubadour,” for area fans. He also had a show booked for January 16 at Jumbo Jimmy’s Crab Shack in Port Deposit, Maryland.

On Tuesday night, Paisley sent me the following message – “Hello Denny. My agent informed me today that this Saturday’s gig was postponed to May. Due to Covid concerns.”

On Wednesday, he posted this message on his Facebook page – “Our gig at Jumbo Jimmy’s has been postponed this Sunday due to Covid Surge.”

Fortunately for fans of the bluegrass guitar veteran, Paisley’s show at the Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center has been rescheduled for May 8.

Joe Conklin

Conklin has been a constant in Philadelphia radio for more than 20 years, with his spot-on impressions of Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Cole Hamels, Allen Iverson, Charles Barkley, Harry Kalas, Bobby Clarke and many others. Fearless and hilarious, he skewers some of the country’s top politicians, pro athletes, sports executives, and film stars.

Conklin has been playing to sold out houses at such theatres as the 1000 seat Borgata Music Box, the Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, and the Broadway Theatre in Pitman. He has appeared on the SHOWTIME Comedy Club Network and his comedy videos, “Let’s Call In Sick” and “Action News Theme,” aired on MTV & PRISM.

Conklin is also one of the most sought-after corporate banquet speakers in the area. His stand-up routine is legendary, as he’s skewered some of the country’s top politicians, pro athletes, sports executives, and film stars, sometimes to their faces.

Conklin is a 12-time AIR award winner for Excellence in Broadcasting and his work has been recognized by the Mid-Atlantic Emmy Awards. His TV credits include NFL Films Presents, NBC Sports, Entertainment Tonight, NBA on TNT, ESPN: Baseball Tonight, Good Day Philadelphia, The Q Show, Comcast Sportsnet, Finder’s Keepers, and America’s Funniest People.

The shows at Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center are billed as “Comedy and music in a salute to Philadelphia sports.”

Conklin will join with the City Rhythm Orchestra and present a nostalgic journey featuring all his celebrity sports impressions, an eight-piece orchestra and a cast of singers.

Video link for Joe Conklin — https://youtu.be/VISr3nlmeL8.

Both shows at Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center — January 13 and 14 — will start at 8 p.m. and both are sold out. With rise in COVID infections, ticket holders may opt out so contact the theater to be placed on a waiting list.

The Kimmel Cultural Campus (Broad and Spruce streets, Philadelphia, 215-731-3333, www.kimmelculturalcampus.org) will present Kronos Quartet on January 14 (Perelman Theater), Philadelphia Orchestra from January 14-17 (Verizon Hall), Philadelphia Chamber Music Society on January 18 (Perelman Theater), and the touring Broadway musical “Pretty Woman” now through January 16 (Academy of Music).

“Pretty Woman,” which is based on the iconic movie of the same name that featured Julia Roberts and Richard Gere, is out on its first national tour.

The musical adaptation of the movie flows seamlessly and the show is propelled by a stellar cast featuring mostly young talent along with a few older guys.

“Pretty Woman” is an iconic brand. With ‘Pretty Woman,’ the movie’s brand is bigger than most. It’s the biggest Rom-Com ever – and definitely a ‘feel good’ show.”

Video link for “Pretty Woman” — https://youtu.be/4wV9Lym0n3o.

“Pretty Woman” is running now through January 16 at the Academy of Music.

The Kimmel Cultural Campus is joining performing arts centers across the nation in requiring that all guests over 12 provide proof of full COVID-19 vaccination. Unvaccinated and partially vaccinated guests under 12 will be required to show proof of a negative COVID test. This policy is for all performances and events in all venues –including the Kimmel Center, the Academy of Music, and the Merriam Theater.

Stephanie Phillips

Kennett Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org) is presenting Stephanie Phillips with Mackenzie Markstein on January 14 and “The Legendary Kennett Flash Open Mic Night with Guest Host Terry Merriman” on January 16.

Jamey’s House of Music (32 South Lansdowne Avenue, Lansdowne, 215-477-9985, www.jameyshouseofmusic.com) will host the Jackson Taylor Band with Parajita as the opening act on January 14 and a Sunday Blues & Brunch Jam on January 16.

The Ardmore Music Hall (23 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, 610-649-8389, www.ardmoremusic.com) will present The Samples on January 14, Splintered Sunlight on January 15 and Unforgettable Fire on January 16.

118 North (118 North Wayne Avenue, Wayne, www.118northwayne.com) will host Hazy Cosmic Jive on January 13, John Smith on January 14, and Athensville and Betterducks on January 16.

The Keswick Theater (291 N. Keswick Avenue, Glenside, 215-572-7650, www.keswicktheatre.com) will host Kashmir on January 15.

The Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com) will present Albert Lee on January 13 and Love’s A Joke on January 16.

The Grand Opera House (818 North Market Street, Wilmington, Delaware, 302-652-5577, www.thegrandwilmington.org) will present Drumline on January 16.

The Xcite Center at Parx Casino (2999 Street Road, Bensalem, 888-588-7279, https://parxcasino.com) will have Jess Hilarious as a headliner on January 14.

Fillmore Philadelphia (1100 Canal Street, Philadelphia, 215-309-0150, www.thefillmorephilly.com) will have Upsahl on January 15, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong on January 15 and falling in Reverse on January 19.

PhilaMOCA (531 North 12th Street, Philadelphia, 267-519-9651, www.philamoca.org) will present Ethan Jewell on January 14.

Rrazz Room (6426 Lower York Road, New Hope, 888-596-1027, www.TheRrazzRoom.com) will host Jackie “The Joke Man” Martling on January 15.

   Send article as PDF   

Share this post:

Related Posts

Leave a Comment