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It’s an impossible paradox of the best Americana music that every song sounds familiar yet new, but The Whiskey River Panhandlers pull it off. Although some carefully-chosen covers are included in the Panhandlers’ sets, most of what you’ll hear is original songs whose taproots run deep, evoking a simpler time when pretty much all music was acoustic and live. The band hails from Johnstown, Pennsylvania, a town best known for the 1889 flood but that sits perched on the northern end of the Appalachian Mountains, a fact that’s obvious when you listen to them.
Since their 2008 founding the Panhandlers have been steadily growing their fan base at events like the AmeriServ Flood City Music Festival, as well as a wide range of regional venues large and small. They're the rare act that all ages truly like, a band with almost universal appeal. It's too bad the demands of day jobs and “real life” tend to keep them off the road -- the Panhandlers would go over anywhere from hipster New York nightclubs to the dustiest honky-tonks in Nashville.
Lead vocalist Chris Verbano plays acoustic guitar, harmonica, mandolin and washboard. Chris is well-known on the local scene for his work preserving and programming the Roxbury Bandshell, a WPA-era treasure, with an eclectic Sunday concert series. Mike Giuffre shares lead vocal duty, bringing a pure and strong tenor to the mix, and plays guitar and 4- and 5-string banjo. Mike shares songwriting duties with his younger brother Justin Giuffre, who plays string bass, alternately percussive or melodic as the tune demands. Justin is also a luthier who maintains a studio in the Artworks, where he also books occasional shows by national touring talents.
The band released their aptly-titled debut CD, “Songs from Grandma’s Radio,” in 2011, followed by an EP, “Christmas at Whiskey Hollow,” with another local Americana act, Striped Maple Hollow (kindred spirits in more ways than one – lead singer Sonya Giuffre is married to Justin). They’re currently working on their next CD, with the tentative title “Matchbook.”