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Sugarloaf, Pennsylvania, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2010 | SELF

Sugarloaf, Pennsylvania, United States | SELF
Established on Jan, 2010
Band Rock Classic Rock




"The British are coming!"

“We’re trying to do something different,” says Substitute frontman Mario Tombasco. “When we put on a show, we don’t sound like any other band in the area.”

Tombasco, who incidentally also handles guitar, ukulele, and even French horn for the Hazleton-based five-piece, will put his money where his mouth is when Substitute plays a British Invasion tribute show on Saturday, Oct. 25 at Evans Roadhouse in Drums. For Tombasco, indulging an audience in all things Merseybeat-rooted is nothing new. In fact, besides taking its name from The Who song of the same name, Substitute has channeled the pomp and circumstance of the uniquely 1960s Brit-ripped tunesmithing before to great reception.

“Sometimes we’ll do an entire album, like The Beatles’ ‘Sgt. Pepper,’” explains Tombasco. “Even the weird ones; the ones with sitar.”

Tombasco also tells of the band trying their hand at performing The Who’s classic rock opera “Tommy” in its entirety, pulling out all the stops. “We did that at the (Sybertsville) Frogtowne Grill and had the club owner bring a pinball machine to the front of the stage,” he recalls. “That was fun, having people play pinball in front of the band for ‘Pinball Wizard.’ Then for ‘Tommy,’ I played French horn. You always get a great response with the tribute shows.”

Substitute has even gone so far as to accomplish a full-blown Led Zeppelin tribute in the past, as well as working on a Grateful Dead tribute, among others. The attention to musicianship within the band certainly helps when fleshing out such hallowed material; the band has the added musical firepower of a fiddle in Gerald Heffner, a secret weapon of sorts which it uses to its advantage.

“This guy is good,” Tombasco says without missing a step. “It’s like having two lead guitars in the band when he gets going.”

The fiddle is prominently featured even during a “regular” show that the band might play. Rounded out by bassist Dominic Merola, keyboardist Andrew Kuklis, and drummer Matt Farrell, the band’s usual setlist consists of material pulled from within classic rock realm, but still figuring in heavy doses of Rolling Stones, Kinks, and even newer British bands like Oasis. Of course, there are those, “Wow, did they just play that?” moments of which Tombasco is most proud.

“During a normal show, we’ll do (The Charlie Daniels Band’s) ‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia,’ and it’s almost always the biggest song of the night,” he admits. “We put our own spin on the songs. With the fiddle, we’ll put a solo where there’s not supposed to be one, or we’ll just make medleys on the fly; we pride ourselves on not playing the obvious choice.”

The band has had other memorable moments over the course of its three years of live performance. In June, Substitute had the opportunity to play some of their original music for a Staten Island, N.Y.-based television show called “Mallet’s Place,” a music-themed program featuring “cultural and educational entertainment,” and an affiliate within the Time Warner cable system – a chance for the band to be seen in approximately 98 markets throughout the U.S.

“That was a great experience being on a legitimate broadcast, with a green room and a really good sound guy too,” says Tombasco. “It was great being treated with that much respect and professionalism, because you don’t always get that.”

The band looks ahead to focusing on more original material; right now, time constraints prevent a deep focus upon such endeavors.

“We have enough songs written for an album,” begins Tombasco. “It’s just a matter of finding the time to get everyone together and record it. We’ll record a couple of songs or a full album; we’ll see what we can do with it.”

For now, Substitute is focused on bringing the iconic sounds that defined a generation of British rock ‘n’ roll to an eager crowd. As Tombasco warns, the night won’t be limited to Beatles and Stones swagger alone.

“There’s also The Hollies, The Zombies, Donovan, The Animals,” he lists. “We try to throw some stuff in there that you wouldn’t expect to see. We might not play (The Beatles’) ‘Revolution,’ but we’ll play ‘Ticket to Ride’ instead. If you don’t know one song, you’ll definitely know the next one. The band sounds really good playing British songs; I don’t know what it is – we almost don’t have to practice it. We just know it.”

Tombasco also looks forward to educating some folks in his audience beyond the borders of the most well-known British Invasion material.

“Someone asked us to play some Kinks one night,” he begins rather amusingly. “We played ‘(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman,’ and when we finished the song, they asked us to play some Kinks. Then we played ‘Lola.’ I thought they would have gotten the first one.”

“We can’t go too far off the deep end, but we do our best to keep it interesting – for both the audience and for us.”

For more on Substitute, visit or - The Weekender


We're currently working on our first studio release.  There are live recordings of us on the EPK, and some of Mario's recordings that we like very much.



Hello and welcome to the dim and dusty corner of the internet reserved for a band called Substitute. Firstly, a grammar lesson:

sub-sti-tute (plural substitutes)

  1. A replacement or stand-in for something that achieves a similar result or purpose.

Substitute (occasionally advertised as The Substitutes) is a rock band based in Northeast Pennsylvania. We often play covers, hence we are substitutes for the real thing. Get it? Good. Moving on...

Our repertoire spans the 50's through today with a concentration in classic rock and 90's alternative. We also occasionally play selections from our catalog of original songs which are disarmingly upbeat while containing lyrics mostly dealing with liquor and failure. The band has existed in one form or another since 2004 and has been playing publicly since 2010. We play throughout the Hazleton, Wilkes-Barre and Scranton areas as well as the Poconos and the Lehigh Valley, but we're always looking for new locales within reasonable driving distance for a vintage Volkswagen Vanagon.

In addition to the local bar, pub, and club circuit we are also available for private parties, reunions, weddings, funerals, or any other events where you'd like to have us. We normally perform as a five-piece band, but if space or decibels are a concern we also play as an acoustic duo under the terribly clever name SubstiTwo. We're an extremely adaptable band equally comfortable playing in a deserted parking lot or on a crowded windowsill.

We currently pull from a list of about 250 songs for four-hour shows and we try not to play the same show at the same venue twice. We also pride ourselves on being able to fulfill requests. As long as one band member knows your song or something in the ballpark we'll give it a shot. We play an eclectic mix of music and our song choice is generally not to play biggest hit of a given artist, but to play the other hit that another cover band would forget about. In one set you're liable to hear The Who, Tom Petty, Cage the Elephant, The Righteous Brothers, The Spin Doctors, TLC (seriously) and an Irish jig. In addition to our normal gigs we also sometimes perform themed shows such as covering entire albums (our most recent project was The Who's "TOMMY") or having a night devoted to a particular artist.

Thanks for dropping in to our little slice of the internet and considering Substitute for your background noise of choice! You should probably head on over to our Facebook page and follow us there since we're notoriously poor at keeping our website up-to-date.

Hope you dig it.

Jerry, Mario, Matt, Dominic & sometimes Andy

Band Members