SRU professor and alumnus rocks the Tribeca Film Festival as a guitarist with The Vindys


The Vindys

From left, John Anthony, a Slippery Rock University music instructor and alumnus, is a member of The Vindys rock band that also includes Jackie Popovec and Rick Deak (photo by Cusano Photography).

June 13, 2023

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. — The term "rock star" gets thrown around often these days to describe high achievers, such as rock-star professors or rock-star alumni. But every now and then, you come across someone deserving of the title. For John Anthony, a Slippery Rock University music instructor who also graduated from the University, the turn of phrase is quite literal: he's the lead guitarist for The Vindys, an emerging rock band based in northeast Ohio that is catching a lot of attention for their music, as well as in the film and sports industries.

Anthony, a 2010 SRU graduate with a degree in music education, teaches guitar classes and leads a new guitar ensemble at SRU. As an adjunct professor, Anthony is moonlighting from his full-time job as a music teacher for Austintown Local Schools in Ohio. But his other side gig includes touring with The Vindys, who have opened for artists from Pat Benatar to Hunter Hayes.

Earlier this year, The Vindys' music video for their song "Bugs" was selected for the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, where it premiered with eight other music videos from musicians including The Black Keys and Lizzo. Only 76 films were accepted out of the thousands of films across a variety of categories that are submitted to Tribeca each year. The festival was started in 2002 to spur the economic and cultural revitalization of lower Manhattan following the 9/11 attacks. One of its founders is film legend Robert De Niro.

"This is the first time that we are getting some really big national coverage," said Anthony, who was a founding member of The Vindys when band was formed in 2014. "We've had some momentum and push with really cool opportunities."

In 2019, The Vindys' "Are You Ready" music video was shown during inning breaks as part of the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball telecasts as part of their Friday Nights Rocks segments. The song was also featured in the opening highlight montages for Pittsburgh Penguins hockey telecasts on AT&T SportsNet. In 2023, the song reached a national audience when ESPN used it in the opening of its NCAA Softball Championship coverage.

Meanwhile, The Vindys have been on the road playing shows in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. They've appeared at several music festivals, including Wonderstruck in Cleveland and the Three Rivers Arts Festival in Pittsburgh, and, on July 28, they will be performing at Stage AE in Pittsburgh.

Despite the busy schedule, Anthony is able to play all the chords with the The Vindys and his two jobs as a music instructor.

"One of my greatest assets is that I can fit my life together," said Anthony, who lives in Boardman, Ohio, with his wife, Alexa. "It's very challenging, but it's wonderful. It just takes a lot of preparation and looking ahead to make sure everything lines up where it needs to be."

Seventeen years ago, Anthony realized that SRU was where he needed to be. After attending the Summer Arts and Jazz Academy at SRU when he was a student at Mohawk High School in nearby New Castle, Anthony chose to enroll at SRU. It also helped that he was asked to join the SRU Jazz Ensemble for their summer tour of Europe before his freshman year.

John at the Tribeca Film Festival

   John Anthony, a Slippery Rock University music instructor and
   alumnus, outside the Village East Cinema. Anthony is the
   guitarist for The Vindys, who had their music video premiered
   at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City
   (photo courtesy of The Vindys).

"SRU is one of the best schools in the tri-state area for music education," Anthony said. "The faculty are great. I love the campus. I thought it was wonderful."

"It is rare to encounter young students who are as focused on one thing as much as John," said David Glover, associate professor of music, who mentored Anthony in high school and college. "He was passionate about music and the guitar from a very early age and has developed that passion into a highly successful career as a guitarist and music educator."

Anthony mentioned Glover, Stephen Hawk and Jason Kush among the faculty who influenced him the most.

"Those three, they really set me up to be a successful music educator," Anthony said. "There's always bumps and bruises when you're a first-time teacher or a 35-year teacher, but SRU provided such a wonderful foundation for everything I needed to do in the classroom today."

"John has music in his bones, whether that's performing or teaching," Kush said. "He's always been driven since he was a student. What sets him apart is that he is academically minded but also a rock musician to the core. But he doesn't live that stereotypical rock-star lifestyle. He likes teaching and he's humble, down-to-earth and relatable."

After graduating from SRU in 2010, Anthony earned his master's degree in music (jazz studies) from Youngstown State University, where he led a 13-piece Frank Zappa Ensemble. He then taught music for 10 years at McDonald Local Schools before moving to Austintown in 2022.

As a freelance musician playing in the Youngstown area, Anthony met Jackie Popovec. The two decided to start their own band, The Vindys, a name inspired by the shorthand for the Youngstown newspaper, The Vindicator. Popovec is the lead vocalist and the other current regular member is rhythm guitarist Rick Deak.

"It started as a cover band in Youngstown and then Jackie started bringing originals that we were workshopping," Anthony said. "We had enough to come out with our first EP in November 2014 and some of the songs got picked up on our local radio station in Akron, Ohio, The Summit. From there, it just exploded, and we were getting a lot more opportunities. We're starting to branch out from a cover band to basically only doing original material band in 2017."

In 2021, the Canton Repository referred to Anthony as a "guitar virtuosity" and described Popovec's vocals as evoking "Amy Winehouse on the more retro songs while going full-tilt rock 'n' roll on the harder, moodier numbers."

That virtuosity has carried over to Anthony's teaching. He has contributed cross-curricular lessons focused on The Grateful Dead to the national curriculum and served as a consultant for the curriculum geared toward elementary students. He has also presented lectures and contributed an article to TRIAD, a publication of the Ohio Music Education Association, titled "Using Popular Music in the Classroom: A User's Guide On How Not To Look Awkward Teaching It."

In addition to helping start the Guitar Ensemble at SRU, Anthony teaches a methods course where he teaches students how to teach certain instruments like the ukulele or bass guitar.

"I teach them how to play the guitar and how to teach someone how to play it," Anthony said. "I use what I experienced in the classroom and use it to benefit future music educators."

Despite his rock star status, Anthony doesn't go out of his way to mention that to his students. He said most of his students at SRU are jazz-oriented but they are open to more rock or blues based music, especially if it expands their knowledge and musicianship.

"They appreciate that I am doing 'the thing' and experiencing it firsthand," Anthony said. "But when I'm in work mode, I try to professionally separate other parts of my life unless it's something I can use as a teaching moment."

Anthony is also not as visible on stage and in the visible music videos as Popovec. For the film premiered at Tribeca, he and Deak wore bug-eyed sunglasses and antennae and played the role of insects disturbing Popovec through the wall of a bedroom.

Directed by Peter-John Campbell, "Bugs" premiered June 9 at Village East Cinema (The Angelika) in New York as part of Tribeca. The Vindys attended a red-carpet event for the festival and the film will be screened two other times at AMC in June.

"It's a huge film festival that attracts people from the world and it's really exciting to be a part of it," Anthony said.

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