Part-Time Students, Full-Time Rock Stars: Musicians of YSU

Photo courtesy of Northern Whale

By Kelcey Norris

Jambar Contributor

The city of steel also serves as a foundation for student musicians to thrive. Juggling classes, employment, homework and social life can be difficult enough. But for many Youngstown State University students and recent graduates, other passions keep them busy. These young adults spend any free time they get on stage, doing what they love. 


One band born in Youngstown is alternative indie pop band Northern Whale. Jake Capezzuto and Brandon Fisher, YSU alumni, formed the band while in middle school. 

“We were just friends hanging out, and the game Rock Band was really hot back in the day,” Capezzuto, the lead singer, said. “And we thought, ‘Why don’t we try and do this for real?’ We started picking up instruments here and there … just getting better day by day.”

The band recently booked a concert opening for a well-known actor and singer at Point Park University.

“Recently we got offered to open up for Drake Bell this upcoming March, which is crazy,” Capezzuto said. “That was huge. … This was definitely up there in terms of biggest accomplishments.”

Northern Whale has released two full-length albums as well as six singles. Fisher, the songwriter and guitarist, said the band is planning to release more singles in the upcoming year.

Photo courtesy of Northern Whale

“I write most of our songs and recently someone covered one of our songs, which was so cool but really weird,” Fisher said. “I wrote something in my room that I thought no one would ever hear, and now someone who doesn’t know me is thinking about my lyrics.”

Capezzuto and Fisher have been creating music since 2008. Throughout the past 12 years, the two have come to appreciate each other’s skill sets. 

“In the beginning, we were just in over our heads with everything,” Fisher said. “Now I think we all know what we’re good at. [Capezzuto] is good at all the administrative stuff that I’m terrible at, like emailing and booking stuff, … and I write songs. We’re aware of what we’re good at.” 

Creating music allowed the original band members to make friends with common interests and pursue their passions while still maintaining busy schedules.  

“[Music] was this thing we were able to do where we could hang out, write music, practice. … So it became a fun hobby for all of us,” Capezzuto said. “The more we did it, the better we wanted to get and the more serious we started to take it. … We try really hard to make it as good as it can possibly be.”


Another group of passionate musicians from the Youngstown area calls themselves Fifth & Aurora. Their music and friendship originate directly from the city. They perform live at local stages consistently. 

The band consists of lead singer and keyboardist Lou Rivera, bass guitarist Daniel Anderson, guitarist Dan “Dahnji” Hobel, guitarist James Greenawalt and drummer Ben Greenawalt. 

According to James Greenawalt, a 2018 YSU graduate, the band’s music can be described as a hodgepodge of indie rock, rock alternative, pop and funk. 

The members said they met through high school, college, church bands and sometimes, seemingly, through fate. Rivera, a 2019 graduate, said he found Hobel on a hill one day at YSU. 

“It was like a scene out of a movie. He was sitting there [strumming] cross-legged with no shoes on … just a beam of light on him, nothing else. I thought, if I don’t go over and meet him, I’m missing out,” Rivera said.  

Lead singer and keyboardist Lou Rivera sings “Hold Me Closer,” supported by guitarist James Greenawalt. Photo by Kelcey Norris/The Jambar

Lead singer Rivera’s original lyrics are backed up by his bandmates’ head-banging rhythms. Ben Greenawalt said he feels that when Rivera sings a song, his lyrics are personal to him.

“It’s one man against the world,” he said. “But when the rest of the band joins him, we lift him up and support him.”

To up-and-coming musicians, the band encourages both hard work and dedication to individual identity. 

“I don’t think you should ever change your sound just because the guy to your left is doing something different,” Rivera said. “You should stay true to yourself; stay true to your music. Don’t go into it thinking you’re going to get famous. You should do this because you love it.”


Krista Ritz, a sophomore journalism major, takes classes by day and lights up the stage by night. Ritz performs with three Youngstown-based music groups. 

“I’ve been singing my whole life, but my favorite part is connecting with the audience,” she said. “Being a singer, you can connect to your audience on a different level rather than speaking to them directly, so I love that.” 

Ritz said balancing her schedule between gigs, working two jobs and attending classes isn’t as bad as it seems. But she said detailed time management will help her reach her goals. 

YSU sophomore journalism major Krista Ritz performs with No Funk No Justice at Los Gallos. Photo by Kelcey Norris/The Jambar

“I’m really optimistic about my future with music,” she said. “I want to try very hard with music and try with best of my ability to be successful in that. Out of everything, … music is my first passion. That’s really what I want to do.” 

Ritz’s connection with the audience was not love at first sight. As a self-proclaimed introvert, she said she had to overcome nervousness when she walked out on stage. 

“The more you do something, the more comfortable you are with it,” she said. “The more you start to say, ‘I can do this. Forget about what anybody else says. This is what I want to do, and if I mess up, then I mess up and that’s okay.’”