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Concerts in the Woods


Out in the New Jersey woods where the wild things grow waits a concert amphitheatre on the shore of a lake. Its serene hillside habitat by quiet water within oak and maple forest under evening’s sparkling skies belies the energy and groove of summer concerts about to take place for seven Saturdays.

By day, a water snake in open weeds on the shore patiently holds a sunny in its jaw, but these little views of nature will subside on concert evenings. Instead, the human population will come out to play – to enjoy the sounds of man and woman as their creativity and the ingenuity of those who have gone before come together to produce the Sounds of Music heard in these woods.

It’s Jefferson Highlights Summer Concerts and the first is about to begin. Come join the fun.

Are you ready? Beatlemania Again opens the season this Saturday, July 19.

Rich Morello, bandleader, company owner, and Ringo impersonator, says the show is a really a musical play because they perform Beatles’ music, act onstage as them and try to capture all their idiosyncrasies – which they do quite well after being together for 15 years.

The show begins with the Ed Sullivan Hour when the Beatles first appeared wearing their famous black suits and mop tops. Get ready for all the movie hits – Help, Hard Days Night, Yesterday – and the big hits from the early years. In following sets they do Sergeant Pepper and Abbey Road eras in full costume - mustaches, beard, wigs, long hair, accents, everything.

“It's the Beatles' story onstage,” says Morello. “We want to capture all the inflections, onstage antics, banter between John and Paul, the quietness of George, and the laughable lovable Ringo back there on the drums.”

Beatlemania Again admits they’re not the Beatles. “When we're onstage we are the Beatles,” Morello says. “When the show's over the wigs come off and we're our normal selves. If we can bring back some happy memories especially in today's world, then we're successful.”

It's the closest thing you'll get to see of the Beatles' lives in concert, they say, so after the show stop by for an autograph. Says Morello: “Hopefully we can spread some love through this crazy world we have now.” www.bealemaniaagain.com

If you like classic Motown, R&B, Soul music and a little Blue-eyed Soul – The Rascals, Hall & Oates… – check out The Sensational Soul Cruisers on July 26.

With a repertoire of over 350 songs they’ll cover everything from the '60s through early '80s. “We try to stay true to the music completely,” says bandleader Steve Barlotta. “We have steps. We have a core following. You're never going to see The Stylistsics, The Temptations, The Spinners anymore. We've become the classical music of our time. People aren't going to see an 11-piece band too often any more."

This 11-piece vocal group, together since 1990, started out as part of the Asbury Park scene, performing as backup singers for other bands. Then Barlotta worked with Gary US Bond as his musical director for 11 years. “I got tired of backing up other people and put something together with guys I knew and guys I found. We pay homage to classic soul music.”

So if you're a fan of The Temptations (they’ve influenced Rock & Roll from Bruce Sprinsgteen on down), The Commodores, Earth, Wind & Fire - there'll be something for you.

Says Barlotta: “This is the core of soul music. We'll get the crowd into it. We'll bring some fans up onstage and do some dance steps with them. A singer might jump out in the audience and get them going. Really, anything can happen.” www.soulcruisers.com

August 2 is indie artist night with Christine Verdun opening for Streetlights with a collection of original music and covers with students and guitar instructor from Creative Endeavors, her Bedminster, New Jersey based studio. All solo artists, the singers are accompanied by Verdun on piano and a guitarist.

Her original song Radiant, currently attracting a lot of radio attention, will be featured. For those not in the know, indie artist means independent artist who produces and arranges their own material. www.christineverdun.com

Following Verdun, the 4-piece Streetlights performs alternative rock originals – a mix of Coldplay meets Angels & Airwaves and U2.

“The music is all about loving your life, following your dreams and going out with a big bang,” says Quentin Fielding, one of the band’s two bandleaders. “We just did the biggest show of our lives at Crocodile Rock…. We played in front of 500 people and had the girls screaming and trying to grab us. It was a lot of fun!”

The four have been together for 5 years – “all best friends and our music is our passion and we like to give a good message with it.”

Right now Streetlights is leaping skyward and having fun: opening for MAE, a music video for Far Away Land, radio play (“It’s very cool hearing yourself”), and lots of shows.

“We’re very excited to play down by the water and play in Jefferson again. We do a lot of cool things with the crowd.” That includes a competitive “drum-off,” drumming with glow sticks at warp speed, and funny, cool stories. Expect an entertaining show. www.myspace.com/streetlightsmusic

August 9 is a night of classics – maybe even a classic corvette – when After Dark rocks and opens for The Ponytails Band. Remember Born Too Late? Well, if you were, now’s your chance….

First, the 5-piece classic rock band After Dark will get you in the mood with "the songs you love to sing with, the music you love to dance to." Translate: The Drifters, Jay and the Americans, Led Zeppelin, Richie Valens…

“We play hit songs that everyone knows but don't get to hear much played live," says bandleader Johnny Philips. “Cover bands don't usually play those songs.

“We're all living our dreams. We want to get out and play for a long time and we love to play. The gigs fly by now,” says Philips. “It's blink your eye and it's the last tune of the night. To us that's a sign of success and how we feel about playing together. We're having so much fun we turn around and it's time to go home.” www.afterdarkrock.com

The warmth and pleasure of playing oldies can be further enjoyed with The Ponytails, who pay tribute to ‘60s girl groups – The Chiffons, Crystals, Shangri-Las, Marvelettes…

“The kids love us,” says bandleader Noela Starr. “We get people onstage for certain songs and they just have a ball. Audience participation is our big thing. We sing "I Want Candy" and throw the candy out to the kids. We just have a lot of fun up there. People like our costumes – the Go Go boots."

These Hudson Valley ladies have been singing together for 17 years. Starr began as a kid listening to her mother’s music. She became a hotel lounge singer in the Catskills and, later, back-up for major groups like The Shangri-Las. “Then I decided to put my own group together and call it The Ponytails and take over where they left off. I always say we are not that group but we do a tribute to them because we love them.”

Starr can’t wait to perform at Jefferson. “We love the amphitheatre, the setting, the looks of it, the placement in the woods there. It's just so cool. The stage is incredible – just the feel of the place, the people. It's just a wonderful gig. It really is.”

“People can expect that if they bring their children, their kids are going to have a great time with us. And expect a lot of sing-a-longs like Do Run Run, My Boyfriend's Back, Stop in the Name of Love… and I hope they get off their seats and dance.”

And now for a little double trouble – Michael Patrick will entertain audiences on August 16 with his two bands, The Suburban Hillbillies and Ring of Fire.

It goes like this. Patrick was a solo acoustic artist for years and dreamed of a band he would one day call The Suburban Hillbillies.

“I thought, wouldn't it be a great name because we're local people in New Jersey and there's not a lot of them that play country.” In ‘04 his dream came true and the Suburban Hillbillies began performing originals, his favorite country/rock tunes and a lot of Johnny Cash. Two years later Patrick recruited bands for a Hurricane Katrina benefit and guess what? They all did Johnny Cash songs. Thus was the Ring of Fire band born.

They are perennial favorites at The Johnny Cash Flower Pickin' Festival in Mississippi and even play with Cash family members And now, at Camp Jefferson, both bands will play together for the first time. "Welcome to the quick costume change," chuckles Patrick.

They're not impersonators, he says. “We pay tribute to the music and dress the part a little bit but we're not trying to mimic Johnny Cash. We have our own style and people seem to enjoy it and appreciate that we add our own touch of originality to the music.”

But shhh….some of Cash's mannerisms do take over sometimes but Patrick says it’s Johnny’s spirit – like when he sticks a dollar bill in his guitar strings on mellow songs to emulate the days when Cash first played The Grand Ole Opry without a drummer. The bill gave the percussive sound of a snare drum. Expect to have a good time with these interactive bands. www.ringoffireband.com

Another band with an alter ego situation is The Poets, a 6-piece Scranton-based cover band, who has been together – believe it or not – about 45 years. They and Frankie & The Corvettes, their alter ego, will share the stage August 23.

“We don wigs and do '50s stuff. We’ll slick back our hair, throw jackets and sunglasses on, and do a little '50s show,” says Nick Longo, bandleader and bassist.

“We do an Elvis thing with big sideburns and sunglasses and go out in the crowd and throw out toilet paper scarves. We might bring somebody up to sing with us. We'll do a medley Beatles songs, slow '50s medley which is a killer medley. People love it especially people in their early '60s who grew up with these songs.” Sound like fun? www.angelfire.com/pa/thepoetsplace

Come see the bands on August 30 for some rockin’ soul and blues all night. Rob Cannillo and Friends opens with electric rockin’ soul and EIGHT DAYS OF BLUES gets it on with rockin’ blues. Rain date: August 31. Cannillo’s 4-piece band will do some new originals and rework some old covers by greats such as Muddy Waters and The Band. “We’re excited about that,” he says. The musicians are from the Hudson Valley with one Jersey guy.

“People can expect a concert that will include some really soulful, emotional and really fun tunes,” says Cannillo. “We do upbeat tunes like South Bound (Allman Brothers) and get people clapping their hands. I try to take people on an emotional journey and end on a high ‘feel good’ note.” www.robandfriends.com

Lance Casper, EIGHT DAYS OF BLUES band leader, describes the band as “fun.” They play “a mix of blues with a touch of rock, a little Latin, a little jazzy flavor, but basically for me it’s an emotional thing. We’re not your typical 12-bar, easy beat blues. The material we do has more kick.”

The band does originals and “blues that we updated to fit our style and sound. It may have a touch of Chicago in it, a touch of Texas, of Delta.” The six-piece band has two drummers who enjoy complementing each other and are very creative.

In addition to their own brand of rockin’ blues, much of what makes EIGHT DAYS OF BLUES special is that everybody gets a chance to shine and add their creativity to the songs.

“We have our own style and sound and we don’t cover anyone,” Casper says. “We don’t take songs done by blues greats and copy cat them. We work them into our style and sound.” Expect to give your ears and feet a treat. www.eightdaysofblues.com

So instead of sitting home twiddling thumbs, take a drive to Jefferson and enjoy a show. Dynamite music, fun outdoors amphitheatre, concert lighting, food vendors, and family fun – all in a spectacular setting of an East Coast hardwood forest.

Jefferson Highlights Summer Concerts

Amphitheatre location: Camp Jefferson, 81 Weldon Road, Lake Hopatcong, NJ

Main photo: After Dark
All photos courtesy of respective bands.

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