To folks who know me and regular readers of the blog, it’s not a big revelation that I greatly enjoy going to music concerts. I’ve certainly been maximizing the live experience so far this year, especially with outdoor events over the summer, ranging from famous to not so famous artists. I must have seen more than 30 acts, and overall the quality has been pretty impressive. Most importantly, I had a great time, which is what music should be all about. And guess what? I’m still hungry for more!
The latest in a long series of outdoor events I visited happened yesterday: The Colts Neck Rockfest in Colts Neck, N.J. Until a few days ago, I had never heard of this annual music festival, even though the venue is fairly close to my house, and this was the 10th year they put it on. I found out about it through a Facebook post from Decade, a terrific Neil Young tribute band I first saw last weekend at Rock The Farm, announcing they would play Colts Neck Rockfest.
Unlike Rock The Farm, about which I previously posted here, the Colts Neck Rockfest focused less on tribute acts. Of the 28 bands that performed there Friday night and Saturday, only two fall into that category: Decade and Snow Dog, a tribute to Rush. Instead, most of the performers were cover bands, while the remaining acts mixed original material with covers.
Similar to Rock The Farm, there were relatively few people in the beginning. I suppose Saturday during the day, when many folks do their shopping and run other errands, is a tough proposition. When I got to Colts Neck in the early afternoon, there were perhaps 20 people (not counting the musicians). One guy I spotted right away was John Hathaway, the “Neil Young” from Decade.
Usually, I’m a bit reluctant to approach performers, figuring they may not necessarily like it, especially prior to a gig. But Decade’s performance wasn’t slated until much later in the afternoon, so I figured ‘what the heck.’ John turned out to be very nice guy. We ended up chatting for 15 minutes about his passion for Young, how long he has been doing this, his guitar, etc. I also exchanged a few words with the band’s great lead guitarist Joey Herr and learned his cool-looling Gibson SG is from ’71. It was a pleasant experience.
Like at Rock The Farm, the sets yesterday were very tight, so Decade once again didn’t have the time to switch to acoustic. But I learned they will do a much longer gig including an acoustic set at the end of October at The Stone Pony, a well-known music club in Asbury Park. That’s where artists like Bruce Springsteen and Southside Johnny started out. In fact, Southside Johnny and his Asbury Jukes played The Stone Pony in July. The city continues to be a stronghold in the local Jersey music scene.
Following I’d like to highlight four of the bands I saw yesterday, which I enjoyed in particular.
Sam Sims Band
The Sam Sims Band combines original music written by singer-songwriter Sam Sims with covers. I think their Facebook page nicely characterizes their style as “acoustic-based folk-rock with melodic guitar, soulful ukulele and authentic vocal lyrics.” According to the band’s website, Sims has been writing original songs since we was 14. The now 37-year-old, who plays ukele, guitar, dobro and harmonica, has released four studio albums and one single since 2009. Born in Huntsville, Ala., Sims currently resides in New Jersey. Other members of the band include Kyle Ward (guitar, backing vocals), Dimitris Kulaga (drums, percussion, backing vocals) and Aaron Manzo (bass, backing vocals).
To me the band’s set included two highlights: An incredible acoustic version of Dire Straits’ Sultans Of Swing, during which 21-year-old Ward absolutely killed it; and an original song, Positive Vibration. Apparently, Sims released this beautiful tune earlier this year as a single. Here’s a clip of the studio version.
Colossal Street Jam
Colossal Street Jam is a rock and blues band from Asbury Park, playing original music that reminds me a bit of The Black Crowes. According to Beato’s Blog, they initially started in the early ’90s and released two albums before they split in 1994. The band reunited in late 2013 and released its third album Living Free in October 2016. The current lineup of Colossal Street Jam consists of Gene Potts (vocals), Sal Marra (guitar, electric piano, vocals), Tony Flora (bass), Dave Halpern (drums, percussion) and Eric Safka (keyboards).
Since I didn’t know their music and they didn’t do much in terms of making announcements, I can only point to two songs they played yesterday. Both are from the Living Free album: Won’t Last This Way and Be Good To Yourself, a tune recorded by Scottish rock singer-songwriter Frankie Miller. Here’s a clip of Won’t Last This Way.
Xol Azul is a Latin rock band that also hails from Asbury Park and was formed in 2002. They released an album of Spanish rock music in 2008 called Sale Et Xol. They also play covers in English and Spanish from other Latin artists like Santana and Mexican rock band Maná, as well as other bands. To this day, Xol Azul performs in its original lineup, which includes Gidalthi Guillen (bass, vocals), Gil Cruz (guitar), Fabian Rojas (keyboads) and Javier Medel (percussion).
Yesterday’s set was a mix of English and Spanish tunes. Since I sadly know next to nothing about Spanish rock, predictably, the only songs I recognized were the English covers. Among others, those included Santana’s Evil Ways and Smooth, as well as Miss You by The Rolling Stones. Here’s a clip of a live performance of Evil Ways, one of my favorite early Santana tunes.
Moroccan Sheepherders is a very unique band, not only because of their peculiar name. They play classic rock jams and their own music. According to their Facebook page and website, the band’s origins date back to 1996, when Steve Warendorf (guitar) and Scott Burton (bass) met and shortly thereafter started making music with Craig Smith (drums) and Kyle Spendiff (percussion). The band’s website lists the following additional members: Herbi Freeman (vocals, percussion), Alan Manzo (vocals), Kendall Scott (keyboards), Adam Glenn (keyboards), Pat Murphy (vocals), Laura Johnson (vocals), Darren Johnson (vocals), Mike Sakowski (drums), Aaron Manzo (Bass) and Christopher Allen (saxophone). Apart from all of the aforementioned members, yesterday’s lineup included three additional horn players, making this act a true army of musicians.
The band has released two albums with original music, Everybody Needs To Be Herd (2002) and Waves (2007). They describe this material as a mix of genres “ranging from tribal ambient trance to hard-core, blue-eyed blues-rock” – sounds pretty heavy to me. Last night was all about classic rock covers, which the band delivered with an incredible energy. Especially vocalist Laura Johnson was a standout to me. Some tunes of their great set included Won’t Get Fooled Again (The Who), Feelin’ Stronger Every Day (Chicago), The Wanton Song (Led Zeppelin), So Lonely (The Police), Sympathy For The Devil (The Rolling Stones) and L.A. Woman (The Doors). Here’s a nice clip of Feelin’ Stronger Every Day, which was captured at Colts Neck Rockfest 2015.
In addition to being Moroccan Sheepherders’ guitarist, Warendorf is also the founder of Colts Neck Rockfest. “I had the idea to have a little free concert with a few musical acts at Bucks Mill Park in Colts Neck,” he told Community Magazine during a recent interview. “It was basically a backyard barbecue held at the park with about 30 people in attendance. It’s interesting to note that this was the Moroccan Sheepherders’ very first NJ cover music gig, as we were an original act from 1996 until then.” The annual event that started out in 2008 with only a handful of bands has grown into an impressive festival. Assuming there will be a Colts Neck Rockfest 2018, I could definitely see myself go back there next year.
Sources: Sam Sims Facebook page and website, Colossal Street Jam Facebook page and website, Beato’s Blog, Xol Azul Facebook page and website, Moroccan Sheepherders Facebook page and website, Community Magazine, YouTube