Rock the Farm Once Again Fired On All Cylinders

Eighth annual tribute festival for a cause returned to Jersey shore

Saturday, the time had finally come for the long-awaited Rock the Farm to return to the Jersey shore. The annual tribute festival in Seaside Heights, N.J. once again delivered 10 hours of great music for a cause. And that cause – helping individuals and families struggling with addiction to drugs, alcohol and other substances – has gained even more urgency during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rock the Farm is the main annual event of the nonprofit New Jersey CFC Loud N Clear Foundation to raise funds for programs designed to prevent relapse after drug rehab, a particularly challenging time to stay sober. CFC notes that since it was established in 2012, the foundation has assisted over 20,000 families struggling with addiction and has received numerous accolades and rewards for the innovative, groundbreaking approach to recovery. Throughout the event, individuals who have benefitted from CFC’s programs stepped on stage to share some of their stories, which was both pretty inspiring and moving. You can read more about CFC’s important work here. Let’s get to some music!

Kicking off the festival once again were One Fine Tapestry, a great tribute to Carole King and the music she co-wrote with Jerry Goffin for many other artists. At the core of this act are Gerard Barros and Diane Barros, a New Jersey-based versatile husband and wife duo who for many years have performed a variety of tribute shows. My all-time favorite Carole King album remains Tapestry. Here’s I Feel the Earth Move.

We May Be Right are a fun Billy Joel tribute led by pianist and lead vocalist Karl Dietel, a 20-year veteran of the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut tri-state area live music scene. The band also features Perry Andrews (brass, woodwinds, percussion, backing vocals), Derek Davodowich (guitars), Luke Kessel (bass, backing vocals) and Andy Janowiak (drums). I know I’ve said this before, it’s amazing to me how popular Billy Joel remains to this day, nearly 30 years since the piano man released his final pop album River of Dreams. There were definitely many Billy Joel fans among the Rock the Farm audience. One of the tunes they enjoyed was Big Shot, off Joel’s sixth studio album 52nd Street from October 1978.

And then it was time to really put the rock into Rock the Farm with La Grange. This New Jersey-based tribute to ZZ Top includes Sean Peronard as “Billy Fibbons” (Billy Gibbons)Pete Perrina as “Frank Goatee” (Frank Beard) and Jim Capobianco as “Rusty Hill” (Dusty Hill). It was all there: The sound, the singing, the beards and even the fury guitar and bass – the only things missing were the rotation of the instruments and my all-time ZZ Top favorite Tush! But, hey, they played plenty of other great tunes. It was a ball. Check out Cheap Sunglasses from the Texan rockers’ sixth studio album Degüello.

How about some more kickass rock? Ask and you shall receive with Stiff Upper Lip! This New Jersey tribute to AC/DC, formed in 2007, features Glenn Taglieri  (vocals), Joe Witterschein (guitar), Mike Cusumano (guitar), Peter Lee (bass) and Steve Villano (drums). One of my all-time AC/DC favorites is their song with the longest title: It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll). The tune initially appeared on AC/DC’s second, Australia-only record T.N.T. Subsequently, it was also included on their first international release High Voltage, which came out in April 1976. Here we go, featuring some enthusiastic, dancing ladies with glowing devil’s horns!

Okay, I’d say it’s time for a little breather. Here’s a little photo collage with different impressions from Rock the Farm.

Clockwise from upper left corner: Rock the Farm audience with bubbles from foam dance floor; the cameraman with another enthusiastic attendee; Jagged Little Thrill – The Alanis Morisette Experience (https://www.facebook.com/jlttribute); reminder of the event’s purpose; Winslow an Evening of the Eagles (https://www.facebook.com/WinslowEaglestribute); and once again the (exhausted) cameraman after 10 hours on his feet

All right, on to part II of this post and The ELO Tribute Show – yep, they make no bones about whose music they are celebrating! The group of Philly area-based musicians includes Mick Bodine (lead vocals, guitar), Andre “Virus” Karkos (guitars, vocals), Chris McCoy (keyboards, vocals), Julie Meyers (violin, vocals), Tommy Grasso (bass, vocals) and Dave Ramani (drums, percussion). Check out their cool rendition of Evil Woman, a tune from ELO’s September 1975 record Face the Music, their fifth studio release.

One could argue that holding a tribute festival in New Jersey without featuring music by at least one artist from the Garden State would be an oversight. Coming to the rescue were Keep The Faith from – nope, I bet you didn’t guess that one – Canada! This Bon Jovi tribute from Ontario includes Chris Newman (lead vocals, guitar), Chris Tondreau (guitar), Dan Benezra (keyboards, vocals), Doug Adams (bass) and Mark MacPherson (drums). Shall we check out their rendition of Born to Be My Baby, off Bon Jovi’s fourth studio album? Well, it’s really a rhetorical question since it’s my frigging blog! Are you one of the 100,000,000 Bon Jovi fans who can’t be wrong? If so, you should know the title of Bon Jovi’s fourth studio album. Yes, New Jersey!

And then things got pretty groovy with Funky Monks who shall we say aren’t your typical monks. Formed in 2003, this Chicago-based tribute to Red Hot Chili Peppers has performed across the U.S. and even internationally. The band consists of Ryan “Ryanthony” Machnica (vocals), Mike Walker (guitar), Jeff “Jefflea” Genualdi (b-b-b-bass) and Paul Guziec (drums). In case you ever wondered why I like to say bassists are cool dudes, Jeff is one of the reasons. Yes, I know, it’s the obvious Peppers tune to feature, but I couldn’t help it. Here’s Under the Bridge, included on Peppers’ fifth studio album Blood Sugar Sex Magik, released in September 1991.

All things must pass, as the wise George Harrison once sang. This also applies to Rock the Farm, which brings me to the final act of the night: Fleetwood Mac tribute TUSK – what a great way to end yet another outstanding event! Founded in 2008, TUSK primarily focus on the Mac’s pop-rock period. In addition, they feature some music from Stevie Nicks’ solo catalog and on Saturday night also threw in a cool blues medley of the Peter Green era. TUSK are Kathy Phillips as Stevie Nicks (vocals), Kim Williams as Christine McVie (keyboards, vocals), Scott McDonald as Lindsey Buckingham (guitar, vocals), Randy Artiglere as John McVie (bass) and Tom Nelson as Mick Fleetwood (drums). Here’s Little Lies, off Fleetwood Mac’s 14th studio album Tango in the Night, which came out in April 1987.

Rock the Farm 2022 is over. Sadly, the same cannot be said about addiction, which continues to upend the lives of those impacted and their friends and families. Many lives have been lost, even more so during the pandemic, leaving empty chairs in kitchens across this country.

The reality is addiction can happen to all of us. Nobody is immune! People struggling with drugs, alcohol and other substances deserve our compassion rather than stigmatization. That’s why it is so important that organizations like the CFC Loud N Clear Foundation continue their work. Once again, in case you’d like to find out more about their programs, visit https://healingus.org.

Sources: Wikipedia; CFC website; One Fine Tapestry Facebook page; We May Be Right website; La Grange Facebook page; Stiff Upper Lip website; The ELO Tribute Show website; Slippery When Wet website; Funky Monks website; TUSK website; YouTube

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My Playlist: Billy Joel

As previously noted, while I’ve listened to Billy Joel on and off for more than 40 years and occasionally included him or one of his songs in some previous pieces, I had not dedicated a post to him. After more than five years of writing this blog, it’s about time to change that. It was all seeded by this recent post from fellow blogger Graham at Aphoristic Album Reviews. In turn, this led me to include the piano man in that post, which then triggered the idea to do this profile and playlist.

Billy Joel was born William Martin Joel on May 9, 1949 in The Bronx, New York, and grew up on Long Island where he has one of his residences to this day. Ironically, Joel wasn’t into the piano initially and only took it up reluctantly after his mother insisted. To be fair, he was only four years old at the time. During his teenage years, Joel got into boxing but decided to stop after he had suffered a broken nose in his 24th boxing match.

While attending high school, Joel was playing piano at a bar to help support himself, as well as his mother and his sister. His parents had divorced when he was eight years old. When he found himself with an insufficient amount of credits to graduate, he decided to forgo his high school diploma. After he had seen The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, Joel knew he wasn’t going to Columbia University but to Columbia Records, according to the 2006 biography Billy Joel: The Life and Times of an Angry Young Man, by Hank Bordowitz.

Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden, New York, in 2014

In 1965, Joel joined British Invasion cover band The Echoes and played on some of their recordings. By the time he left the group in 1967, they had gone through a couple of name changes and were called Lost Souls. Joel’s new band, The Hassles, had a deal with United Artists Records, and over the next two years released two albums and a few singles, none of which were commercially successful.

In 1969, Joel and Lost Souls’ drummer Jon Small departed, formed the duo Attila and released an eponymous debut album in July 1970. Things unraveled after Joel had started an affair with Small’s wife Elizabeth Weber Small who eventually became Joel’s first wife in 1973 and manager. Making music and getting into relationships oftentimes don’t mix well!

Joel subsequently signed with Family Productions and launched his solo career with the album Cold Spring Harbor, which appeared in November 1971. It was the first of 12 pop albums Joel released between 1971 and 1993. In September 2001, Joel came out with a classical music album, Fantasies & Delusions, his last to date and I guess by now we can safely assume is his final release of original music.

This shall suffice for background. Let’s get to some music. Following, I’ll highlight six songs that are included in a Spotify playlist, together with some additional tunes. Here’s She’s Got a Way, a sweet love song that most likely is about Joel’s above-mentioned wife Elizabeth.

In October 1974, Joel released his third studio album Streetlife Serenade. In The Entertainer, he gets cynical about the music business and being subject to changing public taste where one day an artist is in only to find themselves out the next day.

After a series of only marginally successful records, Joel scored his breakthrough in September 1977 with the release of his fifth studio album The Stranger. It was the first of four records produced by Phil Ramone who worked with the likes of Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Elton John, Paul McCartney and Paul Simon. Here’s Only the Good Die Young. Wikipedia notes the song’s lyrics about a young man’s determination to have premarital sex with a Catholic girl stirred controversy. Pressure from religious groups to have the tune banned from radio stations turned a relatively obscure single into a highly demanded tune overnight and a top 30 hit on the Billboard Hot 100.

Joel followed up his breakthrough album The Stranger with 52nd Street in October 1978, his first of four records to reach the top of the Billboard 200. It also earned him two Grammys. Here’s the catchy uptempo song My Life, which became the lead single. Reaching no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, it also was one of Joel’s highest-charting songs at the time.

If you’d ask me to name my favorite Billy Joel album, I’d go with The Nylon Curtain from September 1982. Joel’s eighth studio album isn’t among the four previously mentioned no. 1 records, though it did pretty well, reaching no. 7 in the U.S. on the Billboard 200. The opener Allentown, about the plight of American steelworkers following Bethlehem Steel’s decline and eventual closure, is one of my favorite Joel songs.

The last tune I’d like to highlight is from Joel’s most recent and likely final pop album River of Dreams, released in August 1993. At that time, I was a grad student, on Long Island of all places, and frequently listened to the album’s title track on the radio. I also got the record on CD when it was released. The song became Joel’s biggest hit of the ’80s, reaching no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, his last top 10 single. I’ve always loved the tune’s combination of pop and gospel elements.

Here’s the above-mentioned Spotify playlist, which includes the previously featured songs, as well as additional tunes from each of Joel’s 12 pop albums.

Billy Joel is one of the best-selling music artists of all time, with over 160 million records sold worldwide. During his 22-year pop recording career, he had 33 top 40 hits in the U.S., including three that topped the Billboard Hot 100. Joel was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame (1992), Rock and Rock Hall of Fame (1999) and the Long Island Music Hall of Fame (2006). Frankly, I had no idea the latter existed – always nice to learn something new when putting together posts.

While the above accomplishments are very impressive, what I find most amazing is that the piano man continues to sell out one show after the other as part of his monthly residency at New York’s Madison Square Garden. That’s about 20,000 tickets each time. And all of that despite not having released any new pop music in close to 30 years!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify