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: Electric Light Orchestra

If somebody asked me what I thought about the music by Electric Light Orchestra, I’d say ‘weirdly catchy.’ This may not sound exactly positive, but I’ve actually enjoyed their songs for more than four decades. To me, especially during their early stage, ELO oftentimes feel like a combination of The Beatles with a wall of sound on steroids, featuring classical music and other heavy arrangements. While I generally find big production can be a mixed bag, when it comes to ELO, their brilliant execution won me over a long time ago. Plus, in my book it’s pretty cool when a band manages to develop a sound that’s instantly recognizable and different from pretty much any other group on the planet.

Before getting to some music, I’d like to provide a little bit of background. ELO got their start in 1970 in Birmingham, England, when songwriters and multi-instrumentalists Jeff Lynne and Roy Wood got together with drummer Bev Bevan as an offshoot of The Move. Lynne was excited about Wood’s concept to create a group to “pick up where The Beatles left off” by combining rock with classical instruments like violins, string basses and woodwinds. In June 1970, the vision came into focus with 10538 Overture, ELO’s first tune and debut single. This was followed by the band’s first UK studio album The Electric Light Orchestra, which came out in December 1971. In the U.S., it was titled No Answer and released in March 1972.

ELO (from left): Roy Wood, Bev Bevan and Jeff Lynne

After Wood’s departure in July 1972, Lynne became ELO’s sole leader. In March 1973, the band’s sophomore album ELO 2 appeared in the UK (called Electric Light Orchestra II in the U.S.). Ten additional albums followed until the summer of 1986 when Lynne disbanded ELO, though no formal announcement was made at the time. In 1989, Bevan with Lynne’s blessing picked up the pieces and went on as ELO Part II. Bevan left in 1999, and the remaining members of the band continued under the new name The Orchestra, a formation that exists to this day.

In 2001, Lynne reformed ELO and, mostly relying on guest musicians who included George Harrison and Ringo Starr, released the new album Zoom in June that year. The next 13 years saw reissues of ELO’s back catalog and various mini reunions, which included an appearance as Jeff Lynne and Friends at the Children in Need Rocks concert in London in November 2013. The success of that performance led to a gig at BBC Radio 2’s Festival in a Day at London’s Hyde Park in September 2014 as Jeff Lynne’s ELO. Tickets sold out in 15 minutes after BBC Radio 2 had announced the show.

Jeff Lynne’s ELO have since issued two studio albums and conducted various tours. The supporting tour for the most recent album From Out of Nowhere, which had been scheduled to start in October 2020, was canceled due to COVID-19. Currently, there appears to be no word on when Lynne and his band are planning to hit the road again. Time for some music!

Let’s start where it all began. Here’s 10538 Overture, ELO’s first single from June 1972. Written by Lynne, it was also included on their debut album The Electric Light Orchestra (No Answer).

Many artists have covered Chuck Berry’s Roll Over Beethoven. None of these versions come anywhere close to ELO’s cover, which blends elements of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony with Berry’s classic rock & roll tune. It’s completely over the top and it’s just brilliant! I was going to include a clip of the original studio recording from ELO’s sophomore album ELO 2 (Electric Light Orchestra II). Then I remembered Lynne’s performance at the 2017 Rock and Hall of Fame induction and thought it’s just too much fun to ignore. Come on, Beethoven, let’s tell Tchaikovsky the news!

In November 1973, ELO released their third studio album On the Third Day. Here’s kickass rocker Ma-Ma-Ma Belle, featuring Marc Bolan on twin lead guitar – my-my-my! Unlike 10538 Overture and Roll Over Beethoven, which peaked at no. 9 and no. 6 in the UK, respectively, ELO’s third single only made it to No. 22. In the U.S., the first top 10 chart success on the Billboard Hot 100 would come with the next tune.

Can’t Get It Out of My Head was the lead single of ELO’s fourth studio album Eldorado from September 1974. It became the band’s first U.S. hit, climbing to no. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100. Apparently, folks were less fond of the ballad in the UK where it failed to chart altogether.

Starting with their fifth studio album Face the Music, ELO began moving away from large-scale orchestral sound to embrace a more radio friendly pop rock style. It paid off and resulted in a series of well-selling albums. Here’s Mr. Blue Sky from Out of the Blue, ELO’s seventh studio release from October 1977. The double LP became one of their most commercially successful records.

ELO first entered my radar screen with Discovery, their eighth studio album that came out in May 1979 when the disco era was in full swing. I got it on vinyl at the time and still own that copy. The record generated five singles that became hits in numerous countries. The most successful one was Don’t Bring Me Down. The track I’d like to feature is Last Train to London, which was included in a playlist served up earlier today by my streaming music provider. It also triggered the idea for finally doing a dedicated post about ELO.

Ticket to the Moon appeared on ELO’s ninth studio album Time from July 1981. It also was released separately as a single in December.

I’d also like to acknowledge some of ELO’s music after Lynne revived the band. Here’s Alright, the opener to the above mentioned Zoom from June 2001, the first official ELO album since Balance of Power, which had come out in February 1986, five months before Lynne had quietly disbanded ELO.

Let’s do two more. First up: When I Was a Boy, the opening track from Alone in the Universe released in November 2015, the first album appearing as Jeff Lynne’s ELO. The 13th studio album overall in the band’s catalog was well received and peaked at an impressive no. 4 on the Official Albums Chart in the UK where it also scored Platinum certification. In the U.S., Alone in the Universe climbed to no. 2 on the Billboard Top Rock Albums chart.

From Out of Nowhere, which appeared in November 2019, is the most recent studio album by Jeff Lynne’s ELO. Here’s Down Came the Rain featuring nice Beatle-esque harmony vocals. Like on the predecessor, Lynne played most of the instruments and sang all lead and backing vocals.

During their original 13-year recording period, ELO sold more than 50 million records worldwide. Between 1972 and 1986, they scored 27 top 40 tunes on the UK Official Singles Chart and 15 top 20 hits in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. According to Wikipedia, ELO also hold the distinction for being the only band with the most Billboard Hot 100 top 40 hits (20) in U.S. chart history without having had a no. 1 single – who is tracking this kind of stuff? Last but not least, ELO (Roy Wood, Jeff Lynne, Bev Bevan and Richard Tandy) were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube