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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Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

It’s hard to believe another week just flew by. This year is already starting to feel old. The good news is another end of the week means more new music. This latest Best of What’s New installment is pretty eclectic, featuring psychedelic space rock, piano jazz, indie rock and folk-oriented pop. Let’s get to it.

The Besnard Lakes/Blackstrap

The Besnard Lakes are a space and psychedelic rock band from Canada, which was formed in 2003. According to an artist profile on Apple Music, the Montreal band became known for long, intricately textured songs and even longer album titles…Marital and musical partners Jace Lasek (vocals, guitar) and Olga Goreas (vocals, bass)…formed the Besnard Lakes in 2001 as a sideline to Lasek’s day job as an in-demand producer at the Montreal recording studio he and Goreas own, Breakglass Studios. In addition to them, the band’s current line-up includes Robbie MacArthur (guitar), Richard White (guitar), Sheenah Ko (keyboards) and Kevin Laing (drums). Apart from having released six studio albums, three EPs and various singles to date, the band has also written two film scores. Blackstrap, co-written by Lasek and Goreas, is the opener of their new album The Besnard Lakes Are the Last of the Great Thunderstorm Warnings, released yesterday (January 29) – no kidding above about long album titles! And, yes, it’s definitely spacey!

Emmet Cohen/Symphonic Raps

Emmet Cohen is a jazz pianist and composer from New York City. According to his website, he is one of his generation’s pivotal figures in music and the related arts. [Jazz and blues magazine] Downbeat praised the “nimble touch, measured stride and warm harmonic vocabulary” he employs to communicate with other musicians and audiences at what he terms “the deepest level of humanity and individuality.” Leader of the “Emmet Cohen Trio” and creator of the “Masters Legacy Series,” Cohen is an internationally acclaimed jazz artist and dedicated music educator. Cohen, who started playing the piano at age 3, is the winner of the 2019 American Pianists Awards. ‘Jazz?’ you might ask. While I rarely listen to jazz and admittedly don’t know much about it, this doesn’t mean I don’t like it. In fact, Symphonic Rags from Cohen’s new album Future Stride, which came out yesterday, grabbed me immediately – I dig the bouncy groove, which makes you want to tap your foot right along or snip your fingers!

Kiwi jr./Cooler Returns

Kiwi jr. are an indie rock band from Canada formed in 2015. Their Apple Music profile notes, made up of guitarist/vocalist Jeremy Gaudet, drummer Brohan Moore, bassist Mike Walker, and second guitarist Brian Murphy, the band’s sound was one part Pavement’s snarky melodicism, one part C-86 jangle, and sprinklings of restless wit in their lyrics about house parties, strange friends, and suburban landscapes. The band moved to Toronto shortly after forming, integrating themselves in the music scene there. Murphy split his time between playing guitar with Kiwi Jr. and bass in Alvvays, as the former band worked on their debut album between 2016 and 2017. In 2019, Kiwi jr. signed with Mint Records and released their debut album Football Money last year. Cooler Returns is the title track of the band’s sophomore album that came out on January 15.

Passenger/Remember to Forget

Let’s wrap things up with Passenger, the stage name of British folk pop singer-songwriter Michael David Rosenberg. According to his Apple Music profile, he took classical guitar lessons as a kid and eventually brought those skills to the streets to busk around England and Australia after leaving home at age 16. Upon returning to Brighton, he co-founded the folk-rock band Passenger in 2003. They released just one album before calling it quits, but Rosenberg, the group’s main songwriter, stuck with the name. He officially went solo as Passenger in 2009 with Wide Eyes Blind Love, a stripped-down acoustic set evoking the intimate storytelling of David Gray. Since, he’s been highly prolific, releasing 10 albums in his first decade alone, carefully tweaking his sound every step of the way. Remember to Forget is from Passenger’s 12th solo album Songs for the Drunk and Broken Hearted, which appeared on January 8.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Emmett Cohen website; YouTube