Fourth Street Art and Music Festival

Mac2: Return of the Cheese is a food fundraiser in support of 4th Street Arts Annual Art and Music Festival in Downtown Jersey City. The fundraiser is also an opportunity for the culinary inclined to compete against your fellow restaurants or residents for the title of “Best Mac & Cheese in Chilltown.” I recently caught up with Marc Caterina, Sophie Penkrat, and Anne McTernan, of 4th Street Arts, to discuss the comfort food smackdown. The event will be on Sunday from 2 to 6 p.m. at 190 Christopher Columbus Drive. There is a $5 entrance fee.

Q: Who are you, and what is your role in 4th Street Art and Music Festival? For those who are not familiar with Fourth Street, what is it, and why is it the most exciting event in the city?

A: Marc Caterina, I am the Director of 4th Street Arts. Sophie Penkrat, I am the 4th Street Arts Publicist and Artist/Vendor Coordinator via Not Yo’ Mama Affairs, and I am Anne McTernan, the Fundraising Coordinator & Street Design Team.

The 4th Street Art & Music Festival is an annual event that takes place in tandem with the ProArts Artists’ Studio Tour. For the seventh year in a row, the Festival will feature live bands, live art installations and demos, art for sale and more. What really makes the 4th Street Art and Music Festival so great is that it brings JC residents together with several aspects of the town’s vast creative community in one place. Together, we collaborate on and celebrate the art, the music, the food, the interaction, the imagination, and the all the awesome folks who live here. Not to mention that the beer is cheap! There really is something for every one of all ages too.

Q: What is Mac2: Return of the Cheese, and why should everyone in Jersey City and beyond-even those people from Brooklyn and Queens-come support this event?

A: Last September, Marc, Sophie and Anne decided to put on a last push fundraiser to collect funds for the Festival by throwing the Mac & Cheese Bake-Off. We hosted the event at Gallery 58 on Coles Street with roughly ten contestants (restaurants and individuals). People came out in droves – and HUNGRY! We thought it was a fluke and didn’t plan to host a second event, but due to numerous e-mails, phone calls and smoke signals, we ended up throwing a Chili Cook-Off last spring (with HUNDREDS of attendees). So, now we are hosting our third food-based fundraising event! Who knew everyone here loves a good culinary competition?

So, let’s face it, cheese is delicious, and for just 5 bucks folks can come on out for a great community event. Nowhere else will you get restaurants and individuals from all over the city cooking their most innovative versions of cheesy goodness. At the event, you can expect to sample at least 15 different versions of America’s fave comfort food while getting down to tunes by local DJs. Plus, Sam Adams will be featuring their beer lovers’ choice event where tasters will be able to vote on their favorite brewski-one of which will be the Sam Adams official fall brew.

Attendees can gather around at the family style table to discuss their favorite M&C’s of the day and vote for the People’s Choice in both the individual and restaurant categories. Plus, a panel of three judges will taste and judge “Top Chef” style. They often bring up the final contestants to defend their dishes – making for quite a nail biting apex to the whole event. All winners get a custom illustrated plaque drawn by a local artist. We use a different artist each time, this year’s contributor being Matt Caputo. In addition, we award a variety of other prizes donated by local retailers and publications. Lastly, we select very special Golden Spoon winners, but we don’t want to give those categories away just yet. There are three, and they are open to everyone slingin’ the cheese!

Q: Please discuss some of the logistics, planning, and coordination needed to pull off the fundraiser?

A: This will be our third “cook-off” style event, so the recipe is pretty well seasoned (no pun intended). All we have to do is send out a call for competitors and folks eat up the opportunity to get on board to show off their skills. This year, we are lucky to have Del Forno Realty donate a raw space at 190 Christopher Columbus Drive for the venue. This leaves a nice blank palette for us to set up the contestants and tasters in perfect flow to keep folks moving, tasting, and grooving all at once.

On the day of the event, you don’t even realize the engineering we have put in behind the scenes because it all seems like a fun, effortless foody party. The three of us have worked really well together in the past, and now we have a fourth member who just joined our food fundraising team, Jenn Shetsen.

We’ve been lucky, in that it’s been pretty seamless. We sorta form like Voltron. Basically, we break down the responsibilities so that a few of us look for contestants, others for sponsors, and the other folks nail down the pre- and day-of logistics. Thank stars for e-mail though – we must have four or five conversations in a day sometimes!

Q: This is a lot of work. Do you get paid for your time, energy, and expertise? And if you do not get paid, why do it?

A: No, none of us are paid, and trust us, it’s not always a walk in the park. I guess the reason we do it is because we have a great community in Jersey City and we love to see it thrive. Arts offer a great way for folks to come together, share their talents and enjoy the amazing things people can create and do – often in their own spare time. 4th Street does well because there are so many people in this town who have different resources and talents that can be tapped into. Everyone ends up shining like a superstar at our events because people try hard to make each affair memorable and the very best that it can be.

Q: In your opinion, what is contribution these food fundraisers bring to the city, community, and cultural landscape of the metropolitan area?

A: They are delicious and fun! These events are a great opportunity for restaurants to market themselves and for individual chefs to show off their aptitude. For all we know, there could be a hidden Bobby Flay in the group. The restaurants are also from all over the city, so it gives folks from one neighborhood the opportunity to try out the grub of a place on the other side of town. Culturally, these events offer folks who are adept in the culinary arts to shine. Visual art and music have a few outlets here – but nowhere really can folks with a knack for food share, beyond the occasional dinner party and whatnot.

Q: The people of Jersey City have flocked to your two previous food fundraisers. What sparked this love connection?

A: Food is universal and a $5 entry fee at the door is a pretty inexpensive Sunday lunch.

Q: Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. This is the second mac and cheese fundraiser. How will this one differ from the first, and what do you hope to accomplish? Have you set a fundraising goal?

A: There will be more contestants in a bigger space this time around. We also have the DJ team of DJ Mayor McCheese and DJ White Cheddar ready to spin records until your cheesy heads are content! Any funds raised for the festival will be considered a success, and if everyone has a good time, then we have met our goal and feel accomplished.

Q: Who are the contestants, and what was the criterion for inclusion in the competition?

A: We have a variety of restaurants and individuals participating, with no criteria for inclusion at all. If you think you can cook, bring it! Some of our current restaurants include Delenio, White Star, 9C, Made with Love, Lamp Post and LITM. Come on out to see who else is in.

Q: As of now, who are the favored competitors and who are the dark horses?

A: Too hard to say. We had sleeper cells in the previous competitions, so we can’t rule anyone out. People in this town know how to cook!

Q: Who are the judges, what criteria will they use to critique the mac and cheese?

A: Our judging panel includes Pete Genovese of The Star Ledger, Laryssa Wirstiuk of Jersey City Independent and NEW magazine, and Jersey City Ward E Councilman Steve Fulop. They will be judging in the following categories: Taste, Texture, Originality, and Overall Cheese Factor.

Q: In your opinion, what recipe-what cheese, what noodle-will separate the winner from the loser, and why?

A: Balance. The most delicious will probably win. Other than that, there’s no formula for victory. Last year’s winner of the Best Individual and Judges Category was an Indian spin on the old favorite, including spinach and curry powder. It’s anyone’s game.

Q: Everyone knows that mac and cheese is a potent natural aphrodisiac. What measures have you taken to moderate the crowds reactions?

A: It is? That’s weird.

Q: This question concerns the audience, the competitors, and the members of Fourth Street. How many toilets will be onsite? If I recall, the chili cook-off had one toilet, and that’s a gamble in my opinion.

A: There were two at Parlay for the Chili Cook-Off. Mac2: Return of the Cheese will have a single toilet. Pasta and cheese typically has the opposite effect on the digestive tract, so I think we’ll be fine.

Q: Let’s move on to our fair city. Fate brought me to Jersey City. What brought you?

A: Marc – My family is originally from Hoboken/Jersey City, and that, coupled with the convenience factor got me back to JC. I had friends that already lived here, and it was a lot more appealing than Hoboken or Brooklyn.

Sophie – A native New Yorker who grew up on the border of Jersey – the only thing that brought me to the other side was cheap gas and no retail tax. I then attended Rutgers as pretty much the only out-of-stater on campus. After six years in New Brunswick, the big city called – that being Jersey City. I moved here not knowing a soul or a neighborhood yet instantly fell in love and started to learn as many random facts about this town as possible. Whatya wanna know? Bam! I’m here just about 11 years, and no end in sight.

Anne – After finishing undergrad and working for a few years in South Jersey, I migrated back up north to pursue my masters at NJIT in Newark. Being that JC is in the heart of a golden metropolitan triangle, it was only logical for me to pick here to live. Little did I realize it was going to be such an awesome place to reside. It has all the familiarity of a small town with all the amenities of a big city – been here 5 years and I’m lovin’ it.

Q: Last question. What is your favorite restaurant? Who has the best jukebox, and where can you find a decent cup of coffee?

A: Being that you’re asking three of us – are you expecting a throw down? But seriously, we can’t play favorites when it comes to the restaurants and coffee shops in town – especially since a few of us work at local eateries and would like to be paid next week. We’ll just say we prefer the independently owned places over the chains. (Hands down! I haven’t eaten at a fast food restaurant in more than 10 years – true story! [Sophie here]). And jukebox? Come awn! You’re asking one the kings of vinyl (Cooter won’t admit this .¤.¤. so that’s why Anne and I are inserting this comment.)? So, best jukebox has to go to the DJ’s that play records. That’s not a jukebox at all, we know.

Original post may be found here.

Each spring, hundreds of bands flock to South by Southwest (SXSW), the much-anticipated annual music and media festival held in Austin. The festival, which gets started today, and is celebrating its 25th season this year. Acts from around the globe — Ireland, Japan, Germany, Australia, New Jersey — perform on more than 80 stages in what has become a media frenzy and a vast audio smorgasbord. Devouring the scene is a devout mob of friends, family, supporters, bloggers, critics and A&R representatives.

The bands that come to Austin may have a couple of one-off singles, a debut album, some mix tapes, and perhaps a few dozen live shows under their belt. If they deliver a kickass performance, they may get a shot at the title: to sell records, get signed to a label, and possibly get a song featured in a commercial, movie, or video game.

Will this be the year for WJ & the Sweet Sacrifice or The Beatings to hit the big time? We caught up with Billy Ferrara (aka Billy Alpha) of WJ & The Sweet Sacrifice and Tony Skalicky of The Beatings to find out what’s in store.

WJ & The Sweet Sacrifice

Tell us about the band. Who is the WJ & the Sweet Sacrifice, and do they do?

We are a bunch of friends who love getting out once in a bit and raising some hell together. The band is way more collaborative then the name suggests. We try hard to write, and work together. Tom Barret is our drummer, Erin Connors our lead guitar player/key player. Mike Moebius plays bass and does all of our recording and producing. I sing and play guitar, and Lysa Opfer, our newest member, plays keys/harps/tambourines/backing vocals.

WJ & the Sweet Sacrifice is a country/blues band from Jersey City. What’s the deal, why so much heartbreak?

I started the band as almost a knee-jerk reaction to some previous bands I had played in. I was bassist in the Ankles, which was a bombastic guitar rock band, and played in the Alphamales. The Alphamales worked harder at being abrasive and loud than we did on songwriting, so when we hit the skids and everyone moved on to different things, Erin and myself started writing these sappy country songs in our living rooms together. I tried to say something with the words and sing a little more…instead of all the “yeahs” and “come ons” of the past. The interesting thing about WJSS is that when we added a full line-up of people with different influences to the group those sad country songs grew into loud rock songs. Our upcoming record Hot and Haunted has been influenced as much by Black Sabbath as Cash and Parsons.

As for all the heartbreak … I spent most of my 20s being dumped and working mind-numbing jobs. People love to hear about that stuff.

Billy Alpha is the story of dead end jobs and dead end romances. What role has Jersey City played in your songwriting?

Jersey City has really influenced my songwriting. Before living here I never had any inclination to come here — ever; it was a shadowy place across the river. Now it seems like I can’t leave. This city is like a weird middle ground: its dangerous and seedy but also rich and trendy, it has this ramshackle music scene and a thriving art scene, but you sort of got to seek it out, got to be a little in the know. So this city has become the backdrop to a lot of my songs. I’ll name-check bartenders, streets, friends and places. I really try to connect my songs to this place. I moved here in my early 20s and sort of grew up here emotionally and musically. Like a lot of us drawn to this place, this city has been through a lot. Luckily in my case it was mostly awesome stuff: I’ve met great dudes and awesome girls, fell in love, and had 1,000 or so beers. What else do you need from a city?

You have a punk rock pedigree. What’s the link between the Misfits and Merle Haggard?

I could write an essay on this. My father told me once that kids singing doo-wop on the corner in the Bronx in the ‘60s were a lot like kids throwing guitars on, playing three chords and singing punk rock — you’re young, you’re mad or in love, and you got something to say. Same goes for country and punk. They deal with the same blue collar /middle class issues. You know, your heart’s broken and you got nowhere to turn, so you find solace in your friends and some beer … or you just found the hottest girl ever and she hates your guts ‘cause you’re a fuck-up with a shitty job and you wear lame clothes. There’s a great line from a song on Whiskeytown’s Faithless Street, “I started this damn country band, cause punk rock is to hard to sing.” That line inspired me a bit. Also, Danzig’s little heart yearns as much as Haggard’s in those Misfits songs, and both guys like fighting. Country music can be deceptively aggressive, and I’ve shed many a tear to Black Flag’s Damaged.

Danzig croons, Springsteen too. What’s the deal with New Jersey? Why do we inspire the soul of poets?

Its got to be something to do with that Pulaski Skyway. It’s like this giant old dinosaur made of rust and iron that rises out of the ground and towers over the landscape. It has hardly any shoulder, people fly on it, and if there is an accident traffic piles up for hours. Next time you’re on that thing think about what would happen to it if an earthquake hit. It would crumble. The thing about the Pulaski is you don’t have to drive on it, there are lots of ways around it, but people here choose to take that Skyway every single day.

Why do you want to perform at SXSW?

We have no real aspirations to be discovered at some BBQ and end up on the cover of Rolling Stone, but we do have aspirations to get free beer and hot dogs at said BBQ and end up meeting some people, having fun, and learning something about ourselves along the way. It’s going to be a blast. We are lovers of music and fun and SXSW has tons of both.

How many times have you performed before at SXSW?

I went down with the ankles in ‘04. I remember very little.

Lots of people read about SXSW, but they do not know what happens. Describe a typical day for a band during the showcase.

It depends on what you want to get out of it I guess. The opportunities to see great music are obviously everywhere, whether you have a SXSW badge or not. Besides all of the official shows, there are an inconceivable amount of BBQs and parties that you can just roll into, grab a beer and a hot dog and chill at. If you are so inclined you can network like crazy, or you can drink your face off and scream out the car window (this is mostly what the Ankles did). WJSS are playing four shows as of now, and are trying to get a radio spot, and some more things going. We’re going to focus on playing the best rock music we can; fortunately for us we are at our best when we are a little tipsy. I hope our typical day goes like this: wake up, eat continental breakfast, go for a swim, have a few beers, rock, dinner, beers, rock, see some metal, go to sleep … repeat.

What have you gotten out of the festival in the past?

Juice, clout, and the envy of my peers … about a 100 free records, and some stories i am not allowed to repeat.

What do you hope to get out of the festival now?

Mostly the same stuff as before, but we also want to give the band a shot in the arm — prove that we can do this, and do it well.

Why see live music when you can watch a band from the comfort of your own home on YouTube?

Nothing replaces seeing a band you love killing it on stage. I had hardly heard of High On Fire when we went to see them at the Knitting Factory all those years back, but they blew my mind so hard, I have loved them ever since. How sick was it when the bass player wrapped his bloody finger in duct tape so they could continue playing? You can’t appreciate that unless you’re there; that’s a visceral experience that needs to be seen in person. YouTube can never compete with hearing about some awesome show, buying the tickets weeks in advance, and then talking about how awesome its going to be for weeks, then going to the show and freaking out for 45 minutes, buying a shirt then talking about it to your friends the next day. Look how happy that Rye Coalition reunion made people … people were ecstatic. You could watch those dudes on YouTube all day, and never come close to that feeling of witnessing awesome rock. Some of my favorite people ever I have met at shows, and some of my fondest memories involve some cheap beers, good friends, and loud guitars.

If I remember clearly, you almost drove your truck into oncoming traffic on our way home from that show. That was then, this is now. I am old, and standing hurts my back. I saw Charlotte Gainsbourg last fall, and all I wanted was a chair to sit in. What do you expect from the audience during one of your shows?

To have at least as many drinks as Erin — beyond that it is up to them.

I get claustrophobic outside. What is it like to drive cross-county in a tiny vehicle jammed next to one another for thirty hours, and then play a show?

It sucks, then its awesome.

The Beatings

Who are The Beatings? What do you do in the band?

The Beatings are Erin Dalbec (bass, vocals), Dennis Grabowski (drums), Cameron Keiber (aka Eldridge Rodriguez) (guitarist, vocals), Greg Lyon (guitar, keyboards), and myself. I am a co-guitarist, co-singer, co-songwriter. We all share in the songwriting.

The Beatings are from Boston, but you live in Jersey City. You’ve described your affiliation as a long-distance relationship. What’s the deal?

A little Beatings history: Cameron and I grew up together just outside of NYC. He went to college in western Massachusetts, I went to school in upstate New York, and after school was over, we both moved to Boston for a change of scenery. The Beatings had already been around for a year or so before I joined in 1999 or 2000. I forget which year. Shortly thereafter we formed our label and released three albums. Then in 2004 I moved back to NYC, to help run my father’s business and because I fancied myself a New Yorker. Since that move I’ve stayed active in the band, shooting up to Boston to rehearse, write, etc. It’s a lot of travel, but it’s worth it: we’ve released three more records since then, done a few tours, not to mention adding several artists to the label. I know the highways of Connecticut quite well. I enjoy sleeping on sofas.

When did you relocate to Jersey City? Has the city played a role in your songwriting?

I relocated here in 2007, chasing after my wife-to-be and moving my print shop out of NYC. The city has definitely affected my songwriting style. I used to get drunk and ride the subways of Manhattan until 3 am, writing lyrics as I went along. Now I take the Light Rail to work or ride my bike. I seem to get the same amount done.

How many times have you performed at SXSW?

This is our first appearance in Austin while SXSW is happening; we are headlining Midriff Records’ first ever Day Party at Momo’s.

What about logistics? How are you guys getting down there — bus, van, car, train or plane? What is life like on the road?

We’re doing both this time out. A few brave souls have volunteered to drive a van with our stuff down to the festival. I myself am taking a plane. I think most of us are flying in for this one. Generally speaking, however, life on the road is an acquired taste. We’ve been around the country a few times, and it can be exhilarating, seeing the states, performing for people you don’t know, meeting new people, seeing how far you can drive with your eyes closed and an umbrella holding the steering wheel in place. We’ve made friends touring that we’ve stayed in touch with for the last ten years. But you see the inside of a van quite a bit. There is sleep deprivation. It can be lonely. But I wouldn’t trade the tours we’ve done for anything in the world. And even so, The Beatings have done our fair share of traveling, but up against a touring monster like These United States (who will be playing our Day Party) we’re pikers.

What is it like to play at this festival as opposed to a regular show?

A regular show has the thrill of being on stage, usually, in an intimate environment. You can meet the people before and after a drink a beer together. A festival is totally different; it’s an all day experience. There are shows going on everywhere. You have the potential to play for an exponentially larger crowd than you ever have before. Mostly everyone is in great spirits and rooting for you.

What about as a fan? What’s the experience like in the crowd?

This will be my first experience at SXSW, and I can’t wait. I don’t know what I am going to do first. I’m going to wear a helmet, though, so if my head explodes, I don’t take anyone else down with me.

What does the band hope to get from the festival this year?

This year, we’re hoping to do what we try to do every year, regardless of location: bring our music, and the roster of Midriff Records, to more people than the previous year. The Beatings and Midriff are really two sides of the same coin. We formed Midriff in 2002 to release our first album, Italiano, and we’ve been growing it in fits and starts ever since. At first, it was a smokescreen to promote our first EP. Like any band, we called clubs, tried to book tours, get write-ups, etc., all on our own. We weren’t on a label and had an insanely devoted friend as a manager. But back in 2001, booking agents, writers, newspapers, radio people, none of them wanted to talk directly to a band. But if you said you were on a label, you had a slightly higher response rate. So that’s what we did, and eventually, like Frankenstein’s monster, Midriff started roaming around the countryside under its own power. We learned all the things a label needed to do — distribution, publicity, booking, management, etc. — with The Beatings as the lab rat, before we took on another band in the roster. If someone had told us in 2003 we’d be putting on an all-day showcase in Austin someday, that person would have been pointed at and mocked mercilessly. Possibly given a wedgie.

Sarah Palin has taken a page out of your playbook. She has created a separate Facebook account to comment on her official account. What else do The Beatings and Momma Grizzly have in common?

Like Sarah Palin, we believe that Sarah Palin should run for President in 2012. We feel it would be, at the very least, a spectacle. We’re big fans of political comedies.

When I was a kid, if I wanted to hear a band, I listened to a cassette or record. I listened to WSOU or WPRB. Where do you learn about new bands?

Back in the old days, I had the MIT station WMBR’s “Breakfast of Champions.” There was no reason to listen to anything else. Now that I don’t live in Boston anymore and am not quite in that mindset, I try to listen to KEXP’s NYC broadcast in the mornings. When I do I always wonder why I don’t more often. I try to keep up with blogs, but that’s a lot of work! Nowadays I usually wait for my friends or my brother to tell me to listen to something, and it usually pays off. In that respect, I am very lazy. Fortunately, I am not responsible for finding new artists for the label. Better minds than mine handle that.

What about WFMU, do you listen to them?

I catch Tom Scharpling as often as I can. So I guess it’s not really about the music. Is that wrong? Do I have to move back to New York now?

I listened to your complete discography on your band website. What is The Beatings relationship to new media and technologies? How is band using new media and technologies?

The Beatings officially welcome our technological overlords. Without social networking, digital media, etc., a DIY outfit like ours would be nowhere. The best example of how we’re using new tech: we have a digital download store on our site. It’s a dream come true, to be able to sell directly to our fans without any middleman. And of course, we keep everyone updated via Facebook, Twitter, and Myspace. It’s a lot to stay on top of, but it’s a great asset to have real-time contact with the people who enjoy your work. It beats the carrier pigeon system we had in 1999.

So then what is the purpose of the live show?

To seal the commitment with your audience. You have a relationship via CDs, MP3s, websites, or what have you, and at some point, you gotta make some face time.

Record companies sold records. Bands played live, and used to make the most money touring. This model is obsolete. What do you do now, and what is your major source of revenue?

Right now, our major source of revenue is our website, where we sell our CDs and digital albums directly to our audience. Selling CDs at live shows is still important, but touring just doesn’t pay like it used to, if it ever did. Nothing can replace the connection that touring allows you to make with your audience, but from a financial standpoint, it’s tough to make ends meet doing it.

The Black Keys have gotten a lot of flack from fans because their song will be featured in a Twilight movie. What are your thoughts about using music for commercial purposes?

Speaking strictly for myself, I have no objections to it, provided it’s not used as the soundtrack for a remake of Triumph of the Will or something. I didn’t always think this way, but nowadays, music piracy is rampant. There are people who feel downloading music for free is an entitlement or right that’s been earned once they’ve sat down at a computer. I think it’s these same people who also feel entitled to dictate to a band what they can and can’t do with said stolen music. True fans are happy to see you succeed.

If your music could be featured in a film or video game, what would it be, and why?

Personally, my dream film/video project featuring the Beatings’ music would involve the Incredible Hulk, the Millennium Falcon, or Don Corleone. Perhaps some combination of the three.

Patrick Carney of the Black Keys said his band’s mission “was and still is to be able to pay our rent playing music.” What is your mission?

I can’t disagree with the guy. But as we’ve also been running a label for 10 years, our scope is considerably broader. We’re on a mission, perhaps in the realm of obsession, to get the music we love out to people who haven’t heard it yet. And that’s not just the music of The Beatings. That goes for all the artists on our roster, and some artists who aren’t on our roster. Look at our Austin lineup. There are artists that are not on our label, that we would have no financial interest in promoting. They’re just bands we love, great friends and like-minded participants in an under-the-radar community of independent musicians. The blogs do a good job of getting new music out, but logistically, they can only bring to light a small percentage of what’s out there. Popular radio does even less. I’m not saying we’re the missing piece of the puzzle, but we’re certainly trying to do our part. It still hasn’t paid the rent, however. Maybe next year.

Boston has a huge music tradition. Aerosmith, The Cars, Mission of Burma, Pixies, SSD, and Slapshot all hail from Boston. Dinosaur Jr. and Modern Lovers were a stones throw away. Which band has more of direct influence on The Beatings?

Perhaps I can narrow this down by saying that The Beatings will not be covering “Dude Looks Like a Lady” in this lifetime. The Pixies and Modern Lovers, obviously, are beloved in our band, but there’s more disparate influences among the five of us than you might think, and it’s what makes our songwriting relationship work so well. I do wish I had thought up saying “Giggy-giggy-gow”, though.

Original post may be found here.

Segunda Quimbamba Folkloric Center, Inc. | Photo: Alton O'Neil

Segunda Quimbamba is a Jersey City-based drum and dance ensemble that perform the traditional music of Puerto Rico. I have had the pleasure of seeing them perform several times over the past five years. The performances are creative, wild, and exuberant. I recently caught up with Nanette Hernandez and Juan Cartagena of Segunda Quimbamba as they made final preparations for their performance at the Grove Street PATH Plaza on Friday, Sept. 10. This event is part of Grove On Grove and JC Fridays.

JCFridays is happening today throughout Jersey City. Many art studios and restaurants are participating, and art exhibit openings have been scheduled to coincide with the event. For a complete list, go to

BC: Juan and Nanette, tell us a little bit about yourselves?

SQ: We are Puerto Ricans who live in Downtown, Jersey City where we participate in numerous community-based activities. Juan was born and raised in Jersey City and Nanette was born and raised in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; we have been living together in Jersey City since 1981 and have two children, Mateo and Rosa. Juan is a public interest attorney and Nanette is a marketing/pr consultant.

BC: Tell us about Segunda Quimbamba-who is in the band, how long have you been together, what type of music and dancing do you perform, and what is the origin of the name?

SQ: The original group, founded by Juan and Nanette, was called Los Pleneros de la Segunda (the Plena Players from Second Street) and began around 1989. Our children also participate in the group, Rosa both dances and drums while Mateo at times plays base for the group. We perform the drum music of Puerto Rico: Bomba and Plena – each of which is a distinct musical form with origins in West Africa. We perform the rhythms in a dance and drum ensemble and present the unique dance and drum synergies that are characteristic of this dynamic music. Our performances range the spectrum from folkloric presentations to more recent urban musical influences. Presently, we have over a dozen members nearly all of whom are second-generation Puerto Ricans, born here of parents who were born on the island. Hence our name Segunda Quimbamba (Second Quimbamba) which reflects our second-generation status, the tie to Second Street in Jersey City, and our homage to the Bomba and Plena performers who came before us. Quimbamba is a reference point in a famous poem by Luis Pales Matos describing a mythical place in Africa.

BC: Segunda Quimbamba is Jersey City’s version of the Carter Family. Mateo, your son, is also in another band. What can you tell us about it?

SQ: Mateo is a gifted musician and artist, he plays drums, guitar and bass; the group he currently performs with is called Dawn of Humans, they recently put out a record and have been touring throughout the east coast.

BC: Tell us about your upcoming performance on Friday, September 10th at Grove St. PATH Station Plaza at 6 p.m. This event is part of Groove on Grove and JC Fridays. How did the event come about, and what can the audience expect to see and hear?

SQ: Segunda Quimbamba performs regularly in local festivals and street fairs and we’ve been looking forward to participate in this venue because it provides a wonderful break from the work week for Jersey City commuters. We’re excited to present our drum rhythms on stage in both instrumental and traditional formats.

BC: Segunda Quimbamba liberates workers from the daily grind! Will commuters have an opportunity to sing and dance with you?

SQ: Absolutely, this is a great way to release the stress of our everyday lives. We often teach the chorus of the songs we are singing so they can join us and we invite them to come and dance to the drum too. Audience participation is an extension of what we do, as with many live performances, the band feeds off the energy and enthusiasm they give – this dynamic communication can alter a show into an explosive interaction – spontaneous creativity.

BC: I have had the privilege of seeing you perform numerous times. The women are beautiful, and I love the outfits-the flowing skirts, sinuous blouses, and the heeled shoes. What can you tell me about the traditional dress?

SQ: The costumes for this typical form of music and dance seen today were aesthetically developed as part of the more formal stage and film/video presentations. Visually stimulating the top skirt is used as a prop to mark and emphasize the dance movement while flirtatiously showing the underskirt (petticoat). There is a special dynamic communication involved here as the drummer closely follows the dancer’s rhythmic movements and tries to mimic the pattern with his drum beats. In the 1960’s the PR Office of Tourism and Culture pushed for this look, as the audience loved the visual effects while using it to drive tourism for Puerto Rico’s traditional folklore. One of their most popular programs designed for tourists is the Lelolei presentation seen throughout the island. While this is a very common way to present the dancers, other various garbs are used, especially by younger groups experimenting with the basic elements of this music and dance.

BC: For me, one of the great things about your performances is the interaction between the dancer and drummer. It’s playful, sexy, and celebratory. So, has Segunda Quimbamba inspired any love connections?

SQ: Funny you should ask. Last year we had a couple taking our drum and dance workshops and for the student recital we decided to have them perform a dance together (choreographed by SQ’s Tania Rodriguez, the couple are her friends). Little did anyone know that on the evening of the show, he informed Juan and I, that he had rehearsed the piece with dance moves to present an engagement ring to his girlfriend. We were in awe, it was beautiful, in the middle of the show, of the dance number, they became engaged (she was in shock!) with the audience looking on and applauding like crazy. So I guess it can happen.

BC: What can you tell me about the instruments you use?

SQ: Bomba is performed with barrel drums called “bombas,” a “maraca” and a pair of sticks called “cuas.” It has over three-hundred years of history in Puerto Rico. Plena is performed with hand-held frame drums called “panderos,” a “guiro” and occasionally conga drums. It has over 100 years of history on the island and reflects the working class idioms of people along the coast of Puerto Rico.

BC: Where have you performed? What are your favorite and least favorite venues? Do you have any upcoming shows?

SQ: New Jersey mostly, but also in New York, Pennsylvania, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Indiana. We love venues that keep us physically close to the audience since our music is interactive and thrives on audience participation. In addition to Sept. 10th at Grove Street our biggest show will be in the Bronx on Oct. 6, 2010 at the Hostos Center for the Arts during the biennial BomPlenazo festival – the largest Bomba and Plena music festival in the country.

BC: What is an ideal audience for one of your performances, and which city and venue is the best place to perform?

SQ: Our ideal audience will have a love for live performances. It would be composed of families, from grandparents to young children, diversity of ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds with the common thread of sharing in the joy of live musical and dance performance and the understanding of the importance and need to preserve cultural and heritage traditions.

It’s difficult to pick one city or venue; we have enjoyed performing at the largest Bomba & Plena festival in the country, Bomplenazo in The Bronx. The Crossroads Theatre in New Brunswick was exhilarating – both the stage layout and audience were amazing. Symphony Space in NYC was another great theater venue.

BC: Who writes your songs and choreographs your dances? What are the main themes or topics for your work? Do you think these topics will change over time?

SQ: Juan will write some of our songs but most of them come from centuries of historical development of song and rhythms that have been in Puerto Rican communities for a long time. The themes are work, identity, pride and protest on the one hand, and street life, gossip & chatter, and recent events on the other. There is a large element of history and yesteryear in our songs – but also a rich tradition of looking back to find lessons in our past to resolve the challenges of the present. Choreography is led by Nanette and others in the group but dancing in bomba, especially, is not choreographed. On the contrary, it is always spontaneous and improvised creating a challenge between the lead dancer and lead drummer.

BC: How has your music evolved since you first began playing music together?

SQ: Our confidence has clearly grown and our commitment and joy in performing the music is evident now more than ever.

BC: What’s your ultimate direction for your band? Are you seeking fame and fortune?

SQ: Neither fame nor fortune; just joy, respect and acknowledgment that what we present resonates among our audience regardless of race, ethnicity, age or gender.

BC: Anyone can participate in a Segunda Quimbamba performance-even an Irish-Catholic former hardcore kid from the suburbs like me?

SQ: Yes, anyone can participate. Our classes attract a diverse group of students. The main goal is the desire to learn and embrace a cultural tradition different from your own and hopefully it will resonate with the history and heritage of your ancestors. The commitment to learn and share in something new through the universal language of music and dance is all that is needed. Always high energy and fun you can get the benefit of exercise, laughter and unity with Bomba & Plena.

BC: How can fans-to-be gain access to your music? Do you have a website with sample songs or a demo CD?

SQ: Our current site is and we’re also on Facebook. Our CD “Aquí También” (Here as well), is on and on ITunes. We are also in the process of getting our website up and running this fall.

BC: Let’s discuss Jersey City a bit. You were born and raised in Jersey City. How has the neighborhood changed since you were a kid? How has the art scene changed?

SQ: There is a lot that is very good about the changes in the city with genuine people coming to our city looking for meaningful community life and struggling for the same things we all do. At the same time some changes are grating and manipulated in a way to create artificial barriers – the unstated but obvious boundary that separates life east of Marin to that west of it, for example. Along with the language that commercializes our lives. When I grew up we called it the river, now it’s the waterfront. Music and art can bridge these communities. To that end, the art scene is a welcome addition to the city and the challenge that remains is ensuring that indigenous Jersey City musical and artistic expressions are not ignored, but incorporated in this new scene.

BC: These issues were also raised in Barbara Bickart’s film. Segunda Quimbamba played a pivotal role in the project. How did your participation in the film come about, and did your participation reveal any new insights about Jersey City?

SQ: We were approached by the video artist Barbara Bickert upon the referral from the Jersey City Museum’s Sandy Martiny, at the time the curator of education. We were motivated by our mutual commitment to address and reveal an understanding of the issues of gentrification and their affect on the local residents who have lived here all their lives, often the most underserved group. We collaborated with the chorus of Bethesda Baptist Church leading to the creation of new songs and an experimental approach and presentation of Bomba & Plena with Gospel traditions – it was amazing for all of us involved – the audiences love it. Juan and I were honored to work with them, all of us willing to take the risk with this production, as we pushed our creative boundaries.

BC: In Conveyer, the designer Josef Reyes notes: “A life is a narrative and a place is a meeting point of several narratives. Consider a place to be not so much a physical environment to but a crossing point of disparate stories.” What are a few of the buried stories in downtown Jersey City, and what do they reveal about the character of our city?

SQ: Jersey City is the quintessential working class town that typifies the Northeast where industrial backyard communities supported the shining, upper class inner city. As Jersey City creates its own shining inner city it cannot forget the gritty and real working class that created it. That is where I would look first. Small businesses (auto repair shops, bodegas), bars (Rolon’s Bar and Guillo’s Bar) churches, street fairs and basketball parks and soft ball leagues, all have their own stories of a disparate past to tell.

BC: What is your favorite restaurant? Who has the best jukebox, and where can you find a decent cup of coffee?

SQ: Can’t pick just one: Sava, Skinner’s Loft, Hard Grove to name a few, Taqueria for takeout. Best juke box is Latin Lounge and Rolon’s Bar. Best coffee is La Conguita and Madame Claude’s. And the best bartender is Steve at Saigon Café.

BC: What should residents new to Jersey City know about their new home, and why?

SQ: Go west. West of Marin to know Downtown. Then go to the local bars and parks of the rest of the city to see and learn about our wonderfully diverse community. Ride a bus. Attend a street fair. Check out the art, the music. Do it all.

BC: Yes, go west. Get in the wagon train, and push through to McGinley Square, West Side and Mallory Avenue.


Segunda Quimbamba Folkloric Cente, a nonprofit center based in downtown Jersey City, currently is preparing for its fourth year of teaching dance and drum, Bomba and Plena. Registration and workshops begin on Sunday afternoons, Sept. 12, through early December.

Call the Center for more information at (201) 420-6332 or e-mail Nanette Hernandez at or visit

For the educational initiative, the group has received support from private donors, Jersey City Museum, the Hudson County Office of Cultural and Heritage Affairs, and New Jersey State Museum. SQFC is committed to providing complete access to all interested persons for all programming, both educational and performance based.

Oroginal post may be found here.

“I find individual elements most interesting when taken out of their original context and re-interpreted through a fresh perspective.” — Stephen Chopek

SodaCan| Courtesy of Stephen Chopek

Apart from actor/conceptual artist/fiction writer/grad student James Franco, Stephen Chopek may be the busiest man in the art world today. Chopek (aka SodaCan), who lives and works as a musician and artist in Jersey City, is currently on tour with singer-songwriter Todd Carey; closer to home, the Broadway Gallery in Manhattan and LITM in Jersey City are currently showcasing his art in two group exhibitions. We recently caught up with Chopek to discuss SodaCan, his studio practice, and the business of being an artist and musician.

What is SodaCan?

SodaCan is a solo project, an artist collective, a multimedia extravaganza, an evolutionary experiment, a peace movement, a radical revolutionary uprising, a democracy, a dictatorship, a fascist theocracy, a socialist republic, an equal opportunity employer, an international corporation, a nonprofit organization, and a few other things not fit to print.

OK. Let’s narrow this down. What types of projects does SodaCan produce?

SodaCan produces music and art by Stephen Chopek. I occasionally collaborate with other musicians and artists, but mostly it’s all me … whatever I want it to be … when I want it to be … and where I want it to be.

The project was initiated after many years of playing other people’s music for a living, with only rarely embarking on my own projects. I started to get burnt out, and decided to take a step back and reassess my priorities. I took a year off from what I had been doing to focus on my personal interests. After that year I was refreshed and ready to get back to the business of music. Since then, I’ve been able to maintain a healthy balance of solo work and sideman work. As a result, I enjoy playing on other people’s gigs more than I ever. I’ve rekindled my fascination and dedication to the creative process.

Christening a project can be difficult. How did you come up with the name SodaCan, and what does it say about the type of work you make?

In 2007, after playing music professionally as a sideman for seven years, I began composing my own music. Around that time, I also started making visual art. I though it would be a good idea to present both under one name, but not my own. I was going for something more of a brand than a personal connection. It’s liberating to create things that my name is not directly attached to. However, it’s no secret that SodaCan is Stephen Chopek and vice versa.

I got the idea for the SodaCan name and logo from a friend’s T-shirt. It was a thrift store find, and had an image of what appeared to be the top of a soda can. So, like any aspiring artist would do, I stole it — the image, not the T-shirt.

The name doesn’t necessarily say anything about the type work I make, which is kind of the point; it’s ambiguous. The viewer or the listener can decide what it means.

Do you prefer to drink a beverage from an aluminum can with a pull-tab or stay-on-tab, and why?

I don’t drink soda or beer, so I’m not in a position to make an informed decision about the best way to drink out of an aluminum can.

Lately, I’ve been getting into coconut water. Most brands come in drink boxes with a pull-tab. That seems to be the way to go.

SodaCan "Night"

SodaCan "Day"

You have a show coming up in New York City. How did you become involved in the exhibition, The International Artists at Home and Abroad Exhibition Series, and what work will be on view?

Earlier this year, I viewed Bonnie Gloris’ art at the Brunswick Windows in Downtown Jersey City. I liked what I saw, and I sent her an email to let her know. Shortly after that, we were both showing work at LITM. In addition to being an artist, Bonnie is also a curator at the Broadway Gallery in New York City. She invited me to participate in their Nature Vs. Nature show in November. As a result, I was asked back for The International Artists at Home and Abroad Exhibition Series.

The work on view will be a diptych entitled Night & Day. This is part of a body of work made by applying paint to the glass of old windowpanes.

Networking sounds sleazy, but it’s not. It’s amazing how emailing an artist to share your admiration for a particular project can lead to other unforeseen opportunities. What else do you do to cultivate new relationships?

It’s important to get out there and meet the members of your community. In terms of the music and the art world, this means going to gallery openings, concerts, jam sessions, fundraisers, etc. Needless to say, the internet is a great way to network. Reaching out to fellow artists and musicians via email and social networking sites is a great way to stay connected. Find out what’s going on in and around town and check it out. Artists need to support each other.

What is the relationship between your paintings and your music?

My music and art are both created with the help of previously existing sources. I collect samples to make music and objects to make art. Some of the objects that I use are magazine photos, newspaper headlines, windowpanes, old paint, broken crayons, pen ink, plastic flowers, and bug carcasses.

I often collect things that I’m not sure what to do with. It may take a while, but they eventually find their way into an art piece.

Materials take up a lot of space. I work in my apartment. My space dictates the type of work I make – small, intimate, personal. Do you have a studio or specific space designated for your art and music?

I have a room in my apartment that serves many functions – recording studio, art studio, instrument storage. The room is not small, but sometimes it feels like the walls are closing in. It can get overwhelming, but I’m glad to have a space designated for creating. Depending on what I’m making, I may need to spread out into the living room and/or kitchen. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that my works are small to medium size. I often wonder what kind of art I would be making if I space was not an issue.

Slayer + Public Enemy | Courtesy of Glen E. Friedman

I want to discuss some of your music. One of the pleasures I had while listening to your songs was the experience of trying to identify the sources of the various samples and soundbites. I still remember the initial glee I felt — and still feel — when I heard the Slayer “Angel of Death” sample in Public Enemy “She Watch Channel Zero.” Do you think about who your audience is? How do you expect viewers to respond to your work?

I don’t think of my audience when I’m composing music or making art. I do my best to not think of anything at all. I prefer to concentrate on the work at hand. I wouldn’t say my work is unfocused, but it’s not aimed in a specific direction for a specific audience.

I don’t place any expectation on my work or the people who view my work. There are no meanings, messages, emotions, or feelings that I’m trying to convey. I prefer to leave it up to the viewer or the listener to derive meaning from the work.

The final part of the creative process is sharing the completed work with the world. However it’s received once it’s out there is beyond my control.

I wish I had your mentality. One of the biggest challenges I find as an artist is getting caught up in my own head instead of making the work. Do you practice meditation or anything to help you get in the zone or are you just hardwired at this point to do the work?

In recent years, I’ve come to realize that passions come and go. The creative process requires devotion more than passion. The creative impulse is a gift that has been given to everyone — it’s our responsibility to foster and develop that gift. It requires a strong work ethic. We have a finite amount of time on earth and there are a finite number of hours in the day. Using our time wisely while we have it is the least we can do in exchange for this gift, and for the gift of life in general. Everyone has something to offer.

I practice Vipassana meditation on a daily basis. “Vipassana” is a Pali word derived from the Sanskrit language. It can be translated into English as “clear-seeing”, “clear-knowing”, or “insight.” The practice itself is one of the world’s most ancient meditation techniques, originally taught by Gautama Buddha. Vipassana mediation requires one to be equanimously aware of the present moment as it manifests itself in the breath and through bodily sensations.

Courtesy of the Rubin Museum

I am interested in learning about how you construct an audio piece. For example, on your song “Lord Protect My Child” on Sweet and Savory, what came first, the soundbite of the woman singing, the sitar clip, or the drumbeat you created?

Whenever I’m listening to music and I hear something that catches my attention, I make a sample of it. Through years, I’ve collected many sound clips of myself and other people playing their instruments. When I sit down to create a song, I begin by perusing my sample library.

With “Lord Protect My Child,” I began with creating the drum groove and matching it to the vocals. Then I found a bass sample and laid out the form. Once that was in place, I filled in the blanks with some percussion. There was plenty of space, which worked well for the song, but something was missing. It was at that point that I went through my CDs of Indian classical music and pieced together a few sitar solos.

Generally speaking, I make many versions of a song before I decide that it’s complete. It usually helps to make edits throughout the course of a few days. This way, I can get some distance and return with fresh perspective.

The piece that I’m currently working on is a bit of a departure from my first two albums. It’s about 30 minutes long and I play most of the instruments. My sister Claudia, who plays the violin and viola, is also featured. The only element of the song that I didn’t create is the vocal. It’s a sample taken from an astronaut reading the Bible. I’m also collaborating with a video artist to make a short film for the song. It will be released early in 2011.

How long have you lived in Jersey City, and what is it like to be an artist here? Has living in Jersey City influenced your decisions inside and outside the studio?

I’ve been living in Jersey City for about ten years. I was in the Heights for the first five, and I’ve been in the Journal Square for the past five. I have a music/art studio in my place that helps to maintain a reasonable cost of living.

There’s a healthy community of artists and galleries in Jersey City. There are also many musicians in town, but the live music scene is not very happening.

I’m not sure how much living in Jersey City has influenced my decisions. I would be making music and art in some capacity no matter where I lived.

What are the biggest challenges to a thriving music scene in Jersey City, and what can the community do to create one?

The biggest challenge to a thriving music scene in Jersey City is the lack of venues. I’m not sure what the reason is for this void; perhaps music clubs are not financially viable investments.

The community can take it upon itself to present shows in “alternative spaces” like galleries, vacant storefronts [and] private residences. However, the powers-that-be do not seem to be tolerant when people take the initiative to produce independent shows. I’m aware that the city has rules, laws, variances, zones, and requires permits for certain activities and events; but one should not have to consult with a lawyer if they want to throw a party. There needs to be a middle ground where the officials and the artists can meet amicably and productively. I’m not sure what it will take to get there, but it can’t happen without solidarity – within both sides and between both sides.

What artists should we be paying attention to in Jersey City?

I like what John Fathom is doing with his light boxes. Bonnie Gloris is always up to something new and interesting. I also appreciate how the Agitators Collective utilize and beautify public spaces. (I’m not just saying that because you’re a member of the group). I became aware of their work when I saw the decorated electrical boxes on Central Avenue in the Heights. It wasn’t until I saw their show at the 58 Gallery that I realized who was responsible for the project.

You have a diverse practice. You perform, tour, and record music on a regular basis, and make art. How do you find time to do it all?

Sleep deprivation. Don’t get me wrong … I love to sleep, but it often gets in the way. I don’t do drugs, but if I did it would be some sort of amphetamine. I could get a lot more done if I didn’t need to sleep. I often wonder how much more productive humans would be if we didn’t need to rest. Then I realize … we would probably accomplish twice as much, but live half as long.

I tend to take on more than I think I can handle, and then figure out a way to make everything happen. It keeps things interesting. I like to push myself and test my limits. I’m always up for a new challenge.

My workload is never a burden because I enjoy all the things that I do. The creative process never ceases to amaze me, and is a form of energy in and of itself.

Original post may be found here.

SodaCan logo

Todd-O-Phonic-Todd | Courtesy of Summer Dawn Hortillosa

About ten years ago Todd Abramson gave me Nuggets II: Original Artyfacts From The British Empire And Beyond, a four-disc box set, during Maxwell’s annual employee Christmas party.

My self-imposed ban on all types of music not heavy or fast was lifted. I went from Slayer, Bad Brains, and Sick of it All to The Pretty Things, Marmelade, and Small Faces.

For the past three decades, Todd has enticed bands from around the world to perform in Maxwell’s, a modest venue (200 capacity), in Hoboken. The musical acts include Elliot Smith, White Stripes, Nirvana, Fugazi, The Strokes, Beck, Black Keys, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

I recently caught up with Todd to discuss the shows he has planned for New Year’s Eve, his life in the music business, and the agony and ecstasy of being a professional sports fan.

Hi Todd. Tell us about yourself. Who are you, and what do you do?

I’m one of the owners of Maxwell’s in Hoboken and I also book the bands. Additionally, I also book The Bell House, a great venue in Brooklyn. And under my alias “Todd-O-Phonic Todd” I deejay on WFMU and for assorted live events.

When did rock and roll take over your life, and who is responsible – was it AC/DC, The Flamin Groovies, or KISS?

It was probably Three Dog Night! Hearing the opening of “Joy To The World” come out of my transistor was revelatory at the time! The Rolling Stones surpassed Three Dog Night as my favorite group maybe a year later.

Three Dog Night

Tell us about the shows on New Year’s Eve. Who is performing, and why should everyone ring in the New Year at Maxwell’s?

We have 2 shows this year. The early one (7:30) is Mike Doughty, formerly the lead man from the band Soul Coughing. Then at 10:30 we have a great rock ‘n’ roll show with The Fleshtones and Detroit Cobras. The Fleshtones will have performed at Maxwell’s in each of 5 decades! The first time I saw them at Maxwell’s they were playing in the restaurant area (the backroom came into being about a year after the joint opened). They are an incredible if often overlooked (at least in this country) rock ‘n’ roll band that incorporates so many great and diverse elements into their sound. The same can be said of The Detroit Cobras who perform almost exclusively covers of great R ‘n’ B and soul nuggets from the 1960’s and occasionally earlier. It’s going to be some party.

You’re a great role model for music promoters, having built a life – and a profession – around your love of music. You co-own Maxwell’s with Steve Shelly and Dave Post, and book all music acts. You also act as head booker for Bell House in Gowanus, and occasionally fulfill booking duties for Union Hall in Park Slope. You are the founder of Telstar Records and guest deejay at WFMU. How did you get your start in the business, and what is the key to sustaining a livelihood in the game?

I got started just by being a fan and then just slowly getting more involved until all of a sudden it became what I did. There was never a plan and when I started I figured I’d do something else when I grew up. Maybe I still will because as my 6-year-old niece put it to me recently, “You are a grown up, but you don’t act like one”. Sustaining a livelihood is probably a mixture of luck and skill. And you need to try avoiding getting too low when things are lousy or too high when they are going good. Easier said than done.

Maxwell’s has often been voted best rock club in New York City. Why is the Big Apple always trying to steal Jersey glory? What distinguishes Maxwell’s from the other music venues-specifically the ones across the river?

I think a few things …one is that it has always been a little lower key than the New York clubs because there is very little “industry” presence at shows. Another is that having the separate room with the restaurant and bar makes for a different atmosphere. A lot of times people spend many hours at Maxwell’s in a single night (coming in early for drinks and dinner, then seeing the show, and hanging out a bit afterwards) as opposed to just running in and out seeing one band that they want to check out.

Maxwell's, 1039 Washington Street, Hoboken NJ 07030

Rock clubs come and go. Why is Maxwell’s still standing, and what is the key to its longevity?

With the exception of a brief period when it was in flux in the mid-90’s, there have only really been 2 bookers. Steve Fallon, the original owner whom I learned a lot from and was my inspiration when I started booking shows, and myself. So while he and I displayed somewhat different musical tastes, there has been a cohesive vision that has really driven the place for over 30 years.

As headwaiter, I worked at Maxwell’s from 1999 to 2003. My favorite memories include Sarah Silverman helping me bus table #80, a six top, before a Yo La Tengo set; Janeane Garofalo dropping a $50 tip on a two-dollar plate of French fries; Meg White devouring an entire shepherd’s pie. What are three of your favorite non-musical memories?

Well speaking of tables, the one from the first night of this year’s Hanukkah shows that at one point had myself, my wife Cheryl (a.k.a. “Sissophonic Cheryl”), comedian Todd Barry, musician M. Ward, actress Julia Styles, Elvis impersonator Gene DiNapoli and booking agent Eric Dimmenstein would probably be hard to duplicate elsewhere! A fond memory from years back is when some guy was a little bombed and his wife said we should go easy on him because he was in The Guinness Book of Records as The World’s Tetherball Champion! Lastly, I don’t know how you didn’t list this one yourself, but the time Sky Saxon came falling out of the lounge on to that poor couple on a date at the “wise guy” table.

Sky Saxon

I can still see it as if it were yesterday. Sky leaping from nose bleeds (bottle of red wine in hand), taking out the “wise guy” table, plates crashing, men and women screaming. He created such a stir, but managed not to spill his drink. That’s class. You have been booking bands since the eighties at Maxwell’s. How has the scene evolved over three decades? And what role has new media and technologies-such as iPhones, Vimeo, iTunes, YouTube, Pandora-played in the business of rock and roll?

It’s a lot easier to get the word out about shows nowadays. For Instance, yesterday we announced a Guided By Voices show in the morning, put tickets on sale at noon, and by 3 o’clock it was sold out. When I started, the weekly ad in the Village Voice was the way everyone found out about shows. And of course, it’s a lot easier for people to check out these bands now because they can just do it at home on their computer.

One downside I see is that bands aren’t really given as much time to develop now as they used to. People get excited about them very quickly, but they are also just as quick to jump off a bandwagon.

The three greatest performances I had the pleasure to witness were Sky Saxon and the Seeds, Mudhoney, and The King Brothers, maybe even Zeke. What were your favorite shows, and what makes a great live performance?

There have been many so I would say these are some of my favorites …The Cowsills …the first time Jimmie Dale Gilmore played the club …Thee Headcoats/Headcoatees show …and taken as a whole the incredible run of Yo La Tengo Hanukkah shows that just ended. Those have always been fantastic, but this year seemed like they somehow rose to even another level.

I think a great live performance does require a great performance from the people on stage, but also needs to build off the audience’s energy level.

The Cowsills "Milk"

One of the most gratifying experiences about working at Maxwell’s was having the opportunity to interact with the bands on a personal level. J Masics of Dinosaur Jr. remembered my name after a two-year absence from the club, and brought me a cup of peppermint tea. What disarming experiences have you had amidst the chaos and noise of rock and roll?

I remember one night I was dealing with some kitchen employee quitting in the middle of the night and The Shins checked on me to see if I was okay (usually, I’m supposed to be checking on them).

As the co-owner of a music venue, you have to balance art and commerce. What is the relationship between the two for you, and how has it affected the type of bands you book?

Ah, yes …basically it’s a balancing act. For instance if you want to take a chance on a Saturday with a band you love but may not bring in a high level of business, you better make sure you have something solid on the Friday (from a business sense) to at least balance it out somewhat.

The recession has hit everyone hard. Museums have organized in-house exhibitions of permanent collections to counteract the affects of the current economic climate. Has Maxwell’s seen a decline in revenue as a result of the recession? If so, what steps have you taken to neutralize the downturn, and increase revenue?

There have been good weeks and bad, good months and bad, but it’s hard to pinpoint. Due to the economic downturn there are probably people who come to our place who didn’t before, because they can spend less money at Maxwell’s than they did elsewhere. Then there are unfortunately people who can’t afford to go out at all, or if they do it’s very infrequent. But overall, business has been pretty steady.

Margaret Bourke-White "At the time of the Louisville Flood (1937)"

It’s been seven years since I worked at Maxwell’s. In my time away, I have chosen an all-star wait staff to man battle stations. Sean Connor behind the taps. Frank Murphy his chief second. Kristen Giorgio, Jenn Data, and Andrea Breitman regulating the floor. Lorraine Gordon greeting the guests. Meika Franz as the DH. El Diablo in the kitchen. John Z. and C. Ward working the door. If you had to choose the Maxwell’s all time dream team, who would it be, and why?

It would be you working every job.

Since my departure from the music scene, I’ve been out of the loop. I rely on Soundcheck and New Sounds on NPR. How do you stay on top of music today?

Hearing news from friends and people in the biz that I trust…various websites…still reading some mags. Going to a record store and seeing something that looks interesting….

What records are currently getting airtime on your turntable, and what bands should we keep an ear out for?

There’s a great rock ‘n’ roll band from Rochester called The Hi-Risers that actually have around a half dozen albums out…a cool new band from Austin called The Young played in town this weekend. Best Coast have a really nice sound, they are getting somewhat popular…

Musicians are not known for sound behavior. (Ozzy bit off the head of a bat, GG Allen defecated on stage, and Old Dirty Bastard did the Old Dirty Bastard thing.) What band or performer exhibited the most brazen display of rock-and-roll eccentricity? And how did you negotiate the situation?

One time Robyn Hitchcock wanted to go on hours earlier than he was scheduled to because he said everyone would be drunk at the later hour. I don’t remember exactly how we talked him out of it, but I remember it took a few people and was very tense, kind of like I would imagine a hostage situation.

Toronto Maple Leafs vs Chicago Blackhawks | Maple Leaf Gardens

People may not know this about you, but you’re a huge sports fan. In football, you back the Green Bay Packers. In baseball, it’s the San Francisco Giants. And in hockey, it’s the Boston Bruins. How did a kid from New Jersey come to support all these out of town teams?

Actually it’s the Chicago Blackhawks in hockey, but you did well picking one of the original 6 teams. I think it was because even as a mere youth I was a rebel and didn’t want to like the New York teams just because I was supposed to and almost everyone else did. And all 3 teams have really great uniforms. I went to games 1 & 2 of the World Series in San Francisco this year; that was a fantastic experience, especially as The Giants won both games and ultimately the series.

Original post may be found here.