New York City is full of talented musicians as well as venues to see their live shows. Bruce Sherman has managed to tap into this circuit, pulling them to Hudson County – more specifically, the Weehawken waterfront – and offering them to the public for free.
As president of the Hudson River Performing Arts Center (HRPAC), Sherman has once again put together the Summer Concerts on the Hudson series, banking on the fact that many renowned artists have spare days in between their scheduled Manhattan performances and may care to pick up a gig with a gorgeous backdrop and an appreciative crowd.
“We are pretty stoked about playing the Summer Concert Series.” – Josh Shilling, lead singer of Mountain Heart
“The challenge in a summer concert series like this is you’re working with a limited budget, but with the proximity of the city, it’s a world-class market,” HRPAC Treasurer Jay Savulich explained. “Bruce has gotten really good at figuring out how to get talent across the river on their spare days. It’s a huge puzzle, but it’s become a huge success.”
HRPAC is an organization that one day hopes to build a performing arts center on the waterfront. For now, they are content to offer various concert series in the Lincoln Harbor section of Weehawken, near Houlihan’s and the Sheraton.
Location plus nonprofit equals super talent
“Obviously a small organization like ours is not in a position to pay the large fees that big, big names are used to,” Sherman said. “But quite frankly, that’s the beauty of what we do, because we introduce lesser known but incredibly accomplished artists to people.”
Which is not to say the concert series is anything less than stellar.
The eclectic mix of performers that HRPAC will host this year includes winners of Grammy Awards and awards of international merit, and they have played at the best of the best venues with the best of the best musicians out there.
Take Mountain Heart. Set to perform with HRPAC on July 18, the bluegrass/country/rock band formed in 1999 and has won several Grammys as well as various other world-class awards.
“Especially in today’s world, when the economy goes south, a lot of people immediately cut out entertainment,” the band’s lead singer Josh Shilling said. “We want people to love what we do just as much as we love what we do.”
Making the band
“It’s hard to survive as a musician these days, so you have to be super passionate about it,” Shilling said. “We smile and have fun constantly during every show, and the day we stop loving every second of it is the day we all quit.”
The singer brought his rock vocals and piano performance to the band in 2007, lending the group a soulful feel and bringing it from pure bluegrass into the more versatile genre of Americana. The band incorporates country, blues, and soul into its sound, and each member is “phenomenal,” he said.
Each member is also a session musician (someone who is hired to contribute instrumental or vocal tracks to other projects) in addition to touring around 200 days per year.
“When we’re out on tour we’re songwriters, we’re session musicians, and we’re producing,” Shilling explained. “We’ll play anywhere at any point if we can afford to do so. However, many days you play, multiply that by two, and that’s how often you’re not in your own bed at night.”
Which means they must love what they do, and this translates into the band’s performances.
“I happened to hear Mountain Heart at the Association of Performing Arts Presenters conference in New York City,” Sherman said. “I was absolutely blown away, and knew they would be an ideal group to present this summer.”
“We want to leave an impression of ‘Wow, that was really entertaining and energetic and we want to come back,’ ” Shilling added. “We are pretty stoked about playing the Summer Concert Series. I’ve never been to Weehawken, but I hear the view is amazing.”
What’s in store this summer
In addition to Mountain Heart’s July 18 performance, there will be three additional free and equally worthy concert opportunities this summer.
On Aug. 1, Grammy award-winning Terrance Simien and the Zydeco Experience will bring the sounds of an eighth generation Louisiana Creole to Weehawken.
Cyro Baptista, one of the world’s greatest percussionists, will bring a blend of tap dance, Samba, Jazz, Rock and Funk with his band Beat the Donkey (“I stress that no animals will be harmed in this particular musical production,” Sherman urged) on Aug. 15.
And finally, 18-piece Bandagrande: The Big Band Theory will grace the stage on Aug. 29 led by Grammy nominee Hector Martignon. Their music fuses many sounds, including Latin Jazz, straight Jazz, and classical. Vibraphonist Dave Samuels (Spyro Gyra) will make a guest appearance.
“The goal was to present music that people aren’t necessarily able to hear easily in this area,” Sherman said. “I hope it will be something that they will find intriguing and ultimately worthy of their attention on a beautiful summer evening.”
The Summer Concert Series is sponsored in part by the Hudson Reporter. For more information, visit www.hrpac.org or call (201) 716-4540.
For more on Shilling and Mountain Heart, visit www.mountainheart.com or www.joshshilling.com.
Gennarose Pope may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org