The beat goes on in Hoboken Influential bands reunite for fall Arts and Music Fest
by Madeline Friedman Reporter staff writer
Oct 02, 2007 | 1782 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Next week's Fall Arts and Music festival marks the return of many of Hoboken's most influential musicians.

The September 30 festival celebrates the mile-square city's recent musical past, with performances by members of the Bongos, the dB's, the Feelies, and the Health and Happiness Show - all groups that lived and played in the city in the 1980s and 1990s.

The look back at the city's memorable music accompanies the Hoboken Historical Museum's retrospective, "Hoboken Tunes: Our Musical Heritage," which runs through Dec. 23.

Sounds like Hoboken

Sinatra wasn't the only guy from Hoboken to hit it big in the music biz.

In the 1980s a number of alternative, modern rock and pop bands called Hoboken home. They were drawn to the city by cheap rents, proximity to Manhattan, and the promise of playing at a hip little local venue. As more of the bands gained popularity, the media began to identify them as the "Hoboken sound."

One of the first bands in that group to hit it big was The Bongos. The group's albums "Drums along the Hudson" and "Numbers with Wings" helped put the band, Hoboken and Maxwell's on the map.

"We always said we were from Hoboken, when we were onstage, when we were on MTV" said Bongos frontman Richard Barone.

Barone said the band stayed in Hoboken through much of its popularity in the early 80s, when the single "Numbers with Wings" was in heavy rotation on MTV. He recalled getting picked up by a limo at 1118 Hudson Street, where several band members lived.

But he also remembered playing in the city before there was a music scene and before Maxwell's was Maxwell's.

"It really was just a restaurant at the time," he said. Barone was a member of the group "The a Band," which was the first group to play at the popular music venue and later became the Bongos. Future Bongos members Rob Norris and Frank Giannini were also in the band, as well as Glenn Morrow, later of The Individuals and founder of Bar None Records.

"We played the front room (which was the main restaurant seating area)," recalled Barone.

He told the story of how, he claims, Maxwell's back room was born:

Bongos' drummer Giannini was a cook at Maxwell's, and the members of the band, who lived nearby, needed a place to practice.

"Frank asked Steve (former owner Steve Fallon) if we could rehearse in the back room (which at that time was used for storage)," he said. But then people started coming to watch the weekly Friday night rehearsals. It became so popular, Barone recalled, that passers-by would stop and stare into the bar's glass windows. "The fire department came to make sure it wasn't too crowded," he added.

As Maxwell's began to be known as a great place for live music, it attracted other musicians to town. Bands such as The Feelies (whose album "Crazy Rhythms" was cited by both Rolling Stone and Spin Magazine as being one of the most influential alternative albums) and alternative pop group the dB's moved in.

Glenn Mercer, former lead singer/guitarist/composer for the influential alternative group the Feelies, and Chris Stamey, founder of the dB's will also perform at the Sept. 30 festival. Mastro will do double duty, performing with both The Bongos and The Health and Happiness Show. And current Hoboken resident Bill McGarvey, will perform a set of his solo material of 1960s-inspired pop.

Keeping the music scene (a)live Tying the festival's musical acts in with Hoboken's musical history is something that Hoboken Director of Cultural Affairs Geri Fallo said she has wanted to do for a long time.

"I first thought of the idea when we were doing the 150th anniversary of the city," she said. "I thought, 'what could the festival do?' In our own history, a big part of it has been music."

"I've been pursuing a lot of these bands since then," she continued. "Through the course of time, with [the Historical Museum's accompanying exhibit] coming up, it's been a little easier."

Fallo said the biggest challenge to putting this year's program together was the fact that a lot of the bands broke up a long time ago, and members have since moved on to other bands or other parts of the country.

But she was still able to convince many members of some of Hoboken's most popular modern bands to come play the festival.

One of those musicians is Mastro, of the Bongos and the Health and Happiness Show. When Mastro moved to Hoboken in 1980, there really wasn't too much of a music scene, he said.

"There were only two bands," said Mastro, a guitarist who hails originally from Morris County and has played with everyone from Ozzy Osborne to Patti Smith. Those two bands were "a" and its later incarnation, The Bongos.

Mastro lived in Hoboken up until six years ago, when he moved to Montclair. He still owns the Guitar Bar music store on First Street.

Hoboken in the 80s and 90s was the type of place where the musicians knew each other, he said.

"There weren't a million bands back then, and there were not as many clubs to play at," he said.

"If you saw someone walking around Hoboken in a leather jacket you knew you'd see him or her at Maxwell's that night."

Mastro still plays in and around town. "I'm always playing somewhere," he said. Recently it was a guitar bar night at Maxwell's in town. Next on his agenda are gigs with Patti Smith in Greece and Turkey. As an active musician, ex-Hoboken resident, and current local business-owner, Mastro has seen how the music scene has grown.

He said that an important factor in keeping the scene alive is the fact that there are more live venues, such as the Goldhawk, that showcase original music.


Besides Mastro and his friends, there will be even more music at the festival on the 6th Street Stage, including: the cast of Stevens Institute of Technology's production of Urinetown; power-folk/country swing music by the Amazing Incredibles; Gene and the Plumbers' "tex-mexabilly" melodies; Latin jazz/rock band Orquesta C2; and Hoboken natives Krystal, who recently reunited.

There will also be hundreds of artists and artisans displaying and selling original work, and food vendors serving everything from candied apples to warm zeppoles.

The 14th annual Fall Arts and Music Festival will be held on Sept. 30, from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Stages and exhibitors will be located on Washington Street, between Observer Highway and 7th Street. The festival features three stages of live music (see schedule below) and over 300 local artists. Admission is free. For more information, call (201) 420-2207.

Comments can be sent to: It's easy going green

For 2007, festival features "Green Street"

This year the city has teamed up with local nonprofit the Hoboken Quality of Life Coalition to help promote green initiatives at the festival.

Newark Street between Washington and Hudson will be designated "Green Street," and will feature several national and local exhibitors sharing tips on how to be more environmentally conscious.

"The aim is to introduce people who come to the festival to the ways and means of being able to cut down on the emission of carbon monoxide gases," said Quality of Life Coalition Coordinator Helen Manogue.

She said that presenters such as the Sierra Club and PSE&G will give advice on things that residents of urban areas can do to cut back on global warming, like using fluorescent light bulbs instead of traditional light bulbs and cloth tote bags instead of plastic bags at the supermarket.

It's an all-around attempt to get people to understand that they can partake in the effort, Manogue said.

"I think many people are aware of the things they could be doing, but it hasn't been made the popular thing to do," she said.

Among the local groups working at the festival to make being green more popular are the Hoboken Garden Club, the Southwest Parks Coalition, Hufnagel Landscaping,, Roofscapes Inc., and Hoboken Environmental Services.

Zip Car and Lincoln Mercury will display hybrid cars and Green Depot will display green building products. Hoboken Director of Cultural Affairs Gerri Fallo said that there will also be more receptacles for recycling along the festival route, and added that she hopes to take more steps to making the festival itself more "green" for the spring.

Before the festival, the Coalition and the city will present a series of talks on green topics beginning Monday, Sept. 24, when representatives from the Sierra Club will discuss the "COOLcities" initiative to cut back on green house gas emissions in municipalities throughout the country. The talk will be held at St. Mathew's Trinity Lutheran Church parish hall at 7:30 p.m.

On Sept. 26 former Hoboken resident and past president of the U.S. Green Buildings Council Steve Leone will explain what a "green building" is and how a builder can get a LEED certification at Our Lady of Grace Church's school hall, at 7:30 p.m.

For more information visit - MF

SUNDAY, Sept. 30 Main Stage (First Street)

12:00 TBA

12:45 Bill McGarvey

1:35 Chris Stamey Group

2:30 Glenn Mercer

3:35 Health and Happiness Show

4:45 The Bongos

Sixth Street Stage

12:30 DeBaun Auditorium presents selections from Urinetown

1:15 The Amazing Incredibles

2:00 Gene and the Plumbers

3:00 The Sensational Soul Cruisers

4:15 Krystal

5:15 Orquesta C2

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