Spring, 2017. My oh my what a semester it has been, to say the least. Over the past 13 weeks I’ve learned more about online beat blogging than I have in a span of a year. When I first went about choosing a musical beat for this blog, I was a little timid about being too general or even too nit-picky. I was even worried about picking the wrong beat for, well, me.
Looking back three months later, I now know that I certainly did not pick the wrong beat. It has been a blast and an honor to work with this beat of music and venues in South Jersey. A lot of time, effort, and even some deep reporting and researching went into the stories that I decided to cover (and what stories they were)! I learned a lot about the what-to-do’s and what-NOT-to-do’s, and that has made this trip all the more holistically sound.
One thing myself and some colleagues in my class can attest to without a doubt, is the idea of getting your ducks in a row. This means scheduling meetings, visits, and interviews with plenty of time so that if they fall through, it’s totally okay; there’s a Plan B, or even a Plan C if it comes to that.
Another thing I learned is that people are more interesting than they perceive themselves to be! There are people out there, with stories, lives, and journeys that you may never heard about without this kind of reporting. I learned so much in a short amount of time, and it was well worth the time and effort.
I would like to continue my blog, but if I choose to do so, the posts will be a little less frequent- perhaps one or two times a month, as opposed to one post every week. Please continue to follow and share the stories that happen to interest you, and let me know when they do, too.
In addition to my continuation of Sounds Through the Skylight, I have made a separate page devoted solely to my band, The Third Arrangement. There are already some video links on there, and updates will be provided for all things regarding the band in weeks and months to come.
For now, please feel free to check out some of my favorite stories on the blog so far. They are as follows in no particular order:
Spring 2011 was the signal of a new chapter in my life as a musician.
I was at West Deptford High School, sitting in home room or something like that. Today was one of the good days. I had clearly made it to school on time– wowee!
When what to my seemingly lifeless eyes to appear is nothing more than a friend’s discussion about a band he had just started a few weeks back. This was my best friend in high school. I was all for it (a band), yeah! I had never been in a real band before nor did I really have any sort of extended chops or technical facility to even deserve the chance to perform in a band.
But forget that. It’s a band! So a couple of days later, I walk to my friend’s home just a block away from high school (this was the best) and we started working on some things. We had jammed before, but never had we played together in an organized fashion. Other members met with us subsequently and the material started pouring out.
The genre was ska/rock/punk. We were all between ages 16 and 18, and nobody could sing very well. I was playing trumpet, naturally. But good lord it was a ska revival at this time, and one of the best local ska/punk bands was No Such Noise, a group of guys who all attended Timber Creek Regional H.S.
Alas, there was the issue of electing a lead singer. Leave it to a bunch of teenagers to make an educated decision on the case of “Who wants to screech out some notes and front the band?”
If you felt so inclined to guess, then yes, it was me. I was the elected lead singer, and I was sweating for every moment of it.
So starting in June 2011, we played some shows, did some photo shoots, had some fun, experienced drama left and right, and even started adding some new band members towards the end of the summer. I remember playing a slew of shows at small joints, namely the Berlin VFW, Whitman Square Hall, Championship Bar in Trenton, and even a set at the Trocadero upper stage in Philly.
It was a long, trying, and hilarious summer that year. We all became best friends and worst enemies very quickly. But we did it all with good intentions, and we did it in South Jersey. Smack dab in the middle of Camden and Gloucester Counties, I played live music for the first time and it was something I will never forget. Because this overpopulated, shrubbery and green infested, tightly-woven land is where it all started for me– writing my own music, singing the band’s lyrics, and basically making a fool of myself was just as okay by me as anything else would have been.
Even though my stint in Gil and The Realtors lasted only 6 months, it opened me up to a world of local music, venues, and mostly importantly, the scene which is the people I met in our area’s local bands (some of whom I still have good contact with).
But there were others who had a voice about this scene, and what it meant growing up around and in it. I reached out to some guys who I have met along the way in various venues and through my friend groups and such. Their voices are captioned below. I hope you learn a little something, because God knows I did.
“It was freedom, at least for any teenager living in the suburbs who liked punk, or ska in any kind of way. It was an odd culmination of a lot of creative folks that some how came together in the same place, and I feel just as quickly died out. This probably had a lot to do with the closing of savage rock school.
Savage was a free for all in the best way possible. There were unspoken rules to respect one another, but I’m not anyone actually knew what would happen at savage (one night the show turned into a bat Mitzvah and I became a man, who knew!) The music propelled everything, and it was certainly the last time I remember playing a show and seeing people dance. Not only dance, but dance because they wanted to and it was a form expression for them. A way of feeling connected to the music, and a deeper connection to the band that was playing. Other venues popped up but were quickly shut down when the culture of savage was brought to new spaces. Sadly in a lot of ways, it started with savage, and ended with savage.” -Pat Brennan
“Original local music not only gave me purpose when I was younger, but it molded me as an adult. Especially in the South Jersey music scene.” – Connor Lenahan
Danny Hummel, in particular, has been around the South Jersey music scene for the past 25 years or so. He remembers when things were different, and reflects here.
“Things in the Delaware valley live music scene have changed drastically in the past few decades, but set lists not so much. Most venues had a specific area or stage for the band, [It’s] getting increasingly rare nowadays and most times you need to wait until tables clear to set up.
As far as south jersey goes, Dick Lees was the place, Jugs and Muggs, the saloon, too.”
A rather captivating story comes from Hand Me Downs singer, Joe Stippick. He relfects on his commencement into the local scene and also speaks about Savage, as did Brennan earlier.
“I’ve been attending and playing local shows in South Jersey for nearly a decade. The one thing I find truly special about our scene is our perseverance with venues constantly closing their doors(or being kicked in by the cops!) I’ve seen dozens of venues shut down or downright give up on hosting local music in our area but it’s never stopped the shows from happening. Whether in a basement, backyard, or even a driveway we’ve always found a way to keep playing. The very first local show I’ve ever played was at Savage School of Rock in Blackwood circa 2007. It was an old dentist office that local legend Bob Savage turned into a space for shows on the weekends and music lessons during the week. Countless bands, both touring and local, jammed themselves on the tiny homemade stage and played to dozens of kids losing their minds to the music. Unfortunately, it came to an end with a kid smashing his face into a wall from being caught in the energy that was present at every show. Years later Mike Britt took the old wooden stage and turned it into the vocal booth in his recording space, preserving an artifact of our local history. No matter how many hundreds of miles away from New Jersey I’ve played, I’ve never forgotten where the fires in my heart first sparked.”
April 22, 2017 was what is known as Record Store Day, at least in the states that is. People clamor for records left and right all night and all day on this most joyous of occasions for audiophiles and casual music enjoy-ers alike. This video post opportunity came at such an appropriate time, and I was lucky enough to get local Steve Zimmerman away from the turntables for just a few minutes in order to gain a little story and background about Jupiter Records in Woodbury Heights, NJ. Zimmerman was originally from Princeton, but then transplanted himself all the way across the country in Phoenix, Arizona. It was there that he started his own record store, Revolver Records. That shop is still running, but he remains up here managing the several Jupiter Records locations. On top of the Woodbury Heights location, there are stores in Booth’s Corner (PA), Wilmington, DE, and another that just opened its doors recently, Polsky’s Corner in Woodbury (just one or two miles down the road). Check out the shots I was able to capture and more importantly. check out Jupiter Records in Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware!
In a small town that is sometimes hidden by the bustle of nearby Philadelphia and neighbor Glassboro, things, entertainment thrives ever so subtly. Pitman, NJ has, for decades, been a dry town. There are no bars and there are no public displays of alcohol.
For a long time this was the case, and it still is save for the arrival of two breweries located literally under 100 feet from each other. Human Village Brewing Co. was the second brewery to open in Pitman, officially running as such in November 2016. The brewery has a quaint vibe and is quite reminiscent of the small town it is located in.
But what sets Human Village apart from other venues is that just last year it was the ever-so-rich Bus Stop Music Cafe. The old venue was around from 2005-2016, and featured live music, a wide array of vinyl, CDs, and cassettes for sale, and a very welcoming atmosphere. Live bands played every week and even sometimes multiple times per week.
That is where Human Village comes in.
Co-founder Emily Barnes spoke about the past at Bus Stop, stating, “We did attend Open Mic nights and shows at the Bus Stop before opening our doors as a brewery. They were always a fun time to hang out with friends and enjoy some live music.”
Barnes says she was born in Los Angeles and raised in Southern California. She is a student at Rowan University where she studies Chemical Engineering.
To her, open mics really meant something, as they did to the current landlord as well. “Music is part of what made the Bus Stop so special. When we talked with our landlord Vic for the first time, he said he wanted to keep the music alive,” said Barnes. She also said that the brewery held some open mics before the brewery became officially operating.
“A lot of local talent came to perform, some artists from across the country, and others from right in the Bus Stop’s backyard. They were run by Fran Corazo and Maltza Vee Entertainment. Fran, unfortunately had to leave us after receiving a full-time job which conflicted with Thursday nights.”
However, the new open mic here at Human Village Brewing Co. did not die off; not in the least bit. Barnes said that local Katie McCorry is a new host and that she “brings a new spin in that she knows musicians in the Philadelphia area.” Some people who performed at Fran’s Open Mics now perform at Katie’s. Barnes said that the transition from the closing of Bus Stop to the opening and operation of music at Human Village has been an interesting one. Some familiar faces pop in and some new ones are coming in too. “The crowd was always there and it remains today as well. They are quite popular.”
When asked about the lingering records on the wall that adorn the at least one entire side of the brewery, Barnes replied,
“We loved the vinyl albums and covers on the wall. We as a brewery are all music lovers and all grew up listening to classic rock with our parents, so it felt like home. The redecoration was a rebirth of sorts to show the transition from music cafe to music-loving brewery. Vic was kind enough to allow us to use some of his vinyl covers to frame and decorate. We went through them and chose artists together, which proved to be a fun experience.
The new music at Human Village doesn’t stop there. In addition to the open mics, the goal of having featured bands come in to perform is a realistic and promising one.
The following have performed on non-open mic nights so far at the venue:
-Swing That Cat
-V. Shayne Frederick
Shows in the near future are most definite. Barnes advised, We are looking at doing a Beatles tribute show with multiple artists, so keep an eye out for that.”
Additional upcoming events that are arts and community related include a “craft night on Wednesday, May 3rd, where we will be making beer signs.” Barnes also advised about Yoga at the Brewery on April 23rd. “There are always things being added to the calendar, though, and people can check out our website, Facebook, or Instagram for up to date information.
The steaming French press is pushing on for more life as the sun goes down. The chairs, stools, and sofas are now lonely after the day’s visitors have gone. Until the evening, when there are lights, streaming down onto the, vacant, wooden stage. All of this is indicative of after hours…
If you enjoy local music, coffee, and a happening venue, look you should listen to this bit. Right in the center of Camden County, Voorhees in particular, lies a little cafe called Coffee Works.
This is the venue where Roland de Castro and Adin Mickle are working together on a new live music series, “After Hours“. I sat down with these two guys and got a peak into what this series is all about and where it came from. I also learned a little bit about their efforts in restoring music to this relaxed little venue. On a typical Friday, this series wouldn’t be happening if it weren’t for the collusion of de Castro and Mickle and of course, the venue. You’ll hear much more if you take a listen to their individual stories about this exciting new series right here in the heart of South Jersey.
New Jersey has a rich scene with a lot of raw talent in music. From Cape May to Hoboken, there are tons of mini scenes that collide with the culture that surrounds them. But what meets that music talent is a trail, a following of equally gifted and passion writers and bloggers. For this post I will be directing my focus on the profile of Jim Testa, founder and ultimately “The Boss” at Jersey Beat, a music fanzine that bases out of Weehawken, NJ.
Jim Testa lived in Weehawken for the large majority of his life, first living with previous generations before downsizing years later to a smaller living space, also in Weehawken. In 1975, he graduated from Rutgers University, where he studied mass communication. While in school he was the managing editor for a student-run daily newspaper, The Daily Targum, which proved to be an “invaluable experience” later on when he decided to start publishing his own fanzine.
Testa recalls the birth of Jersey Beat to be from 1982. Previously, a friend from college, Howard Wuelfing moved to Washington D.C. and began working in the scene, playing in bands and writing. Testa recalls, “He started doing a fanzine. First it was called Descenes, then Discords. He had people from all over the country write “scene reports” about their local scenes.”
He also observed the work of other individuals from LA or Minneapolis, where writers would do columns on little local scenes based at key venues. Testa started “hanging out at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, which had its own music scene, so [he] started a New Jersey column.” The origin of the name is due to a pun on the nickname Merseybeat (a term coined by the Beatles presence at the Mersey River in Liverpool).
When the publication started, the issues were coming out every other week. Then they were once a month, and expanded to every other month. Testa clearly stated that the zine never really made money but broke even. It had some nice growth at times, and some cutbacks in printing at other times.
Speaking on a fertile period, he stated, “As more money came in during the alternative “boom” of the Nineties (thank you, Nirvana and Green Day, a lot of that
money trickled down to the scene,) the zine got bigger and bigger. And we
had computers by then, so everything was typeset and we could do nice
photos and art.”
By the early 2000’s, the zine was producing 128-page issues. but with the onset of Napster, the music industry started to fall apart, and so did the advertising. Inevitably, the trick-down made it “impossible financially to keep publishing.” The final print issue came out in 2007.
But Testa was quick to the draw when it came to the onset of the internet.
“I bought the domain name “JerseyBeat.com” in 1997, which is VERY early in the web’s history. In the beginning, I used the website to advertise and sell the print zine,” he said. After he stopped doing the print issues, he launched the full website version which is where it stands today.
I think JerseyBeat.com is a little more than a blog so I call it an
online music magazine.
The staff at Jersey Beat has always included individuals in addition to Testa. Whether it be people who write reviews or do interviews, others have always been involved. He currently has about five people working on a regular basis, “a few people who write occasionally, and a new columnist – James Damion – who used to do his own blog but now covers hardcore and punk for me.”
Jersey Beat Podcast
At the same time that the zine took a new online form, Testa also produced Jersey Beat Podcast. the podcast is an audio form of the fanzine and it features music that is being reviewed in Jersey Beat. People are also interviewed on the podcast, and the archives are available on the podcast site. He’s got some names so be sure to check them out!
He describes his early music experience as follows. “In college, I taught myself to play acoustic guitar, but I am strictly a folksinger. In the Eighties, when I was really involved in the Maxwell’s scene, I was in a band with some friends called The Love Pushers. We broke up in 1986 and I focused on being a music journalist (or rock critic, or fanziner, or whatever you want to call it).”
Testa added, “In 2000, I kind of got dragged onstage at a music festival and liked it so much, I started my career as a singer/songwriter. Since then, I’ve released three albums and an EP (which you can find for free at my bandcamp.”
Passion for the Beat
One thing I’ve learned over the years is that there is a big difference between what you do and who you are. I’m a writer. I’m not happy unless I’m writing about music.
It’s what I do. It’s what I’m good at. It’s what people know me for. I love helping get the word about about a great band or a good record. I love sharing my love of music with people.
Testa’s plans include a redesign of the website in the near future. “I’m coming
into a little money so I’m hoping to be able to hire a web designer and
bring JerseyBeat.com into the 21st Century, add a little Web 2.0 content
and make it more interactive.”
He’s having “way too much fun without any intention of stopping.”
In the second week of March, I went to observe what a Saturday night is like at Bogey’s: the hangout out for some old-school folks and young people alike.
This place is tucked away at Pitman Colf Course in Sewell, New Jersey. Just three minutes from Glassboro and 20 minutes from Philly, Bogey’s is a haven for those caught up in the city and also for those looking for a little bit more action in the suburbs on Saturday night. The place is essentially a private looking bar joint that has space for live entertainment (i.e. bands, DJ, and other talent) and dancing. It is open to the public, but it is more on the upscale side.
On this particular night, the age range seemed to be from 50 to 80. Some were dressed up a bit, and then some were not. But their age had nothing to do with the amount of action going on. Musician and DJ Jack Peacock kept the baby boomers on their feet all evening, from 7:30 p.m on. It was fun watching them really enjoy themselves to the music of Franki Valli, Michael Jackson, and 70s/80s disco.
Here are some shots that I was able to capture that night.
There was some age to this crowd. It was a real treat to see them having a good time. Here they are line dancing.
Find out about upcoming performances at Bogey’s by visiting.
Since I was 17 years-old, I have been performing in the local music scene. I’ve seen all types of stages from VFW’s to professionally designed performance venues. Six years and several bands later, I am sharing a brief list of select venues I have experienced along the way. So here’s to local venues.
Here they are in alphabetical order:
1. Boot and Saddle in Center City – This hallmark venue is the host to some of the most hip and relevant bands in the Greater Philly Region. With a front door that leads straight to the bar and eating area, this place emanates that classic Philly bar-turned-venue style. I played here in 2016 and it was a blast. It has overall cool aesthetic, and since that is such a big part for people in Philly, the old refurbished Boot and Saddle is not something that should go unnoticed. They have a very informative site. This venue is a solid A.
2. Bourbon and Branch in Old City/Poplar – The B and B is a pretty sweet spot. It’s got this wide open street that really lends itself to the vibe and atmosphere of late Summer nights. There are two levels, a thin, winding staircase accompanied by art, and a really old green room that feels like there should be more than just one taxidermy moose deer head on the wall. The venue isn’t too large, but it hosts all kinds of upcoming talent in addition to well known bands. Again, this is an old school bar-type venue that has certainly fulfilled its purpose throughout the years.
FUN FACT: I played a show there in the summer of 2015 and a touring band, friends of ours, were in the middle of their set when the power grid gave out and all power was lost. The show was cancelled and we rescheduled another gig there the next month.
3. Johnny Brenda’s in North Philly – This is another A list venue no doubt. I had the pleasure of performing here at least two times. The venue is located on top of a lower level restaurant and bar. There is also a bar in the venue (which is one the second level). The third level leads to an overlooking and semi-surrounding balcony. Let me tell you, this is a sweet spot. It’s one of few venues in the area that include this feature: a from above perspective of the stage. The stage dons a glittery tassel-like background that kind of puts the theme of the place in question- and that’s just okay. About a year ago, I performed here for Rosu Lup‘s debut LP release show. I highly recommend a visit.
4. Kungfu Necktie – KFN is a pretty odd little spot, but like so many little tucked away, small room venues, it welcomes well known acts as well as upcoming bands are nobodys (I’m joking). But really, the place is very strange. The entrance is sort of cramped but once you get in there it comes to life. This venue had to be an apartment of some sort in its previous life. There is bar that is adjoined to the upstairs stage where I performed once last year. On this night there was no sound man so the bands had to make do with the cables and mics that were in the CLOSET right next to the stage (no, I am not joking). There is also a downstairs which holds a larger stage and a more spacious audience area. Give the place a shot- it is so Philly.
5. The Legendary Dobbs on South St. (closed) – This place has been truly legendary. It was a very hot spot for bands back in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. It recently had a revival in the new decade, but unfortunately could not keep its doors open and closed in 2015. I played here twice with rock group Heroes In Error.
6. Milkboy – This boy, newer to the scene, was a venue inspired by the Milkboy Recording Studio. It found its way into the music venue scene in August 2011. This is an upper class kind of place, yet it resembles that of the classic bar-types. It is more polished and very spacious, yet the look and feel are somewhat reminiscent of the older boys.
7. The M Room – Unfortunately this venue closed down a bit ago, but it was a great place for all kinds of bands to just come and jam. The room was very oddly shaped, almost like a long triangle. Another room was alongside the main room with up and down, flap-like window shutters that allowed guests to see the band from pretty much every perspective. I only played thre once but I remember the stage being very tight, especially for an 8-10 piece funk band.
8. Underground Arts on Callowhill St. – Yes, this place is underground; and it sounds great. Without too much padding or sound-proofing, the venue has a natural spot in the Philly venue catalog. This underground guy is similar to a lot of Philly spaces, though. It has two stages that are adjacent to each other. Both upcoming bands and national acts have been playing there for quite some time. They are very busy with shows all of the time. Get to it.
9. Voltage Lounge – The Voltage Lounge in Center-North Philly is a tight spot for rockers and meatheads, but welcomes all kinds of groups. It is similar to Johnny Brenda’s in that it has a balcony. This place has a very fortified structure and a very fine stage. It is located just next to The Electric Factory, a much larger concert venue. I played there once in 2013 with a funk band that is no longer together, Matt Caringi and the Noise. We are pictured below outside the venue.
10. World Cafe Live on Walnut St. – The venue with the most nuances in Philly, World Cafe Live is a space for performing artists to come and celebrate all genres. Not just that, but the venue is the home of the world-renowned radio station 88.5 WXPN. The experience at World Cafe Live is one that only gets better and there is never a dull night at this eclectic joint. To read more about this out unique spot, read my previous feature article. You don’t wanna miss out on Philly’s most inclusive venue.
This past Friday I sat down for over an hour with Bob Bowling on the back patio of his lovely Atco, New Jersey home to talk about his experience in the local South Jersey and Philadelphia music scene. Known on a semi-underground level as an overall go-to sound man, Bob has been working with both local veteran musicians and rising bands alike, both in his home studio and in the local live music circuit. He is not only an audio engineer, but a producer, a supporter of local music venues, Continue reading →
Music venues in Philadelphia are second to none. They come in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes they even hold two, three, or four different stages within their walls. But no venue in the city of brotherly love is quite as cool as World Cafe Live.