Local Rock at the Holidays: Give and Ye Shall Receive

December 24, 2018
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By Chris Spiewak

‘Tis the season for kindness and generosity. Each year at this time our local music community steps up with holiday shows to benefit those who may not have as much as others and to boost spirits for those who may be alone. Dozens of musicians will donate their services, and their hearts will be warmed with a just a smile or a quick “thank you” and the satisfaction of a job well done.

There are the big shows at venues like the Count Basie Center for the Arts right here in Red Bank. Celebrating its 26th year spreading joy, Tim McLoone’s Holiday Express rocked the Basie for not one, but two benefit concerts on Dec. 17 and 18. This amazing group will organize and perform 100 shows this year, utilizing nearly 150 singers and musicians. Over the 49-day period from Nov. 5 to Dec. 24 Holiday Express will visit with thousands of less fortunate people throughout the entire state of New Jersey.

Strumberry Pie at the Colts Neck Inn.

Strumberry Pie at the Colts Neck Inn. From left, Joe Orost, DeeDee Montanaro, Paul Lam- bert, Laura Johnson and Andy Russo. Photo by Chris Spiewak

For the sixth year, Brian Kirk and The Jirks will once again bring their music, with a few comedic interludes, to the Basie on Dec. 22, this year benefiting Lunch Break in Red Bank. The Lunch Break program began in 1983 and assists the local community with free meals to those in need. Recalling the first event, Kirk mentions how unsure he was about having a successful show. “I had to borrow $15,000 to cover the cost of the event, uncertain that we would make it back in ticket sales. Fortunately, we made that back in the first five minutes of the tickets being on sale and the show sold out.” He adds: “For six years we’ve been running this show, which is really incredible. It’s such an honor that I find it slightly surreal.”

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Acclaimed local guitarist Bobby Bandiera will host his 10th and final HOPE Concert at the Basie on Dec. 23. The deserving recipients of this show’s proceeds will be the Parker Family Health Center in Red Bank and POAC Autism Services in Brick. This has been a star-studded show in the past, with Bandiera inviting his friends to make up the band. Of course, Bandiera has some pretty famous “friends” and there’s no guarantee that Bruce or Jon or Debbie or Southside will visit that night, but it has happened before. In fact, any one of our local rock stars can appear on any given night for these benefit shows, just one more reason to come out and help those in need.

There are also the smaller holiday shows in the area, because musicians are a philanthropic lot by nature, regardless of their position on the rock ‘n roll totem pole. One of the coolest shows was started four years ago by the late, great ‘Santa’ Ray Tiley. Tiley was a much loved local guitarist in his retirement years who thought it would be great to collect socks and distribute them to residents at local nursing homes. “Socks for Seniors” began in 2015 at the Colts Neck Inn but its future was unsure after Tiley’s death in 2017.

Local drummer Paul Lambert took up the cause in Tiley’s memory, and organized the event in 2017 and again in 2018. Now called “Santa Ray and Friends Socks for Seniors,” 15 local bands and fans packed the Colts Neck Inn to capacity recently, with the only requirement being that each attendee bring at least one pair of fuzzy socks. Strumberry Pie, Kenny K & The Way, Rockitfish, VyntEdge and DJ Panelli were just some of the local groups donating time for this thoughtful and worthwhile event.

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Now in its 10th year, another classic event for local rockers is Cook Smith’s Winter Solstice show at The Saint in Asbury Park on Dec. 21. A $10 cover and a canned food donation will get you six hours of live Christmas tunes. This is a crazy scene, with one song allowed per artist, but it’s a great holiday vibe with some outstanding talent. Mary McCrink, Sharon Lasher, the West End Dogs, Sahara Moon, Poppa John Bug and Taylor Tote are just a few of the names that will be on stage that night.

As the saying goes, “it is better to give than to receive,” and every single musician and singer performing for you this season is giving for a reason, so please support them and the great causes they are representing. Happy Holidays!

This article was first published in the Jan. 3-9 2019 print edition of The Two River Times.

Chris Spiewak is currently the bassist for Rock/Blues cover band VyntEdge.

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