Rock Review: The Shining Stars of Downtown

February 20, 2017
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By Chris Spiewak

Music is a powerful force. It cannot physically move mountains, but it can inspire and impel people to do great things. To those with music in their blood, this force can open their eyes to see things that may not have been previously apparent to them. Singing since the age of 3, Darren Johnson of Red Bank has had plenty of music in his life. After his introduction to the Red Bank music scene many years ago, though, he felt something he hadn’t felt before. He felt the “force.”

Growing up in Colonia, Johnson began singing in church as a young man. Realizing his talent, he continued to sing in his church choir, his high school chorus, and with his high school theater group. His genial personality and million-dollar smile made him a natural for the stage. After high school he was a part of local band Industrial Ave., and then formed Last Train Out. This grouped morphed into Omega Train, and their impressive high-energy, blues-based CD released in 2003 is still available on iTunes.

While visiting a club in Woodbridge one night, Johnson ran into an old friend, local singer Linda Silverberg-McGowan. She invited him to the old Thursday night live karaoke jam at The Downtown on Front Street where he quickly became enamored with the local musicians of the Red Bank music scene. Later, attending a benefit concert given by these local performers for a local cancer patient one night, Johnson decided to put his talent where his heart was. His vision was to, as he puts it, “channel this talent and energy into something that could help the community.”

Downtown All Stars founder Darren Johnson, right, with board member Alan Manzo of Colts Neck. Photo courtesy Jimmy Cavallo

Johnson decided to enlist some creative people in the area to sit on his board of directors for this new venture, dubbed “The Downtown All-Stars of Red Bank.” Local singer/songwriter Dee Dee Montanaro and businessman and local music patriarch Alan Manzo would assist with marketing and logistics. Local finance professional Larry Sherman would provide financial and administrative duties. Renowned photographer Marlo Montanaro would capture the important moments for all to see, and event coordinator extraordinaire Debbie Noce of Red Bank would handle event planning and organization.

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The first big project for the Downtown All Stars was a compilation CD fundraiser in 2013, entitled “Bright Lights on Broad Street.” This was a 16-track, professional studio quality CD, featuring some of the best talent that Red Bank has to offer. Xol Azul, Poppa John Bug, Woodfish, VyntEdge, Mike Kuhl, Herbi Freeman, Gil Velazquez and Pepperwine are just a few of the artists who donated their time and effort to the cause. A rousing CD release party at The Downtown was a great success, and a check for $2,500.00 was presented to Little Kids Rock, a national nonprofit group that provides instruments and curriculum to help keep kids on the right track through the magic of music.

The latest big project, since the first “big project” was so successful, is another compilation CD, some 12 months in the making. This is never an easy task, but Mr. Darren Johnson and staff have come through once again, this time benefitting the Red Bank Elks Lodge Veterans Charity. This CD again boasts Red Bank’s finest talent: Colossal Street Jam, Strumberry Pie, Mike Kuhl with Courtney McManus, DJ Panelli, Johnny Hathaway, Random Test, Carol Barbieri, Santa Ray Tiley, The Red Bank Blues Band, Bullet Bob & The Colts, Dawn Hopkins, The Shady Street Show Band, Sarah States, Scott Elk, The Whole Thing, Rene Avila, Zone Blitz Chainsaw and radio personality Medicated Pete. The big CD release party is coming up on Feb. 22 from 6 to 11 p.m. as part of the “Red Bank Vet Fest, a concert to honor those who have served our great nation.” Many of the artists on the CD will perform this night at the Red Bank Elks Lodge #233 at 40 West Front St. in Red Bank, and the public is graciously invited. A $20 cover charge gets you a copy of the CD and some great entertainment.

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Darren Johnson has proven that he not only “talks the talk,” but enthusiastically “walks the walk.” His love of music and his desire to give back to those less privileged makes him a shining star in the Red Bank community. The Downtown All Stars have certainly lived up to their name once again!

Chris Spiewak is currently the bassist for Rock/Blues cover band VyntEdge. Read his rock reviews here. 




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