Say Yes to Grooviness at Music Under the Stars
BY PUMA PERL | “No cover…yes grooviness,” declared a flier created by Moon Goddess, one of the bands that opened the current season of Joff Wilson’s ”Music Under the Stars” — a fitting description of this monthly event at the 6th & B Garden, curated and hosted by a decidedly groovy guy. Good vibes all around.
Wilson is the kind of Lower East Side resident who can be seen sipping his morning coffee in his doorway, chatting with passersby (most of whom seem to know him) and playing his guitar under a full moon in nearby Tompkins Square Park. Born in Rochester, he cites 2005 as the year he became a full-time resident of Lower Manhattan, because that was the first time he actually had keys to his own apartment. Prior to that, he spent a lot of time in the city, even as a child. His grandmother, who partially raised him, lived on Elizabeth Street. “She embodied the spirit of the neighborhood,” he explained. “That is partially where I get it.”
She also had a piano in the house and encouraged his love of music. He first picked up a guitar when he was about twelve or thirteen, eventually figuring out that it would sound much better if he restrung it to accommodate his left-handedness. Some of his first musical influences were Chuck Berry and Alvin Lee of Ten Years After, and he later became greatly inspired by the Ramones. At this point, however, “I am my own influence. Everything I am doing here, I began to do in Rochester. I didn’t come to New York City to find myself as an artist, I was already an artist.”
While Wilson can be found playing with friends and doing solo performances as well, he is clear that the Bowery Boys, which he founded while still living in Rochester, is his one band. The current formation is Wilson on guitar and vocals, Dav McGauley on bass and Jeanne Carno-Rosenberg (aka Jeanne the Machine) on drums. “I like to help my friends out if they need someone,” he added (Wilson also plays bass, piano and harmonica), “but my main focus is the Bowery Boys. In addition, there are a number of honorary Bowery Boys who sit in with us sometimes, like saxophone player Chuckie, keyboard man Johnny Young, Gass Wild, and Brandy Row.” The band is described on ReverbNation as a “NYC artrock and roll band.” Their sets consist primarily of Wilson’s original songs, which he generally writes alone, along with a few newly arranged covers.
“Sometimes the words come first, sometimes the music,” he says. World Wide Vibe recently released a personal favorite of mine, “Color Me Rochester Grey,” as a single. Some of the reasons that I like it so much are the strong sense of imagery and the way the words are painted onto an infectious melody, a reminder that Wilson is also a visual artist.
In addition to his love of music, Wilson brought a love of nature and beauty with him. “My mother was a florist for forty-five years,” he said and, of course, Rochester is The Flower City. He started doing the Garden shows about ten years ago, and they exemplify his inclusive nature and his ability to improvise and go with the flow.
Many musicians, artists, and poets (including this writer) have found themselves invited onstage to perform with bands arranged by Wilson — could be the Bowery Boys or could be a band that came together to fill a gap in a schedule, create a jam, or…well, sometimes we never really knew how things happened, they just did.
June 20 was the first show of the season. They generally take place on the third or fourth Saturday and run through September or October, weather permitting, and observe city noise ordinances, so you will not find loud rock or metal bands at these events.
It’s a chance for many musicians who play in bands to step out of their usual roles, play acoustic sets and share their own material. In addition to those listed on the program roster, the spirit of the late Greywolf, a committed garden member who had often videotaped the show, was palpably present. “We will be thinking of him,” said Wilson, when we talked a few days before the show. “He was a great supporter of events and of community artists.”
The evening opened with the trio of Wilson on guitar, Walter Steding on violin, and Frank DiNunzio on upright bass. Together, they merged an improvisational vibe with their shared jazz, blues, and rock sensibilities.
Next up was the duo of Dino and Jynx, who performed what they describe as “eerie lounge music,” followed by accordionist/chanteuse Marni Rice, of Mad Juana. Continuing with the evening’s eclectic aura, singer/songwriter Maya Caballero — fresh off a Scandinavian tour — played several original songs that reflected her varied blues, folk, and bossa nova influences derived from travels in and outside of the United States. Moon Goddess, an all-female rock group that includes keyboard, violin, and string instruments as well as a strong harmonic sense, were next. The primary members are Val Kinzler, Michelle Fury, Liz Taub and Lacy James. On this occasion, Joey Vasta joined them on bass and Greta Mitchell Tristam played mouth harp. Ending the very enjoyable, laid back night was rock legend Alan Merrill, who never disappoints. He concluded his set with his most famous song, “I Love Rock and Roll,” which he co-wrote with Jake Hooker, when both were part of The Arrows.
Although the music needed to come to an end in observance of city noise regulations, most of us were in no hurry to leave and lingered on, talking and playing a little bit of soft acoustic guitar until the Garden had to be locked up for the night. Throughout the evening, audience members wandered in and out. Some were already aware of the event, and others were attracted by the music. Although upcoming events can be found on the Garden’s website, Wilson does not heavily promote his venue “in order to protect the integrity of its identity as a community garden. It’s not trying to be the type of public event that solicits a packed house. It’s a magic place for members and friends.”
What is next for our music and arts community? More shows, more artists and more young people creating music as yet unheard, more unread poems. More art. That is what we can hope for, and why not? As Wilson said in an interview for a Rochester paper back in the ’80s, “The future is spotless. Bad things are happening for a lot of people, but the future is spotless. There is the potential for creating something better.”
The next “Music Under the Stars” show takes place on Sat., July 11, 7:30–11 p.m. at the 6th & B Garden (E. Sixth Street & Avenue B). For those who wish to support the Garden — which suffered the loss of its beautiful centerpiece, a six-story tall willow tree, during Hurricane Sandy — there is a donation box on-site and a PayPal link on 6bgarden.org.
The Bowery Boys will play The Bowery Electric on Wednesday, July 15. Doors at 7 p.m, $5 admission. Also on the bill are Love Pirates and Crazy Mary. More info at facebook.com/theboweryboys. For info on the author of this article, visit pumaperl.blogspot.com.