Music

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Mike DelGuidice and Big Shot, covering Billy Joel hits and more, strode onto the stage in Rocky Point Aug. 27, blowing out the summer concert series with classic rock hits to a packed crowd.

The last in the Downtown Rocky Point Summer Concert Series, sponsored by the Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 and Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) was held on the lawn of St. Anthony of Padua R.C. Church.

From left, Nell Williams, Aaron Phagura and Viveik Kalra in a scene from the film

By Jeffrey Sanzel

It is an unlikely premise. In 1987, 16-year-old Pakistani Javed Kahn (Viveik Kalra) finds solace and encouragement in the words and music of Bruce Springsteen. Javed rejects the music of his own generation for the earlier work of the New Jersey native. And yet, it is “inspired by a true story.” “Blinded the Light” is based on Sarfraz Manzoor’s memoir, “Greetings from Bury Park.” Manzoor co-wrote the screen play with director Gurinder Chadha and Paul Maydea Berges. The result is a mix of comedy, drama, fantasy and an unusual approach to the musical.

Growing up in Luton, England, Javed lives in a world plagued by racism, both small and large. Incidents involving the neo-Nazi National Front as well as the damage of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s economic polices are very much present in his day-to-day life. Javed, who began keeping a diary at age 10, writes poetry as well as lyrics. His dreams are kept at bay by his very traditional father, Malik (Kulvinder Ghir). Early in the film, Malik loses his factory job, sending the family into a financial tailspin. His hope is that Javed will go into a real profession — doctor, lawyer, accountant — and is appalled and angered by Javed’s more esoteric hopes.

Introduced to the work of “The Boss” by a Sikh “dude,” Roops (an easygoing Aaron Phagura), Javed finds that Springsteen’s ideas speak directly to him. The songs are integrated throughout the film — sometimes as background, other times as actual numbers sung by the characters and occasionally shown through the lyrics circling in and out of Javed’s head. The result is mixed but makes its point. In addition to the title song, the film includes various versions of “I’ll Stand by You,” “Dancing in the Dark,” “Badlands,” “Hungry Heart,” “Born to Run,” “Thunder Road” and “The River,” among others.

At heart, “Blinded by the Light” is the story of a young man trying to find his identity. There is nothing complicated or deep about his struggle. Teenage angst has long been explored, and there is a distinctly John Hughes quality to much of the film. However, it is the darker and very real shades of prejudice that separate this from classic teen fare. The result is a two-hour diversion that is both honest and charming if short on surprises. In the end, it manages to make some real statements about intolerance and the power of the written word.

Much of this is due to Kalra’s endearing performance. Whether trying to navigate school, fighting with his traditional father, mooning over his crush — a rebellious Eliza (feisty Nell Williams) or trying to write lyrics for his friend’s, Matt (goofy-cool Dean-Charles Chapman) band, Kalra brings a wide-eyed reality, with every moment a discovery. Ghir shows a father in real pain, a man caught between two worlds. As Javed’s mother, Noor, Meera Ganatra, displays quiet strength and compassion. In a few short scenes, David Hayman brings a deeply touching arc as the stand-offish neighbor Mr. Evans, a World War II veteran who is moved by Javed’s poetry.

Sometimes the material sways toward the obvious. His teacher, Ms. Clay (Hayley Atwell) is the standard trope of supportive educator. A scene with Eliza’s conservative parents has an almost sitcom feel to it. There is a slightly forced takeover of the school’s radio station. There is a strange scene where Javed and Roops sing to some racist hooligans. 

On the other hand, there are surprising glimpses into worlds unknown, most notably a secret daytime dance hall for British Pakistani students. And sister Yasmeen’s (Tara Divina) wedding day is both vivid and jarring. And, always, Kalra’s sincere Javed is at the center. Ultimately, the film presents an earnest hero in a sensitive and worthwhile coming-of-age story. Rated PG-13, “Blinded by the Light” is now playing in local theaters.

Photos courtesy of Warner Bros.

By Rudy Gray

Sir Ringo Starr brought the 30th edition of his All Starr Band to the Long Island Community Hospital Amphitheater at Bald Hill in Farmingville last Saturday night. The 2019 All Starr Band features Steve Lukather (Toto, guitar), Colin Hay (Men at Work, guitar), Gregg Rolie (Santana and Journey, keys), Warren Ham (sax), Gregg Bissonette (David Lee Roth band, drums) and Hamish Stuart (Average White Band, bass).

The sold-out crowd cheered as the All Starr Band took the stage, and as the first chords of “Matchbox” blasted through the sound system, Ringo jogged up on to the stage, flashing his trademark peace signs. The crowd roared its welcome and reciprocated the former Beatles drummer’s gestures for peace with their own hands raised up high in the air.

Ringo, with his ever youthful exuberance, bounced along on the stage as he directed the crowd to sing along and raise their hands. The crowd obliged, albeit a bit shy early on in the set. After the first three songs, Ringo took a seat on his own drum kit while letting the All Starr Band take the mic for a few songs of their own.

While the crowd was enthused with the ASB’s contributions, especially with Men at Work’s Hay and Toto’s Lukather, it was obvious who they came to see. When Ringo took back the spotlight for “Boys” (with Ringo on drums), “Don’t Pass Me By” (Ringo played the piano intro!) and “Yellow Submarine,” the crowd was all in for the sing-alongs and waving their arms collectively.

Ringo took the stage next for “You’re Sixteen,” and it was then as if every person in the venue believed they became 16 again as he crooned directly to each one of them, “You’re sixteen, you’re beautiful, and you’re mine.”

Everyone in the venue was on their feet for “Photograph” and “Act Naturally,” singing along to every word. Then the house lights came on as Ringo and his band began “With a Little Help From My Friends.” The fans belted their hearts out while Ringo did jumping jacks and clapped along with them.

The band played on as Ringo thanked the audience and told them “Peace and Love is the only way,” said good night and ran backstage. But wait − it’s not over! The band then segued into the chorus of “Give Peace a Chance,” and out came Ringo to join the band in singing, “All we are saying, is give peace a chance!” and then off he went again.

What an amazing end to a night full of positive energy. Ringo is right – “Peace and Love is the only way.”

All images by rGRAY photography

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Bon Jovi and Journey tribute band Bon Journey belt out classic rock hits. Photo by Kyle Barr

Long Hair, ripped pants, t-shirts drenched in sweat. Like an event straight out of the 80’s, crowds gathered at Heritage Park in Mount Sinai Friday, Aug. 16 for the Free Family Fun Day and concert, featuring Bon Jovi and Journey tribute band Bon Journey. The event was sponsored by the Heritage Trust and Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai)

Celebrating its 20thyear, the park played host to yoga sessions, bounce castles, martial arts demonstrations, crafts and magic shows all throughout the afternoon and early evening. Later, with a field crowded with people, Bon Journey belted out renditions of classic Bon Jovi hits like “Livin’ on a Prayer” and “Wanted Dead or Alive” and Journey songs like “Don’t Stop Believin.’”

Voices needed

Northport Chorale will hold open auditions at the Northport High School Choir room, 154 Laurel Hill Road, Northport on Wednesdays, Sept. 4, 11 and 18 at 7 p.m. for its upcoming winter concert with the Northport Community Band. All voices needed. For more info, call Debi at 631-223-3789 or visit www.northportchorale.org.

The Cast of Beatlemania

Back by popular demand, The Cast of Beatlemania returns to the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 East Main St., Smithtown on Saturday, Aug. 31 at 8 p.m. Enjoy a night with John, Paul, George and Ringo as they sing all the classics. Tickets are $40 per person. To order, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

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By Julianne Mosher

Beloved Port Jefferson resident Jill Nees-Russell lost her battle with cancer in June 2018, and now the community is celebrating her spirit with a new performance stage at Harborfront Park.

It all started last year when, after her passing, her friend, Carolyn Benson of East Setauket, along with village-based landscape engineer Michael Opisso, decided to find a permanent space that could honor Jill’s legacy.

The Port Jefferson resident came to the north shore from Los Angeles and immediately became involved with the community. She worked alongside Mayor Margot Garant as the village’s Director of Economic Development and Public Relations, as well as with the Port Jeff arts council, the PJ School of Rock and had worked in tandem with the Long Island Music Hall of Fame.

“I feel like Jill designed this stage… I just held the pen.”

— Michael Opisso

“Dedicating this perfect stage to Jill is special,” Mayor Garant said. “She was a huge advocate for the arts within the community… dedicating this stage to her made sense and it was something the community could get behind.”

The planning for the 15 by 25 foot half-circle wood stage overlooking the harbor began in April. On Saturday, Aug. 10, it made its debut with an afternoon of songs all with the common themes of family and home.

The lawn was filled with over a hundred people whose lives were touched by Jill.

“We have beautiful weather today,” Garant said, “We know who’s looking out for us.”

Over 500 volunteers came together and money was set aside for the concept. With Opisso as the designer on record and Andrew Fortier as the builder, Opisso said that it wouldn’t have been made possible if it weren’t for Jill.

“I feel like Jill designed this stage,” he said, “I just held the pen.”

Fortier was also the first performer on the stage with his two children in their group, Tricycle. Together they kicked off the show with a song they dedicated to Jill and the legacy she left behind called, “Beautiful Light.”

“I want to thank you from the depths of my heart for what you’ve done for this community,” he said before they started to play.

Among the hundreds of people that attended Saturday’s event were Jill’s siblings and family who flew in from all over the country from places like Oklahoma, California and North Carolina.

“The stage is a way to showcase the talent that’s here and to showcase the community she loved.”

— Jeffrey Nees

“We want to thank you from the bottoms of our hearts for dedicating the stage to her,” Jeffrey Nees said. “Although she was from Oklahoma, her heart and her home were here in Port Jefferson.”

As emotional as the day was, Nees said that he knows his sister would be thrilled.

“Jill would think today’s event would be wonderful,” he said. “The stage is a way to showcase the talent that’s here and to showcase the community she loved.”

A dozen community members performed upon the stage, including students from the Port Jefferson School of Rock as well as a reading from Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Theatre Three’s Artistic Director Jeffrey Sanzel.

Fortier said that performing on a stage is special because every performance is different. “That’s the beauty of live music,” he said, “That’s the beauty of what’s going to be happening on this very stage.”

Although this weekend’s concert kicked off the planned future performances the stage will hold, the stage was not entirely complete. A plaque dedicated to Jill will be added to the stage, as well as a canvas sail canopy that will embody the look of a sailing ship.

“The stage is a tribute to who she was,” Garant said. “It’s about time we had a focal point in our backyard that allows us to celebrate.”

The Ward Melville Heritage Organization welcomed the Just Sixties Band to its Summer Concerts on the Green series last Sunday night. Hundreds of music lovers came out to enjoy the evening, which kicked off with a rousing Woodstock tribute and concluded with songs from The Monkees, Beach Boys, Rolling Stones, Mamas & the Papas and more. Concertgoers danced, had a picnic dinner, enjoyed a glass of wine and were treated to a beautiful sunset. Even drummer Robert Gerver commented, “This is one of the most picturesque settings on Long Island.”

The free series continues with the NY Exceptions in concert (50s music) in front of the Stony Brook Post Office, 111 Main St., Stony Brook on Sunday, Aug. 11 at 7 p.m. For more information, call 631-751-2244 or visit www.wmho.org.

 

Toby Tobias

Grounds & Sounds Cafe at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, 380 Nicolls Road, East Setauket will present a Woodstock Tribute concert on Friday, Aug. 9 at 8 p.m. Relive the moment! Featured artists include Toby Tobias, Christine Sweeney, Rich Lanahan and The Claudia Jacobs Band. 1960s attire encouraged. Tickets are $15 at www.groundsandsounds.org or at the door. For further information, call 631-751-0297.

Artie Gross, behind him his office at the SWR middle school. Photos from Gross

“It was a good time. I enjoyed the opportunity to teach a lot of talented kids,” said Artie Gross, reflecting on a more than three-decade music teaching career, much of it spent at Shoreham-Wading River. 

Gross, who has been a mainstay in the Shoreham-Wading River school district as a middle school vocal music teacher for the past 35 years, retired at the conclusion of the 2018-2019 school year. 

“He was the ultimate professional.”

— Kevin O’Brien

“I just knew it was time,” he said. “Thirty-five years is a good number.”

Gross said that since he was a kid he knew he had a passion for music. As a young man he remembered constantly playing guitar and singing.

“I would bring my guitar to school — I was the class musician, I got involved in some of the school’s shows and plays,” he said. 

When it came time to decide what he wanted to pursue as a career, Gross said he knew his parents wouldn’t pay for guitar lessons. 

“It was pretty obvious I wasn’t going to school to be a guitar performance major,” the Port Jefferson resident said. 

Despite that, Gross found his answer while being in a high school chorus class.  

“My high school chorus teacher made such an impression on me and I was like ‘This is what I want to do,’” said Gross.  

After graduating high school, he went to the University of Rhode Island for one year before transferring to SUNY Buffalo to complete his bachelor’s in music education. Gross would then go get his master’s degree at Ithaca College. 

From there, Gross got his first gig teaching in the Bethpage school district, filling in for a music teacher who was out sick for the year. 

“From February to June of that year I was full-time teaching strings,” he said. “I ended helping out with shows and doing a little bit of singing.” 

The following year, Gross initially thought he would be going back to Bethpage but the district told him it was now a brand-new position and would bring him down to starting sub-salary. 

“They told me I’d be teaching seven elementary school classes a day and I was like, this doesn’t sound good,” he said. 

While Gross ultimately decided not to stay at Bethpage, he had heard there was an opening for a music teacher at SWR and called to see if the job was still available. 

“They told me it was still available. The superintendent didn’t like the person we sent up,” he said. “I met with the assistant principal and principal — and boom, I was hired that day. Just a few days before the school year [in 1984].”

Gross said during his first year he wanted to build up the chorus program in the middle school. After one year it went up from 48 kids to more than 100 kids participating. 

After his first year in the district, Gross began splitting time at the high school and middle school as a traveling teacher. During his time at the high school he was involved in music direction for shows as well as taking charge of the chorus. Starting in 1990, he came back to the middle school full-time. 

Linda Jutting, a former orchestra teacher at SWR, first met Gross during his first year on the job in 1984.

“It wasn’t until 2002, when I came back to the district, that I worked with him at the middle school for 15 years until I retired,” she said.

Jutting said her own three children had Gross as a teacher and said he had an amazing work ethic.

“He was really dedicated to his craft and his students,” she said. “He went above and beyond.”

Gross said he had a strong passion for what he did and wanted to share it with the kids. 

“I think one of my strengths is being able to connect with middle school kids and treat them like young adults,” he said. “I think one of the most important things is believing in them and getting them to believe in themselves.”

“He was really dedicated to his craft and his students.”

— Linda Jutting

Kevin O’Brien, district band director at SWR, said he can’t say enough good things about Gross. 

“I worked with Artie in the same building for 12 years. He mentored and helped me during my first couple of years in the district,” he said. “He was the ultimate professional.”

Gross mentioned when he retired, he received a signed poster from former students. He realized all the people he had affected positively.  

“I was just doing my job, I didn’t think I was doing anything special,” he said. “One girl told me, ‘I became a social worker because of the way you treated me.’”

Gross said he is looking forward to practicing playing his guitar more and hopes to visit his children in Wyoming and Australia. The Port Jefferson resident also hopes to be involved in the middle school shows in the future and is currently giving private lessons. 

“I had a good career. I got to share something that I loved, which was music,” he said.