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School of Rock

Two bastions of commerce and culture joined forces on Saturday, Oct. 22, for a night of fright and fun at Port Jefferson Station’s Train Car Park.

The Spooktacular Music Festival was a three-hour production co-hosted by the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce and the local affiliate of the School of Rock, the largest music school franchise nationwide. The event showcased the talents of local student musicians while bringing community members together for a night out.

Tracie and Jaime Smith have owned the Port Jefferson-based franchise of the School of Rock for 12 years. They described the music school as a place connecting like-minded youth with a shared passion for music.

“A lot of the kids that come to the School of Rock don’t quite fit in in public school,” Jaime Smith said. “When they come to our school, they are exactly who they are, and they’re accepted for that, regardless of age, race, it doesn’t matter.” He added, “They all share that common goal of art, and they do a heck of a job expressing that on stage.”

This sentiment held on Saturday night as the student performers entertained hundreds of spectators on the Train Car Park’s main lawn, playing songs across various genres, such as classic rock and punk rock. 

Tracie Smith offered her perspective on the evening, saying that the event closely aligned with the music school’s organizational principles.

“We pride ourselves on getting the kids on stage,” she said. “It’s not just taking a guitar lesson in your basement and never doing anything with it. We get the kids on stage multiple times per year, and they get to rock out,” adding, “It helps them build their confidence and meet other like-minded kids.”

While the School of Rock has held the event in years past, this marked the first year the performance was held at the Train Car Park. Jennifer Dzvonar, president of PJSTCC, was also present during the event and discussed how it all came together. 

“We’re trying to get some more community events over here at the Train Car Park, so together we said, ‘Bring it here, and we’ll do it in collaboration with the chamber,’” she said. “We have some chamber members here setting up some tables. It’s open to the community, free admission, and with live music and fun.”

For Dzvonar, this event marks just the next chapter in a string of recent positive developments for the Greater Comsewogue area. According to her, boosting recreational use at the Train Car Park has been the chamber’s priority for years. 

Now, with the availability of public funds and political will, those plans are bearing fruit. “We have always been trying to get this up and running,” she said. “Phase one is trying to get the park usable for the community, so they’re going to be making a walking path in here, we’re getting a parking lot and we’re going to get a playground.” She added, “Hopefully, that should be completed by the end of this year. If not, then the beginning of next year.”

After these improvements are executed, the chamber plans to use the historic train car on-site for community tourism. In addition, plans are in place to repurpose some of it as office space, providing chamber members with new headquarters.

“Our vision is coming to fruition finally,” Dzvonar said. “This is exactly what we wanted for the community — a place to come, a place for kids and adults, a place for anybody. Basically, the motto of the chamber is to bring local businesses and the community together. This is a hub for that.”

Jaime and Tracie Smith have observed a gradual shift in the area throughout their time running the music school. For them, the arts will continue to play a central role in the area’s burgeoning cultural renaissance.

“What we’ve seen in the over a decade that we’ve been here is a movement toward families and the arts and a dedication to the community,” Jaime Smith said. “There has been a real movement forward toward creating something different here … and music always brings people together.”

Tracie Smith added to this perspective, touching upon how the COVID-19 pandemic has brought more families from New York City onto Long Island. Given these trends, she sees reason for optimism.

“We’ve seen such a nice bump in our enrollment post-COVID,” she said. “We’ve seen a lot of new families, a lot of resurgences, a lot of people moving from the city to come here, so we’re looking forward to the future for sure.”

— Photos by Raymond Janis

Photo by Kimberly Brown

The Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce finished off its Summer Concert Wednesdays Aug. 11 with a classic car show, performances by the School of Rock and a BMX stunt show in the Port Jefferson/Terryville train car park. 

Dozens of families attended to enjoy the rock concert put on by Port Jefferson’s School of Rock singing classics from Queen and other iconic rock bands. 

“It’s been so rewarding to see this concert series grow and evolve over the years,” said Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), one of the sponsors. “The turnout this year was some of the best I’ve seen with a mix of young families, retirees, veterans and music lovers coming together to enjoy a free night out in the community.”

The BMX bike show, presented by Dialed Action from New Jersey, featured two skilled BMX bikers who amazed the crowd with their daring stunts, from flipping upside down to imitating Superman in the sky. 

“The BMX stunts are a yearly favorite and always bring out a crowd,” Hahn said. 

Despite the COVID-19 Delta variant becoming a concern as cases spike up again, families continued to attend the three-part Summer Concert Wednesdays while keeping in mind the need to socially distance. 

For this year, the series also hosted a Hawaiian-themed night followed by a tribute to Long Island’s frontline workers. The other show was a ’60s night with Just Sixties, including a tribute to veterans. 

The events were sponsored by Brookhaven Town Councilman Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) and the chamber of commerce with Hahn. 

“We ended the series last night on a high note, with music from the School of Rock Port Jefferson, a classic car show, BMX stunts and some free ice cream on a hot summer night,” she said.

Peace, love and local music. 

That was the idea behind Port Jeff’s first Port Palooza — a day-long festival at the Jill Nees Russell Stage at Harborfront Park.  

Spearheaded by Kevin Wood, the village’s parking administrator and owner of The Space downtown, the event was cosponsored by the village as a way to bring people together after the last year and a half. 

“I think it’s going to be the first of many, and it’s a great launch,” Mayor Margot Garant said at the concert. “It’s exactly what we envisioned. So, I’m looking forward to doing it year after year and I think it’s going to grow.”

From noon to 8 p.m., on Saturday, July 31, local artists took on the stage, including Flamenco guitarist Jonathan Fritz; Port Jefferson’s Cole Fortier and his father, Andrew; Mount Sinai’s The Como Brothers; musicians from Port Jefferson’s School of Rock All Stars; Common Ground; Grand Folk Railroad; and a special performance by the Frank Catalano Jazz Quartet from Chicago. Jeffrey Sanzel of Theatre Three kicked off the event with an invocation. 

Wood said this was something that happened after COVID-19 restrictions began to lift. 

“I thought people needed to get together,” he said. “Peace, love and local music. And that’s exactly what this is: peace, love and local music, with the exception of the last act which we’re importing from Chicago.”

Although the jazz quartet is Chicago-based, it still had a local connection. Wood’s grandfather, Al Gallodoro, was a world-renowned saxophone and clarinet player with the Paul Whiteman and NBC Symphony orchestras. Catalano knew of him, too. Wood and the musician met once at a New York City club, and they began talking. Catalano eventually bought one of Gallodoro’s saxophones.

“It couldn’t have gone to anyone better,” Wood said. 

Ending with jazz, the festival had it all — pianos, guitars and heavy metal. The one thing that didn’t make the set list this year was rockabilly, “but that will happen next year,” Wood said. 

The Como Brothers took the stage, playing their viral Port Jeff anthem, “Take Me Home” along with several new songs. Over the last two years, the brothers have been releasing such songs sporadically on their Spotify account, which will lead to an eventual EP release. 

Matt Como said when Wood reached out to them asking to play, they were thrilled. 

“This is actually the first full, original gig we’ve done in a while because of the pandemic,” Matt said. 

“It’s great to be playing for people again,” Andrew Como added. “We’ve been holed up in our basement writing new songs, so this gave us the chance to show people what we’ve been working on.”

Wood said that although the event was free for all to enjoy, raffles were held to raise money for the Middle Island-based animal rescue, the Star Foundation. A red guitar signed by all the musicians along with a pet portrait, hand painted by local artists Nancy and Bob Hendrick, raised over $1,500 for the foundation. 

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The Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce hosted its annual Family Fun Day Sept. 28. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce hosted its annual Family Fun Day Sept. 28 as the park beside the chamber-owned train car swarmed with young and old. People enjoyed the day by painting pumpkins, doing leaf etchings, playing games and listening to students from the School of Rock belt out strong performances throughout the evening. Participants were also greeted with a showcase of skill from locals in an apple pie baking contest and a scarecrow making contest.

Brandon Niederauer plays during a show. Photo from Gary Niederauer.

This young boy from Dix Hills sure knows how to rock.

Brandon Niederauer, 12, has only been playing the guitar for four short years, but he has already had more career milestones than most kids his age.

Brandon has already played on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, with the Allman Brothers Band, and at The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. But his most recent accomplishment is perhaps his most impressive.

Brandon Niederauer plays during a show. Photo from Gary Niederauer
Brandon Niederauer plays during a show. Photo from Gary Niederauer

This December, he will be in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s newest musical on Broadway: “School of Rock-The Musical.” Brandon said he first became interested in playing the guitar after seeing the original movie, “School of Rock.”

After competing against more than 50 musicians to get the part and going through an eight-week workshop, Brandon said he got the call that he had gotten the role while he was playing basketball with his brother.

“All the kids and adults in the cast get along really well,” Brandon said in an email. “We have a lot of fun playing pranks and joking around. We are like a family.”

As for working with legendary composer Webber, Brandon said he has already taught him a lot.

“School of Rock — The Musical” officially opens on Dec. 6 at the Winter Garden Theatre.

This month, Brandon performed on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert to promote the musical.

According to Brandon, when Webber was asked to be a guest on the show, the producers thought it would be a good idea to have him on the show as well.

“I was very honored to play the whole set with such an amazing band,” Brandon said. “I was one of the band. There is something special about that. They showed me the music and set list right before the show and I had so much fun playing and fitting it.”

Brandon Niederauer in "School of Rock — The Musical." Photo from Gary Niederauer.
Brandon Niederauer in “School of Rock — The Musical.” Photo from Gary Niederauer.

Brandon will also be performing with his cast in The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade this year on the Gibson guitar float.

“Being on the Gibson float is a dream come true,” Brandon said. “I saw that float a year ago and said, ‘I want to do that.’”

Brandon’s father, Gary Niederauer, said he knew right away that his son had special talents.

“I knew after the first lesson,” Niederauer said in an email. “Everything was easy and natural for him. He knew where all the scales were after only being taught one.”

As for seeing his son up on stage, Niederauer said he delivers every single time.

“It is thrilling to be able to watch your son create amazing sound from nothing with other amazing advanced musicians,” he said. “I really can’t believe it. He has no fear and loves to perform for an audience.”

When asked about any plans for the future, Brandon said there’s nothing concrete.

“I have been a guitar player, singer, writer — now I’m acting on Broadway,” he said. “I really have no plan. Things have been happening on their own, so whatever it is, I just want it to be fun!”