The Rockland-Bergen Music Festival was created, five years ago, by Joe D’Urso, one of the primary organizers of the Light of Day festival. And though it’s not officially connected to Light of Day, it follows a similar blueprint. Many of the acts who have performed at it are also Light of Day regulars and, like, Light of Day, it has a charitable aspect, with a variety of local organizations invited to disseminate information and sign up new members. It also has, on its second stage, “Songwriters in the Round”-style performances, like Light of Day has.
Though in the past it has had two days of outdoor music, this year it consolidated to one day, June 23, at German Masonic Park in Tappan, N.Y. There were also nighttime shows at the Turning Point in nearby Piermont, N.Y., June 22-23, and a bluegrass brunch at The ’76 House in Tappan, June 24.
Rain looked probable for June 23 this year, but except for a few scattered sprinkles, it remained dry and unseasonably cool throughout the day. “East coast sunshine!” headliner Southside Johnny said with mock enthusiasm, performing under a stubbornly gray sky.
It was a briskly paced, hit-filled, crowd-pleasing Jukes set (see setlist below), with Southside affably honoring many of the crowd’s shouted-out requests. Keyboardist Jeff Kazee added duet vocals to “Broke Down Piece of Man”; D’Urso and Grushecky (who both performed earlier in the day) joined in for the encore, “Havin’ a Party”; and it felt like everyone in the park was singing along to “Walk Away Renée.”
Grushecky played a solo acoustic set on the second stage immediately before Southside, getting the biggest crowd reaction with “That’s What Makes Us Great,” a powerful, gritty protest song from his new album, More Yesterdays Than Tomorrows. Though the song never mentions President Trump by name, there wasn’t much doubt who Grushecky was singing about when he got to the couplet: “Don’t you brag to me that you never read a book/I never put my faith in a con man and his crooks.”
Perhaps in response to the gloomy weather, Steve Forbert (backed by Jesse Bardwell) and Jeffrey Gaines (performing solo) presented low-key but intense sets. D’Urso’s own set, with his Stone Caravan band, served as the buoyant, joyful heart of the festival, with catchy originals like “Let It Go” and “Just Once” as well as covers ranging from Tom Petty’s fast-charging “Runnin’ Down a Dream” to Willie Nile’s inspirational “One Guitar.”
Standout second stage performers included singer-songwriters Loretta Hagen and Anthony D’Amato. Tim O’Donohue and his TMU Band added some country-rock to the mix, and Killer Joe & the Thieves stretched out, surprisingly, on a cover of Traffic’s jazz-rock epic, “The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys.”
Performing early on the main stage, Jim Boggia presented his solo “Bruce Off Broadway” act: Springsteen songs, arranged for voice and ukulele. You might think he’s limiting himself too much with this format, but it worked, both because he’s a dynamic performer — his “Born in the USA” was positively cathartic — and because he does a lot of different things with his instrument. He hit it like a percussion instrument, for instance, during “10th Avenue Freeze-out,” and used a flicking motion to create the right sound on “Growin’ Up.” His “Blinded by the Light” echoed Manfred Mann’s hit version more than Springsteen’s original.
Overall, “Bruce Off Broadway” represents a fun and unique addition to the world of Springsteen tribute acts. You can catch “Bruce Off Broadway” once a month this summer at The Saint in Asbury Park (shows still remain on July 20 and Aug. 24) .
Here is the Southside Johnny setlist (the band, incidentally, will perform its annual Fourth of July Week show at the Stone Pony Summer Stage in Asbury Park, July 7 at 5 p.m.).
“Take It Inside”
“Don’t Waste My Time”
“Love on the Wrong Side of Town”
“Broke Down Piece of Man”
“Happy”/”All Right Now”
“Walk Away Renée”
“Talk to Me”
“Sweeter Than Honey”
“On the Beach”
“I Don’t Want to Go Home”
“Having a Party”
And here are some videos from the festival: