Performing at the Rockland-Bergen Music Festival on Saturday at German Masonic Park in Tappan, N.Y., festival organizer Joe D’Urso noted that he grew up just seven blocks away, loving the sounds of Asbury Park.
“I would’ve believed martians in my backyard first,” he said, meaning he would have considered that more likely than this: Performances by Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes, Willie Nile, Joe Grushecky & the Houserockers and others, right in his hometown neighborhood. The third annual edition of his festival, which got off to a strong start Saturday, continues today with Jorma Kaukonen, New Riders of the Purple Sage, The End of America and others (see schedule below).
Last year’s festival suffered from nearly nonstop rain — so much rain that even some of the artists who didn’t participate last year had heard about it, and mentioned it from the stage on Saturday. But the weather, this time around, was nearly perfect, and the show ran smoothly (with a curfew looming, it really had to in order to get everyone on and offstage on time).
There were two stages, but starting times were staggered so that you could move back and forth and not miss anything. The stages were not far from each other, and there were no lines at the park’s bathrooms and just short ones at the concession booths, so it was an extremely easy festival to navigate.
Upon taking the stage, Southside Johnny mentioned the beautiful weather and said “God bless New Jersey” — not a mistake so much as a result of him being just a few miles from the New Jersey state line. (The festival’s name reflects its closeness to Bergen County).
The set peaked, I felt, with a burly cover of the 1965 Sam & Dave hit “You Don’t Know Like I Know,” with Johnny and keyboardist Jeff Kazee trading lines in Sam & Dave style. The song was dedicated to the late Memphis Horns member Wayne Jackson, who played trumpet on the Sam & Dave version.
Meanwhile, just minutes before, an interlude during “Passion Street” had been dedicated to the late P-Funk keyboardist Bernie Worrell, with Kazee playing keyboards in a wild, Worrell-like manner.
It was a slightly shorter Jukes set than usual, but they still played lots of their best known material (“I Don’t Want to Go Home,” “Talk to Me,” The Fever,” “Love on the Wrong Side of Town”) plus some tracks from their strong 2015 album Soultime! (“Spinning,” “Don’t Waste My Time”). “Having a Party” was the set-closer, with Nile and D’Urso chipping in on backing vocals.
Nile’s set included a surprise backing vocals by James Maddock (who was not scheduled to perform on his own) on “Trouble Down in Diamond Town” and set-closer “One Guitar” (featuring D’Urso, too). This festival is, among other things, an opportunity for musicians who know each other well to share the stage in various combinations.
Nile also played songs such as “House of a Thousand Guitars,” “Heaven Help the Lonely” and his medley of Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane” and David Bowie’s “Heroes.” The eternally youthful rocker opened with the anthemic but also humorous “Grandpa Rocks,” possibly a nod to the somewhat older demographics of the Rockland-Bergen Music Festival crowd.
Other highlights from throughout the day include Joe D’Urso & Stone Caravan’s inspirational “Let It Go,” dedicated to their late bassist Lou DeMartino, and Joe Grushecky & the Houserockers’ “Savin’ Up,” during which saxophonist Eddie Manion strolled through the crowd as he soloed. Acts on the smaller stage ranged from the early singer-songwriter Loretta Hagen to hard-rocking piano-pounder Joe Delia and his band Thieves (Delia also joined D’Urso on the main stage for “Little Sister”) and singer-songwriter Jesse Terry, who dug deep into the Neil Young songbook to cover “Unknown Legend.”
Here is today’s schedule. For information, visit rocklandmusicfestival.com.
11:30 a.m.: Joe D’Urso
Noon: Dead Mile Dance
2:30 p.m.: Gary Douglas Band
3:45 p.m.: Professor Louie & The Cromatix
5 p.m.: New Riders of the Purple Sage
6:30 p.m.: Jorma Kaukonen
Mr. Lou/Stefan’s Turning Point Stage
12:45 p.m.: Chihoe Hahn
2 p.m.: Compton Maddux & the Dirt Simple Band
3:15 p.m.: Tyrone Shoelaces
4:30 p.m.: Tim O’Donohue & TMU Band
6 p.m.: The End of America
Here’s a video of Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes’ performance of “Passion Street.” The Bernie Worrell tribute starts at the 3:20 mark.