City Transplants Re-Create Music Scene in New Jersey

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Brooklyn folk rock singer songeriter plays in Drew Eckmann's living room in Ringwood, New Jersey. Brooklyn folk rock singer songeriter plays in Drew Eckmann's living room in Ringwood, New Jersey. (Abbie Fentress Swanson/WNYC)

Drew Eckmann has made his living room into a concert venue.

The retired magazine editor who lives on a tree-lined street in residential Ringwood, New Jersey decided to turn his lofty living room, which overlooks a lake, into a concert venue about 14 years ago.

"I started doing this so people who lived up here wouldn’t have to drive into New York to listen to music or to hear music," he said.

He is not alone. Though most people’s conception of the New Jersey suburbs doesn’t include an underground music scene on par with the East Village in the 1970s, a growing number of New York City transplants who now call New Jersey home are re-creating their night lives in informal, interesting ways.

Over the years, Eckmann has booked artists like Justin Townes Earle, NRBQ and Graham Parker. He had his 100th show last year. In December, the Brooklyn folk rock singer songwriter Joseph Arthur played there. Haskell, New Jersey resident Peter Franklin was really glad he didn't miss the show.

"After the first song, we’re like in awe," said Peter Franklin, a resident of Haskell, N.J., who attended the show. "This guy is in Ringwood, New Jersey, singing to a small group of maybe 100 people. Like, where else would we wanna be? Nowhere else."

Drew Eckmann's living room. Photo by Arnie CasamentiNicky "L." Latzoni, a 57-year-old Rockland County resident, said he used to photograph bands at Max’s Kansas City and CBGBs in Downtown Manhattan in the '70s.

"And this is like the old days because you could only squeeze 75 or 100 people into the club anyway," he mused on Eckmann's wrap-around porch. "So this is just a flashback for me how it used to be and it’s really cool. I enjoy that."

Photo: Drew Eckmann's living room. By Arnie Casamenti.

House concerts at Live@Drew's, as Eckmann has dubbed his venue, cost $20. The price of a ticket includes food, and he says all the proceeds go to the performing act.

Eckmann is bringing musicians into the state to play. But other state residents, like David Gomberg, are trying to build a local music scene in New Jersey.

The 44-year-old Maplewood psychologist lived in the West Village in the ‘90s and played guitar, mandolin and bass in blues and folk rock bands. A part of him misses the days before he and his wife moved to Jersey to raise a family.

"It’s certainly a different scene now," he said in his office, which sits on Maplewood Avenue. "But I feel even now, here, I’ve created a much stronger musical community than I had then."

Three years ago, Gomberg and other Maplewood musicians formed a collective called Rock the House. The group organizes concerts for local bands to play in community centers and bars around town.

Gomberg says he’s also discovered three talented groups of musicians to play with -- MoodRing (pictured below; Gomberg is on the left), Big in China and a Led Zeppelin cover band.Maplewood psychologist David Gomberg plays guitar (L) in the New Jersey band MoodRing. here a performance at Maplewoodstock in 2009.

Photo: Maplewood psychologist David Gomberg plays guitar (L) in the New Jersey band MoodRing. here a performance at Maplewoodstock in 2009.

The rock band Juicebox has played at Rock the House shows. The group’s frontwoman is graphic designer Leslie Goldman, who has a practice space in the basement of her South Orange, New Jersey, home. She moved there from a fifth-floor walk-up in Manhattan.

"I had a gigantic bass rig," she said. "So I would drag it up and down five flights of stairs and throw it in a cab. So this is kind of easier. Just one flight and the basement ... Throw it in the car. It’s easier."

Goldman, who looks like a rock star with her jet black and bleached blonde hair, says there are some disadvantages to living in Jersey.

Photo: Leslie Goldman (L) with Jill Sobule (R) after the two performed in Goldman's backyard. Courtesy of Leslie Goldman

"Venues are hard to come by," she said. "So as a band I know what it’s like, and I knew that we needed another venue. So we just decided to make our own."

Goldman and her husband started host music shows in their backyard during the summer. Juicebox has played there, along with other indie rock artists like Jill Sobule, who draws a big crowd from the neighborhood.

Photo: Leslie Goldman (L) with Jill Sobule (R) after the two performed in Goldman's backyard. Courtesy of Leslie Goldman

"You have either, 'Hop on the train,' or 'Go to Madison Square Garden,' or 'Walk around the block and sit in your neighbor’s backyard,'" Goldman said. "And Madison Square Garden is cool, but it’s just so big. And the backyard around the corner is so intimate that it’s really a beautiful thing ... It’s probably like a little Jones Beach without the beach."

Goldman says the only drawback is that people have to bring their own booze. But with most bars charging more than $5 for a pint of beer, it may just turn out to be an advantage.


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Comments [8]

Joe from Jersey

I have beeen to live@Drew's a dozen times and I can honestly say that I enjoy the music there better than any bar, club or arena. Certainly you can go see the same artists in much larger spaces, spend two to three times more for admission and another fifty for drinks or relax on Drew's couch. Any negative comments here are from people who've never experienced live music in an intimate settings. I went to see Kinky Friedman in the 80's at the Lone Star, had my car towed, stood in the back, and spent $200 for 2 tickets and drinks. I again saw Kinky Friedman at Drew's this summer. Smoked a cigar with Kinky on Drew's deck. Discussed politics and music then sat down and saw a show that was better than anything I've seen in any club. To me, going to Drew's or Music at the Mission (another small venue in North Jersey) is like paradise. This was a well-written article.

Jan. 15 2012 01:57 PM

Wow there are some really miserable people commenting on here. I've been to Live at Drew's several times over the years and he is doing a good thing for musicians that depend on their craft as a means of living.One helps the other. Some quality entertainment and I don't think they would care for the likes of you attending a show nor would I wan't to converse with such negative self centered idiots like yourselves.

Jan. 13 2012 09:33 PM
Mike Smith from Yale

What a wash. Is this seriously a highlight piece of culture? In the NY area?? So painful, the difference in quality online VS on air. Perhaps this is a case of the station promoting their friends online? Just feel sorry for whichever poor intern was put to the task of writing this.... Or whatever this arrangement of letters and words might be called.

Jan. 12 2012 08:42 PM
Jenet from NJ

I agree with the other posters. I'm a NYC-NJ transplant and am always looking for some glimmer of culture in my adopted state, but this story was not the boost of optimism I was hoping for. I would hardly characterize a Led Zeppelin cover band, and what appears to be from the photo a Jethro Tull cover band, a "music scene." There's more of a music scene in my basement when my 5 and 8 year old kids rock out on their new drumset.

Jan. 12 2012 01:29 PM

I completely agree with Margaret. This piece is not about a "scene" at all.

Jan. 12 2012 01:04 PM

I was overwhelmingly disappointed in this piece. I was hoping it would focus on the basement shows in New Brunswick or the local music scene in South Jersey that's harbored in barns and storage units. When I hear a story about local music in NJ, I don't want to hear about upper-middle class suburbanite transplants who are trying to recreate their glory days. What a let-down.

Jan. 12 2012 09:49 AM

Winston, Sarcasm is tricky in print and didn't work in your comment above. I thought it was an interesting segment, and whether you have time in the morning or not is hardly relevant. A straight comment would make your point more effectively and in a more adult manner. Failed sarcasm can sound very adolescent.

Jan. 12 2012 09:12 AM
Winston P. from Surprisedville, NY

Wow--Thank you so much for this amazing segment! As you must know, I've got plenty of time in the morning so it's great when such a large chunk of it is devoted to such a very informative, significant and surprising segment! In January, it's also timely to learn that some people in New Jersey listen to little-known bands in their neighbor's backyard during the summer--and the venues are smaller than MSG? Incredible! More like this off the website and filling the airwaves, please!

Jan. 12 2012 08:49 AM

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