Rockland-Bergen Music Fest a gift to fans
Steven P. Marsh, For The Journal News
Tappan musician Joe D'Urso put together a show of his closet friends, musicians Willie Nile, Marshall Crenshaw, Tom Chapin to celebrate his 50th birthday.
Before Joe D'Urso turned 50 the other day, the Rockland County-born rocker decided he wanted to celebrate in a unique way.
So he's organized a bunch of his musical pals to help throw himself a party on Sunday - and we're all invited.
D'Urso's idea of a party is no small thing. It's the Rockland-Bergen Music Festival, a daylong celebration of music and community at the German Masonic Park in Tappan.
"It's my 50th birthday, so I wanted to book and put people on the bill who I know and I like and I really wanted to see myself," says D'Urso, who was born June 24, 1964. "It's people I really love on a personal level and an artistic level. So I was like, all right, I want them to play at my birthday party."
The Tappan native has been collecting his extensive roster of talented friends since 1986, when he started in the music business.
"After I got out of college," says the 1986 SUNY Fredonia graduate, "I spent the first 10 years working at a talent agency in New York City called Premier Talent."
After days at work helping arrange gigs for his rock idols, including U2 and Bruce Springsteen, he spent his off hours in Greenwich Village, "honing my craft as a singer-songwriter."
He also befriended other performers, such as Willie Nile, Marshall Crenshaw, James Maddock, Jesse Malin and John Eddie - all of whom are scheduled to perform Sunday.
Nile, a rocker once dubbed "the next Bob Dylan," was happy to get D'Urso's call to participate.
"We're friends, Joe and I. It's always fun when we get together. It's going to be summertime. It's going to be a lot of really good musician, good songwriters, having a great time," Nile says. "When he contacted me, I was excited about it. I thought it could be a great thing and the start of maybe a great tradition."
Nile's music may share much with Dylan, but one stark contrast is Nile's infectious enthusiasm, evident in his latest album, the well-reviewed "American Ride," and his deep back catalog.
"My mom was always very, very optimistic, and I think I got that from her," he says. "I want people to feel good. Life is tough. If you come out to one of our shows, I want you to feel better. I want you to feel good. I want you to be glad you came. I want you to feel glad you’re alive. So, yeah, I've got the optimistic streak pretty strong."
Despite a rock 'n' roll journey that has taken him around the world, D'Urso's always returned to his roots.
"I grew up in Tappan and now I live in Park Ridge, in Bergen County," he explains. "For the majority of my life I've always straddled the borderline there between the two [counties].
"I think also, music-wise I've always straddled New York-New Jersey," he adds, nothing that his band, Stone Caravan, has "always been an Americana roots-rock, Jersey Shore type band.
"I think both New York and New Jersey run through my veins."
D'Urso's work with his band is just one of the entries on his crowded calendar.
Since 2006, he's worked for Nyack-based Leftfield Productions, a theatrical touring company founded by Neil Berg, D'Urso's longtime friend and his former piano player.
"He's got a national tour called 'Neil Berg's 100 Years of Broadway,'" says D'Urso. "I oversee the touring of that company, which does about 200 shows a year. So I do that while doing my songwriting and performing.”
You might think a day job and a music career on the side would be plenty to fill anyone’s time. But not D’Urso’s. His calendar is packed with charity work, too.
“I put in a good amount of time with an organization called Light of Day as a member of its board of directors,” he explains. It supports Parkinson’s disease research, an issue that has meaning for him.
“My music manager, Bob Benjamin, has Parkinson’s,” says D’Urso. “Hopefully we’re getting closer to a cure. But in the meantime we just all do what we can do to help.”
He also is on the board of WhyHunger, founded in 1975 by singer-songwriter Harry Chapin with the goal of wiping out hunger and poverty. The late singer-songwriter’s brother, Tom Chapin of Piermont, is another D’Urso friend on Sunday’s bill.
“I just help do a bunch of fundraising and concerts during the year,” D’Urso says, offering a modest summary of his efforts. “It’s a little crazy sometimes.”
Still, D’Urso found the time and energy to organize Sunday’s festival, which he hopes to make an annual event.
“I’d love to make it annual, because we really don’t have anything like this in the Rockland-Bergen area,” he says.
While this party marks D’Urso’s 50th birthday, he’s the one giving the gifts.
Festival admission is free for anybody who turns 50 this year or is 12 or younger.
Nile is quick to praise D’Urso’s skill as an organizer.
“Joe’s always the center. He’s a great organizer, a great gatherer of the forces. He’s good at that,” says Nile, citing D’Urso’s work with Light of Day. “He’s done such a great job with that.”
Nile says he’s all in for Sunday’s show.
“I’ll be bringing my full band, my New York band, and we’ll be ready to rock,” he says. “They’ll have to call the fire department, because we’re gonna burn the place down.”
Luckily, the Orangetown Fire Department will already be on hand, selling water to festivalgoers.
New City-based journalist Steven P. Marsh blogs about music and other performing arts at http://www.willyoumissme.com, willyoumissme.com.
IF YOU GO
What: Joe D’Urso presents Rockland-Bergen Music Festival. Artists include Willie Nile, Marshall Crenshaw, Jesse Malin, John Eddie, James Maddock, Tom Chapin, McMule, Joe D’Urso & Stone Caravan on two stages. While the bigger names occupy the main stage, the secondary Pete Seeger Stage will feature local artists, including Arlen Bennett of Tappan, Alice Leon of Congers and The Journal News' own Chris Brown.
When: 11 a.m.-7:15 p.m. Sunday
Where: German Masonic Park, 120 Western Highway, Tappan
Tickets: $42, at www.eventbrite.com in advance, $50 day of show.
And proceeds from the event will help support a number of charities, including http://www.whyhunger.org WhyHunger; http://lightofday.org, Light of Day; http://www.rocklandhomesforheroes.com, Rockland’s Homes for Heroes (which provides housing for veterans); http://www.lovehopestrength.org, Hope Strength (a bone marrow donor charity); http://dansullivanfoundation.com, the Rockland-based Dan Sullivan Foundation (a scholarship organization); and more.