there’s no business like show business

 

The Record Release Party Postcard

The Record Release Party Postcard

The morning of the benefit, we had lots to do.  I took the day off from work, got up early and puttered around the apartment for a while.  I took a trip to the Bottle King and loaded up on Lowies and Glacier Bays (still can’t call ’em Arctic Bay to this day), chips and junk food for the after-party party.

 

I took a couple good-luck phone calls, and had a lengthy chat with Ray of Melting Hopefuls.  Sandy and I had hashed over the band order quite a bit, and nailed it down the previous week.  It was awkward explaining to the bands why I had them slated when I did, mostly because someone had to go on first, and because we had so many bands, that band needed to go on early.

We had decided to begin the evening with Grooveyard.  Grooveyard were a grungy sort of shoegazer type of band from the extreme Southern portion of the state.  They didn’t have a following in northern New Jersey, and so we figured most people wouldn’t know them.  As much as I thought it would be cool to introduce them to a wider audience, I did not want to stick them in the middle of the show and hurt any momentum that would be built by the bands that had larger followings up north.  As the least popular band in the area, it made sense for them to be on the bill when the fewest people would be there. Plus, since they had the furthest to drive, they could play their set early and still get home at a reasonable hour.  

Next we’d go with cuppa joe, because being from Trenton, they also had some distance to cover and a limited fan base.  Ya-Ne-Zniyoo would follow them, and then Footstone.  Next would come Oral Groove, followed by Melting Hopefuls, Eternal Vision, and Godspeed.  Last would come Rosary and their drum set.

It seemed like a lineup that made sense, getting progressively louder and the bands getting more popular as the night wore on.  Ray seemed to agree with the lineup, although I think we were both a little bugged by the presence of Eternal Vision, who were really out of place without Planet Dread playing at the show. To one degree or another, all the other bands were of the alt-rock variety, but Eternal Vision were most definitely a metal band.

Rich and I then made the drive out to Long & McQuade, the music store in Parsippany where we would be renting the bass cabinet and guitar amp for the night.  I don’t remember what car we used, because I drove a 1991 Ford Probe and Rich drove an old junker of a station wagon that was filled with garbage and rarely started, and neither of them would have fit two amps.  I do, however, distinctly remember being thankful that none of the bands had keyboard players, since there would be no way we would have fit another amp.

At that point, our guests began arriving.  If I’m not mistaken, Frank volunteered to hang out with Sandy at our apartment and answer the door, let in our out-of-town friends, and gather everyone together for the trip into Hoboken.  Hoboken was probably a 15-minute car ride from our apartment in Lodi but it was a tricky 15 minutes; it required taking back roads through Hasbrouck Heights to Route 17 South, then jumping onto Route 3 East and taking that to Hoboken.  Since many of our friends were coming from New England, we figured that none of them really knew how to drive, and so we should have someone to lead the way.  Frank, as usual, stepped up – during the entire process of getting the label off the ground and getting the record together, Frank always volunteered to get his hands dirty in any way he could.  He was a good friend ,and a selfless one.

Meanwhile, Rich and I drove into Hoboken and parked the car (whatever car it was) in front of Live Tonight and unloaded the equipment.  There was no sound man there yet, so we just wheeled everything up to the stage and left.

By that time we were hanging out regularly at Maxwell’s, and we had developed a routine.  Maxwell’s had two rooms – one in front, where you could sit down and eat, pump dollars into their awesome jukebox, and drink $5 drafts, and another in back where there was a smaller bar and the stage where the bands would play.  I use the terms “had” and “was,” but of course the club is virtually the same today as it was then.  Maybe the jukebox isn’t as cool; playing Silkworm and Shellac over dinner was, to me, always the coolest thing about Maxwell’s.

Anyway, the $5 beers were too expensive for us to drink all night, so we would always begin the night at Mario’s Pizza.  Mario’s served New York-style 20″ pies, and two dollar pitchers of Coors Light.  That’s right, the pitchers were two dollars.  Rich, Sandy and I made a habit of going to Mario’s for dinner, buying three $2 pitchers, eating a pie, and then making the walk to Maxwell’s, where we would be sufficiently lubricated so that we didn’t drop a lot of cash on Maxwell’s $5 beers.

We began this night at Mario’s also; each ordering a pitcher and a few slices.  We sat there in a sort of somber way.

“Are you nervous?” Rich asked.

“Yeah,” I said.  I felt like I didn’t have much luck getting the record promoted in advance of its release, so this was sort of like a “restart” for us.  I was hoping for a decent turnout, and to generate some local buzz that I could use as leverage in promoting the CD further.

Rich said “I feel like I’m going to throw up.”  Then he said “Pass me another slice of pizza.”

We finished up our pizza and beers, and then drove back toward the lot on Washington Street where we usually parked.  The lot was full, so we had to find on-street parking, and wound up pretty far from the club.  The three of us got out of the car and grabbed our boxes of CDs.  We had also asked some of the bands – cuppa joe, Grooveyard, and Ya-Ne-Zniyoo – if we could “carry” their demo tapes, which enabled us to make up a “catalog” that included not just one but four titles, plus the official Dromedary Records T-shirt.

The T-shirt was manufactured by a friend of Rich’s; it was a black Hanes Beefy-T  with the logo screened onto it in white.  They came out nice, even if the logo was painted on pretty heavily.  Rich, Sandy and I had worn them to the show.

By the time we got to Live Tonight the guys from Grooveyard had already arrived and begun setting up their gear.  We had a ways to go before things kicked off, but I appreciated them for getting there early and setting up – mainly because they also set up the rented equipment for us.  We spent that time setting up our sales table, and putting out a notebook so that people could sign up for our nonexistent mailing list (a smart recommendation we received from Ray).  Sandy made up a little sign with prices for everything – CDs and T-shirts were $10, cassettes were $7, and the demo tapes were $5 each.

The Grooveyard guys (and the women they brought with them) finished setting up, and they asked if there was a place nearby to eat.  Rather than send them all the way to Mario’s, we just sent them up Washington Street.  As they were leaving, doug and steve from cuppa joe arrived.  doug wanted to unload their gear so we helped them move things into the club, alongside the stage.  doug seemed really worried that his gear would get stolen or damaged, and so he wanted to put it in a place where he could see it.  We chatted for a while, and steve showed me a new contraption he’d invented by somehow affixing a tambourine onto his high hat so that he could shake it by stepping on the pedal.  He was pretty proud of that, so I didn’t want to tell him that those were actually available at music stores.

A few minutes after doug and steve arrived, Ralph from Footstone walked in, with a copy of the Jersey Journal.  He was wearing a green baseball cap with his hair pulled out the back in a ponytail – why I remember this so vividly, I don’t know. “Nice article,” he said, showing us the huge article Jim Testa had crafted out of the interviews he did with Sandy and me.

I snatched the paper out of Ralph’s hand and turned to Testa’s “Constant Listener” column.  I began reading at once, grinning with the first paragraph:

“It’s no secret that the Garden State is bursting with new talent.  In fact, there are so many good new bands out there that it’s impossible to keep up with them all.  But tonight you’ve got a chance to not only check out nine talented new groups, but help out a worthwhile cause as well.”

Jim had, like any good journalist, nailed all the important particulars in his opening paragraph.  The article continued:

“The event is the CD release party for a compilation called Nothing Smells Quite Like Elizabeth, the first release by a new local label, Dromedary Records.  The concert, at Live Tonight! in Hoboken, will benefit the Englewood-based Center for Food Action, which helps families in financial crisis and provides much-needed relief throughout the state.

‘The Center for Food Action is a charity I became interested in several years ago, when I was working for a newspaper and did a story on them,’ says Sandy C***, who with her husband Al, owns and operates Dromedary Records in Lodi.   ‘I’ve always kept an active interest in the group because of the great work they do, and when this show came up, we thought it would be a great way to help raise some money.’

Sandy sounded like such a pro.

In 1992, the center helped feed more than 20,000 people, with five outreach centers as well as a network of more than 900 emergency providers throughout the state.

The label came about because of the couple’s abiding interest in the local music scene, although, Sandy says, ‘Al is really into the music end of it, and I’m more into the promotion and administration end.’

‘What we’re hoping to do with this label is approach the music industry a little differently,’ Sandy says.  ‘We’re hoping to be able to promote a lot of different kinds of bands and not be locked into any one sound or style.’

The groups on the ‘Elizabeth’ compilation certainly bear that out, showcasing an eclectic array of alternative rock.  There’s everything from the New Wave-inspired pop of Oral Groove, a frequent headliner and popular draw in Hoboken’s rock clubs, to the twisted grunge of Godspeed, who hail from the Jersey Shore.

Other groups include Planet Dread and Eternal Vision, who mix funk, metal and psychedelia; Footstone, a post-punk pop band from NYU with ambitious, soaring lead vocals, and Rosary, who became regulars at Live Tonight’s industrial/gothic “Communion” nights.

The weirdest name on the bill belongs to Ya-Ne-Zniyoo; if my high school Russian hasn’t deserted me, that’s ‘I don’t know’ rendered phonetically.  The group’s music is just as confusing, party psychdelic trance-rock, part grinding noise-core.

The Melting Hopefuls seem to be playing somewhere in the area every weekend, with an ingratiating female lead singer and an unpredictable mixture of funky rhythms and jazzy riffs reminiscent of Hoboken’s Tiny Lights.

Several of the bands on both the compilation and tonight’s bill hail from South Jersey and are rarely seen in this area: Godspeed come with a great live reputation and a ferocious sound that fuses the wallop of thrashing hardcore to the pounding riffs of Seattle grunge bands like Soundgarden and Alice in Chains.  The title of quirkiest band on the lineup belongs to Trenton’s cuppa joe, whose twangy, tongue-in-cheek approach recalls comic punk bands like the Dead Milkmen and They Might Be Giants.

Finally, the bill concludes with Grooveyard, another Jersey Shore band.  The group’s fusion of funk and trippy, psychedelic grooves would no doubt find a receptive audience in New York’s downtown club scene, which recently spawned acts like the Spin Doctors and Blues Traveler.

‘It’s a lot of different bands, but that’s very much the point,” says Al C****. ‘Not all of them show the direction we want the label to go in, but they do show that we don’t want to be lumped in with any one sound.’

Dromedary’s next project will be an EP featuring Cuppa Joe.

‘How we do with the compilation will decide where we can go after that,’ Al says.  ‘We might do a series of singles with bands or hopefully another album-length CD.  Our plan is to keep putting things out to the public, so eventually we can make our voice heard in the industry.'”

Despite the fact that we had no plans to record anything with cuppa joe at that point, and despite the fact that I couldn’t care less about making our voice heard in the industry, we were thrilled with the article.  I was beaming.  I was proud.

The Grooveyard guys came back, and we all sat at the bar, talking and having a beer.  I was sitting next to Ralph; Rich, Frank and Sandy were on his other side.  The Grooveyard guys and their girlfriends were to my right, and doug and steve from cuppa joe were standing next to each other, talking in the middle of the club.

That was it.  We were the only people in the club.

I looked at the clock behind the bar.  It was time to start.  Mike Fresh walked in from outside, approached me, and said “Okay, you can start whenever you want.”

“There’s nobody here,” I told him.

“Well, you can push back the start of the show, but I have to be out of here by 1,” he said.

“You told me you had to stop serving at 1,” I said, “You didn’t say you had to close by then.”

“We’ll see,” he told me,”But you really should start soon.  Try and keep the bands to 20 minutes.”

Lee from Grooveyard overheard the discussion.  “Do you need us to go on?” he asked.

“No,” I told him.  “There’s nobody here.”

“We don’t mind,” he said.  “Somebody has to be first.”

“I hate having you drive all the way up here, only to play in front of the guys in the other bands,” I said. “That doesn’t seem fair.”

“Really, we don’t mind,” he said.  “We’re just so psyched to be on a CD that we’d play in your basement if you wanted us to.”

I said “Give it another couple of minutes.  I’m expecting some of our friends to show up really soon.  Then, at least you’ll have some people in the club while you’re playing.”

Ralph walked over.  “I’ll dance in front of the stage for you guys,” he said. “You’ll feel like you have a big crowd.”

“Okay, great,” Lee said, laughing.  Then, the Grooveyard guys drained their beers, took the stage, said and began their set.  There were less than ten people in the club.

And with that, Dromedary Records was born.  

~ by Al on January 24, 2009.

2 Responses to “there’s no business like show business”

  1. […] and we drank and bowled at Paul’s Bar, listening to Sonic Youth on the jukebox.  We drank two-dollar pitchers at Mario’s and black and tans at Maxwell’s, while we put out eight records and dozens […]

  2. […] Tonight!, the Hoboken club where we held our first show, eventually went away.  As a club, there was a time that it was a Hoboken alternative to […]

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