Friday, July 12, 2024

Ramsaysburg Begins Summer Concert Series With AJ Croix Band and Joe Cirotti Trio

From Marigold to Sweet Georgia to Pink Panther interludes and overtures, this melding of two bands was a musical Americana extravaganza.

On a late afternoon at Ramsaysburg Historic Homestead, Ridge View Echo enjoyed a “backstage in the barn” interview with both bands at the first of the Ramsaysburg summer concert series. The AJ Croix Band aka “The Devil’s Right-Hand Band” bass player Bill LaGreca teased that the title was too long, but Joe Cirotti took the “trio” billed title.

Band leaders Joe Cirotti and AJ Croix, with Jeff Rusch, Friends of Ramsaysburg Concert Organizer, Backstage musings before the concert, photo by L Ward
Band leaders Joe Cirotti and AJ Croix, with Jeff Rusch, Friends of Ramsaysburg concert organizer, backstage musings before the concert. Photo by L. Ward.

La Greca explained that he started playing bass in the 70s as a teenager.

“I was a kid listening to rock, you know Elvis, and I always loved hearing the bass. My father was a big audiophile. Think about the 60s and 70s, all the parents were hip and cool, or at least my parents were. My father was an engineer, but they had these big house parties, so he loved his stereos and all his equipment. He had these massive systems in the Glen Rock house. The bass would make the house shake. My parents supposedly almost got a divorce over high-def Bozak system speakers with Macintosh components,” said La Greca, referring to an ultimatum, but his mom and the speakers both ended up staying.

The drummer started by asking if we needed his real name. Apparently, throughout his career he has been going by a nickname shortened from the Flintstones’ Bamm-Bamm Rubble.

“When I was 8, I went to a school concert,” BAM Bridges said. “One shot of the big giant stand-mounted bass drum and I was hooked on drums.”

By his side, in a dark chocolate Dundee leather hat, AJ Croix spoke using the same mellifluous voice with which he sings.

“My humble beginnings go back to Elvis, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings,” he said. “What inspired me was Jim Croce. When he died, I cried for two days. My grandfather played the mandolin. Growing up with them in South Jersey, I got the writing bug early.”

Joe Cirotti grew up in Hackettstown and started playing when he was 10.

“Both my folks are musicians, my sister too, my dad was a Stevie Ray Vaughan and Hendrix nut and my mom was a folkie, so they got me into both worlds,” he said. “All I wanted to do was play Jimmy Hendrix, and now I play folk and bluegrass so it’s kind of funny. I consider it a strength though, bringing that kind of playing into the traditional world makes it unique which is hopefully what we’re all after.”

“This is by far and away the best and most enjoyable band yet,” Cirotti said, speaking fondly of the band. “So much of what we do is unspoken and unsaid. No one needs direction, we just have at it. It’s wonderful.”

At 4 p.m. Ramsaysburg Historic Homestead concert organizer Jeff Rusch began the band introductions by first thanking the Boy Scouts of America for building the permanent stone outdoor barn stage. He then thanked the Federal Arts Grant Program, which is administered by the Warren County Cultural and Heritage Division of the Department of Land Preservation and the New Jersey State Council of the Arts. Rick Clarkson followed up, announcing Ramsaysburg status as an official Wildlife Preservation Site and introducing the new Warren County Pollinator Protector project incentive.

AJ Croix Band aka the Devils Right Hand Band with Pete Lister. Photo by LWard
AJ Croix Band, aka the Devils Right Hand Band, with Pete Lister. Photo by L. Ward.

AJ Croix Band began the show. It was quickly made clear that all of the musicians involved enjoy playing together. Pete Lister, the upright bass player from the Joe Cirotti Trio, joined them for a song with a rustic metal percussion instrument. Then Timmy Coyle from the trio joined AJ Croix and mesmerized folks on the mandolin for a song called “Marigold.” AJ also had the audience swaying to “Sweet Georgia.”

Joe Cirotti Trio on the Ramsaysburg stage, photo by LWard
Joe Cirotti Trio on the Ramsaysburg stage. Photo by L. Ward.

After a brief dinner intermission, Joe Cirotti Trio appeared and stole the air with a mixture of vocal harmony, classical guitar riffs, deep cello tones and toe-tapping bliss. When the tall man in overalls, Pete Lister, with only the worn curve of the large bass surpassing his crown, took to the bow of his instrument, a well-rounded sound ensued, creating a Vivaldi effect on an Americana scene. Joe Cirotti interjected the mystery and identity of the “Pink Panther” in their mind-blowing, masterful last song, weaving it into dusk, as the fireflies signaled last-call shortly before the first trickle of rain began at the end of an amazing rock concert.

The weather was reluctantly cooperative through the afternoon and into the evening. The Boy Scouts volunteered their time, diligently directing traffic throughout the show and helping attendees safely exit at the end as well. The audience was instructed to “tip your Boy Scouts” as they use the funds for future projects.

People are happy to have this outdoor area to enjoy music and have embraced making a day of it. A group of young children along the back perimeter worked hard to gather as many sticks as possible to create what they called a “magic fortress.” Many attendees brought their friendly, leashed dogs, creating plenty of photo-friendly moments. A woman who strolled in solo donned natural linen tones and a perfect floppy, cream-colored hat, harmonizing perfectly with her vanilla-furred chihuahua. Guests brought folding chairs, coolers, water, blowing bubbles and snacks. One couple from Blairstown brought an appropriately sized folding coffee table decked out with red wine-filled glasses, avocados and hors d’oeuvres. And of course, summer blankets and bare feet merrily bedecked the lawn.

As though cued by a director, the weather – which had been docile all day, with a light cloud cover, balmy breezes from the river and tiny unnoticeable sprinkles through the trees – turned stormy as the show ended and the audience departed. The Boy Scouts collected their tips through soaking hats and shirts, still laughing, and full of polite gratitude.

AJ Croix and Joe Cirotti Trio share in common an affinity for Americana and making music the journey, not the destination.

For more information and to view the summer concert series’ upcoming shows at Ramsaysburg:

Laura Ward with long pink earrings on
Laura Ward, Contributing Writer

Laura Ward is a gallerist at Infloressense in Belvidere, NJ, whose motto is "poetic synthesis of all the cultural arts." Born in West Orange, NJ, Ward had a unique childhood growing up in a three-story, three-generation, 1895 Victorian where she learned gardening with her great-grandfather, theater with her grandmother, and typing with her mom. Ward spent the last two decades in the architectural design industry, followed by her present pursuit into the entrepreneurial world of art and event planning. Ward lives in the esoteric Delaware Village Historic District and volunteers at Ramsaysburg Historic Homestead. Ward spent 11 years in Florida where she graduated with an English B.A. from FAU and later The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale with an art history minor.