You can listen to Matt Ryan and Dean Nevolis’ band, The Defending Champions, on its MySpace page. You can download its mix of rock, ska, reggae and soul from iTunes, CDBaby, Indie Rhythm and a whole bunch of other music sites. If you’re 21 or over, you can hear The Defending Champions play live at Tierney’s Tavern in Montclair, or the Bowery Poetry Club in Manhattan. If you’re not, you’re out of luck: There isn’t anyplace in Verona–or Montclair, Caldwell, or Bloomfield–where teenagers can hear live music year round.
It wasn’t always that way. Ryan, who graduated from Verona High School in 2002, played his very first concert at the First Presbyterian Church on Fairview Avenue. “So many places have closed,” says Ryan. “When I was growing up, music was a lot more accessible to teenagers.”
That seems like a strange lament in an age when teens can download music 24/7 from the Internet. But having an all-ages music venue is critical to the survival of bands like The Defending Champions, all but one of whose members hails from Verona. When bands play at a bar, the bar owner typically takes 50% of the ticket sales, in addition to the bar bills. (Tierney’s gives its bands the full gate.) People buying beer generally don’t buy anything else. Teens, by contrast, will spend on anything associated with their favorite musician, from CDs to T-shirts. Just ask Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez.
Ryan knows there are a lot of people around here who want to listen to live music. The first band he had with Dean Nevolis, The Miasmics, regularly played to packed all-ages crowds around the area. (Nevolis came up with the name of their current band after The Miasmics played a band competition as, you guessed it, the defending champion.) A product of Verona’s music system, Ryan studied under Max Morden, Dave Tintle, Pat Curcio and Howard Freund, and had their help getting into William Paterson University, where he majored in sound engineering. He hears a lot of talented musicians now at his recording business, HomeFront Studios in Caldwell.
“It really opened my eyes to so many people who are out there making music,” Ryan says. But he still can’t help looking at the vacant pancake house in Verona and imagining it in another incarnation. “The iHOP would be a prime music venue,” he says.
On Monday, September 6 at 2:30 p.m., The Defending Champions will be playing at the Evolve Music & Yoga Festival in Vernon, N.J. Kids 12 and under are free, teens pay their age and adults are $25 for the day. On Friday and Saturday, October 15 and 16, the band will be at Tierney’s “Jacket Weather” event. Bring a coat or food to donate and you’ll get a discount on admission.