Teamwork between rock stars and the police (think enforcement, not Sting) have not always been a hand-in-hand concept. In Rock & Roll’s infancy, it was viewed in the typical drugs, sex, and rock & roll philosophy. At the second annual Cops and Rockers battle of the bands at Verona High School hosted by Verona PBA Local 72, barriers of genres, ages, and occupations were broken when local artists got together for some good old jamming.
What is a great event without a patriotic opening? The first “cover” of the night would come from Montclair Police Department’s Stephanie Egnazzo who delivered a mostly A capella take on the most famous from one-hit-wonder Francis Scott Key; a song that we know as “The Star Spangled Banner.” Note that it was mostly A capella, because towards the last two lines, a band in uniform were revealed behind a curtain and awoke the gods of rock in a Jimi Hendrix style salute to our great country. It was nice to see a duet between different police departments, proving that the VPD doesn’t have the only cops who rock. From there, an emcee took over and welcomed one and all to the second annual Cops And Rockers.
Now it was time for the music. At the start of the event, it wasn’t all about the big prize, a day in the recording studios of Verona’s Cat Eyez Studios. (Rocktec Music donated two Dean guitars for the audience raffles and instruments, fog machines and PA equipment for the stage. Amedia, another Verona-based business, donated some of its handmade cymbals and Chris Segarra of Legendery Entertainment was the emcee.) In fact, there were some bands that weren’t competing, and just wanted to share the stage with some local musicians and play in front of the crowd. Two acts; one trio and one solo act, provided the competition-free entertainment to Verona, and certainly did not disappoint.
The first non-competing group was The Incredible Folk featuring VHS sophomore Lucas Freschi on acoustic guitar alongside two older friends on banjo and fiddle. The bluegrass three-piece brought the theater back to Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry for some rather impressive picking. The first song was a cover of Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith and Don Reno’s “Feudin’ Banjos” (more commonly known as “Dueling Banjos”) made famous by the 1972 movie Deliverance. The next was one of the most famous country rock songs, “The Devil Went Down To Georgia” by The Charlie Daniels Band. Aside from a clutter of technically faulted sound problems, it was pleasant to have some American Roots music to start off the night.
Next was the second non-competing act, VHS senior Wes Ostrander. Wes’ drum cover of Dream Theater’s “Panic Attack” spoke true to the progressive-metal drumming of Mike Portnoy (ex-drummer of Dream Theater), and darkened the mood left by The Incredible Folk. Following a welcoming applause of appreciation for Wes’ way around the drum kit, was one of few constants of the night: polls. Yes, MyVeronaNJ.com provided the surveys that appeared on the rounded wall stage-left. If you were in attendance and were in possession of a cell phone that has text-messaging capabilities (and if not, get with the times), you were able to participate in the polling. Some questions were more important than others, like “what kind of music do you like,” would be deemed unimportant in comparison to voting for the band of your choice.
Following a power outage, last year’s first place band took the stage in hopes to bring home the title once more. Fusion is made up of Austin Williams, Steve Wynen, Andrew Capuano, Nick Celfo and Ryan Yeates, who all attend VHSl. It was clear that Fusion had matured since winning last year’s contest. Vocalist Austin Williams seemed much more comfortable onstage and managed to translate his naturally theatrical voice into a post-punk/pop-rock style. The stringed aspect of the band all seemed to carry themselves at an appropriate pace, while drummer Ryan Yeates interpreted the drum parts very well, which contributed to a positive performance overall. They performed their original with lyrics written by Ryan Yeates, “I Want To Be” and covers of Good Charlotte’s “The Anthem”, “Dying in your Arms” by Trivium, and “Monkey Wrench” from the Foo Fighters.
The next band was the first and only competing band without any VHS students in the group. Nonetheless, NaH shook the stage with a jagged grunge sound and held their own in the midst of bands that also played similar styles of music. Consisting of Ben Shooter, RJ Challice, and Zach Thomas, the Little Falls natives performed an original inspired by Guns n’ Roses entitled “The Best of You,” proving to be one of the stronger originals of the night. Their covers were Monster Magnet’s “Monolithic” and “The Time Warp”, from the Rocky Horror Picture Show, the latter of which got many singing and grooving along.
Up next was The Loop, displaying VHS alumni, current students, and future students. This group, like Fusion, is a staple of the current Verona youth music scene. They’ve performed a few times in the past year and have built a little bit of a fan base that made their presence known during their Cops & Rockers performance. The set began with a cover of Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock And Roll”. Band members Theresa Courter, Joey and Nick Fierro, Chris Ehrich and Chris Buneo packed a punch with their ability to cover a song and lay it down with tight execution. “Drowning in Reality”, written by vocalist Theresa Courter, was an impressive original, with lyrics dealing discussing her first semester in college. The remaining songs were “The Ocean” (Led Zeppelin) and a pop-goes-punk approach at Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.”
Totally unexpected was an appearance by Patti Labelle’s drummer Segdrick Marsh. Though the sound system largely failed him, Segdrick managed to display his talents with a song, followed by an explanation and apology as to why he couldn’t carry on. His offer to return in the future should be embraced by those in charge, as it was great to a professional take the reins and show his skills.
Maybe the most talented and the darkest act of the night, was black-metal band Angmar. Yes, they’re referencing the home of the witch king in the Lord Of The Rings. The long-hair rockers made their way back after last year’s equally stellar Cops & Rockers performance, and once again they managed to leave the crowds’ jaws wide open after they performed all three originals “Fallen, Forgotten,” “As Shadows Rise,” and “Tiamat.” Band members Conor Lawless, Brian Fong, Tyler Butkovsky and Ryan Cardoza play music that requires so much precision, and they carry it out with ease. They will bring out the heavy metal in us all and have you swinging your hair along to the music.
Moving forward was something also completely different. Feux Johnny is made up of Giancarlo Cordasco, Alex Campbell and Patrick Cichetti. This group, like Angmar had such a different sound that it really got the audience’s attention. Playing in the style of California Funk a la The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Feux Johnny covered “Can’t Stop” and “Hump De Bump” from the legendary Chili Peppers, sandwiched in between “Mrs. Cooper” (an original) and ending with Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus”. The comfortable and energetic stage presence and musicianship held true to the eventual crowd reaction. It was looking good for this out-of-nowhere ban when it came to results.
Showing the love of music and how close some of the bands are, bassist Nick Celfo made his second appearance of the night, this time with Where Eagles Dare, alongside Isaac Rubins, Dom Gagliano and Mike Basil. This band’s second Cops And Rockers featured two originals, “Lunch Break”, written by Isaac Rubins and a follow-up to a song from last year’s Cops & Rockers, “Bathroom Break”. They did sweet renditions of Metallica’s “Am I Evil”, and “No Remorse”. Probably the most impressive though, was a great approach at “A Passage to Bangkok” from Rush, which was the most musically demanding song all night.
To close out the contest part of the night, came Leo’s Arrow. Evan Yee, Mike Bartell, Matt Bartell, Patrick Sullivan and Torsten Kolind bring a twisted indie-rock sound to the table, and put on an energetic performance even with Evan Yee suffering from a lost voice due to previous illness in the week. Their original was “Home”, built around a guitar lick from Mike Bartell, giving a little insight into the songwriting process for this particular band. They covered Lit’s “My Own Worst Enemy”, The Flo Bots’ “Handlebars”, and “Dammit” from Blink 182.
As the night was coming near the end, it was time for the results. It was clear that every band gave it their own, and some had it together more than others did. However, it was all about the love of music and how it can provide a safe lifestyle and occupation of time for the youth, which face more and more pressure to get involved in the world of drugs and mischief. As it was announced, the crowd cheered for Feux Johnny, who came in first overall.
But wait that wasn’t all. Like last year, the final band put the “cops” in Cops and Rockers. A musical squad of Det/Sgt. (VPD) Dan Greco on guitar, Sgt. (Montclair PD) Stephanie Egnezzo and Special Deputy (VPD) Gerard DiNola on vocals, retired Sgt. (VPD) Marty Santuoso on drums, and Special Deputy (VPD) Pat Filoso on bass delivered a set that laid the law on the final moments of the show. They performed songs like The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” and Kiss’ “Rock And Roll All Night, all in good fun.
Aside from the technical difficulties, the night was rather successful as far as turnout, performances, and behavior was concerned. In the words of the Grateful Dead, “One good ride from start to end, I’d like to take that ride again.”
Tyler Curtis attends VHS and is the author of The Shakedown Blog.
Photos © Fred Goode Productions. All rights reserved.