Eight bands took to the stage for the third annual Cops & Rockers, and the music was as diverse as the towns they came from. The teen band competition welcomed bands from outside Verona this year, and the winner, GNGR, was one of them.
Fronted by Garrett Bell, the rock and roll blues band performed Pearl Jam’s “Alive”, “Creep” by Radiohead and a dynamic original called “Just Like You,” which narrowly won the audience vote for best original song over “Jailbyrd” by the Ska Band. The audience vote was combined with judging by radio entrepreneur Steve Kingston and Joe Riccitelli, the executive vice president/GM of RCA Records. GNGR’s other members included Jake Lefkowitz, lead guitar; Jake Miller, bass; Michael Berry, keyboards/organ; and Nick VanLeer, drums.
The runner up was the Ska Band, which may or may not soon be renamed The Banana Man’s Post Office Choir. It drew on its roots in the Verona music program and put out a wall of sound. The band featured trumpet and trombone players Brendan Lesko, Danny Molloy and Laura Williams; Steven Rust, Skyler Fortgang and Billy Giuliano on sax; Eric Foy on guitar and Ryan Yeates on drums. Its cover of “Mr. Smiley” inspired (Mr. Cesa please stop reading) the first of several mosh pits at the front of the VHS auditorium and a bit of stage diving.
The night was kicked off by Young Goes Retro. Inspired by the 80s music their parents listened to, Kelsey Mitchell, Andrew Capuano and Carina Mitchell covered “Scavenger” by School of Seven Bells and “Let’s Go” by Matt & Kim, and performed an original, “Gone”. Young Goes Retro recently released its first video, which you can watch here.
New to Cops & Rockers this year was White Wing, a classic rock band that traveled up from Springfield. The band covered “Pulling Mussels From A Shell” and “Helter Skelter”, as well as its original “All Gone”. They were followed by NaH, a Little Falls group making a return appearance. Ben Shooter, RJ Challice and Zach Thomas covered “Another Brick in the Wall” and said that their single, “Sucker for Tragedy”, is now on iTunes. The band is promising to post a video of its Cops & Rockers performance on its Facebook page soon.
Ska’s Fortgang and Foy went back on stage later with Fill In The Blank, a new Verona-based alternative rock band. Fronted by the clarion voice of Kyle Thomas, the band also included Chris Buneo and Ryan Lavoie. Among its songs, the band covered “Downfall Of Us All” and debuted its original, “Bring Me Down From My Cloud”.
While most of the performers at this year’s show were high school students, Zenith had at least two members still in middle school, including H.B. Whitehorne seventh grader Mike Petillo. After watching Petillo warm up, emcee Tom Westerlund remarked that he was going home to hang up his guitar. Vocalist Casey Borella had amazing stage presence for someone just 12 years old. Borella, Petillo and the other band members–Tim Murphy, Dean Scarlett and Nick Gamaro–are all alumni of the School of Rock in Montclair.
Rounding out the evening was Faux Johnny, the Verona band that won last year’s Cops & Rockers. It was coming off an appearance at the Stone Pony, and band members Giancarlo Cordasco, Alex Campbell and Patrick Cichetti were clearly channeling the energy of the Asbury Park venue with a cover of “People Are Strange”. The band, which also performed an original “Come Back Johnny”, put part of its appearance on its Facebook page.
For its performance, GNGR won recording time at Verona’s Cat Eyez Recording Studio, which will produce a professional CD and music video of the band. GNGR also gets a free consultation at the RCA office in New York City. Cat Eyez recorded and mixed the live show for all the participating bands, and Rocktec Music, also based in Verona, supplied all the sound equipment.