Music Reviews The Tattoo

The Phantom goes to high school

FLEMINGTON, New Jersey, U.S.A. — I bought a pair of tickets to go see the “Welcome home, Danny” show at Hunterdon Central High School in Flemington , N.J. a few weeks back so I could see E Street Band great Danny Federici.
I didn’t know exactly what to expect, knowing it was jazz/funk, but not much more. Let me tell you, I was not disappointed.
I got there around 6:30 and waited in the school lobby for a half-hour until the auditorium opened. While we were waiting, the rain started to come down and we got some pretty heavy lightning and thunder.
At one point, a bolt of lightning hit the school, and set off the fire alarm. That crack from the lightning was the loudest thing I had ever heard in my life. Luckily, there was no fire or anyone harmed, so things went on as scheduled.
The doors opened at 7 p.m. and I got into the front row, smack dab in the center.
I wore my Bruce Springsteen & the E Str eet Band shirt from the Reunion tour with the entire band on it, the most natural thing to wear to such an event. The show was supposed to get underway at 8 o’clock , but due to some of the band members arriving late (as we later found out), it didn’t kick off until nearly 8:30 .
The emcee for the night — Joel Katz, a disc jockey from 98.3, a local radio station — introduced Federici, as well as his saxophone player, Michael Cates.
The band came out and started playing, and it was tremendous. I never really had heard this type of smooth jazz/funk. It had something original and very auspicious about it.
There was Phantom – Federici — on the organ and keyboards, Cates on the saxophone, a guy named Juan on the bass, another keyboard, drummer and a lead guitarist.
Their first set was about six songs long, all instrumental. It was hard not to find yourself tapping your foot or bopping your head all night long, the music was just that good.
After the first set, there was a brief intermission where I went into the lobby and purchased Federici’s CD, “Flemington.”
All of the songs were off of that album, including the title track, “Erica,” and plenty more. The band got underway again and played another four or five songs before the show was over.
Now let me tell you about the band.
The saxophonist, Cates, was absolutely tremendous — he would give Clarence Clemmons a run for his money. This guy was something else, and had a great stage presence to go along with his talent.
The bass player, Juan, was one of the coolest guys on stage I’ve seen. He had so much energy, and got into his music unlike anyone else. He was dancing around, acting goofy, and it was really something to watch. Plus, he was amazing with that bass. I have never seen anything like it.
The other keyboard player was good, but nothing really special about him.
The drummer was very, very good, no Max Weinberg, but very good. Cates made a joke about him not being like Weinberg during the band introductions, and it got a rise from the audience.
The lead guitarist was also very good too. He had a lot of range as far as what he could do and also had a very good stage presence.
And of course, there was Danny.
What more can you say about the man? He is one of, if not the greatest, organ players I have ever seen. On stage he was such a low key, subtle funny, incredible guy and it was a pleasure just to sit back and watch him enjoy the night as much as everyone in the audience was.
After the show, there were some prizes. Two tickets to the Springsteen concert in Philadelphia were raffled off, and unfortunately I didn’t win them. Then there was an auction for two more tickets to Philly. The bidding started at $500 and closed at $6,000! That’s right, $6,000.
Here’s why: “The winner also gets to come back stage and hang with the band,” Federici said.
If I had that kind of money to throw around, you could bet I would have outbid the winner.
Then there were some presentations. They added Federici to the Flemington Walk-of-Fame and gave him some other acknowledgements.
But the highlight of this part of the night was when his neighbor from many years ago brought his first accordion over.
It was hilarious to watch, and Federici picked it up and played it. He was just messing around, and then kicked into “Spirit in the Night” for a few seconds, before realizing that there weren’t enough notes.
“I think that’s all for that ladies and gentleman,” he said, and that ended the accordion playing.
Then Joel Katz announced that Federici would be signing autographs.
I waited in line for about 10 minutes to get his autograph. When Federici saw my t-shirt he said, “Hey … that’s a nice shirt.”
I kindly replied, “Thank you, sir.”
I asked him to sign, “To Kyle … Phantom Dan Federici.”
He signed my CD cover with that, and then I asked him for a picture. He got up out of his chair, put his arm around me, and my mom snapped the picture.
Then I shook his hand, told him thank you and that it was a great show, and he said thanks and that was that.
Let me tell you, I was absolutely buzzing after that. I had a grin on my face from ear to ear. What an exciting experience.
Federici is such a nice man and true gentleman. I think a great homage to say about him is that unless you knew who he was, you really wouldn’t think he was different than anyone else. That really says something about his character. He carries himself well, and is a great man.
It was a pleasure to m eet him, if only for just a minute or two.
Well, that was my wonderful night in Flemington. For those of you who missed it, you missed a tremendous concert and a chance to m eet the Phantom.
By the way, Federici and the guys in the band did the show absolutely free, and all of the profits went to the Hunterdon Central Foundation to help less fortunate kids get computers for education, and technology seminars to teach elderly people how to use them to send email back and forth to their grandkids and such.
The profits from the CDs that were on sale went partly to charity, and partly to Federici and the band.
Overall, it was a great night and I am glad I took the time to go.

Kyle Pucciarello is a Reporter for Youth Journalism International.

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