Jersey City Jams for Lady Liberty:
First Annual Festival Carries Torch for Rock 'n' Roll!
A SoundPress.net Archive Article by Rich and Laura Lynch

On a weekend when "they" were predicting a veritable deluge throughout the tri-state region we decided to take our chances and check out the ambitious new musical festival known as the LibertyJAM in Jersey City, New Jersey. Sure enough, just as we disembarked the venue's shuttle bus on June 25 at 12 P.M. as the opening act kicked off the event, the skies opened up with a torrent of rainfall for about the first 20 minutes of the day. Then a funny thing happened. Short of a few occasional bouts of drizzle, the concert was mainly rain free. The fear of rain did severely dampen the expected attendance of 15,000 but it didn't douse the spirits of the organizers, announcers and performers. Several times during the day sunny proclamations were made from the stage declaring that this was just the first of many more LibertyJAMs to come. If that's true then the organizers of LibertyJAM have laid the groundwork for an exciting and professional event. Hopefully they'll get better weather next time around!

Liberty Jam Concert
LibertyJAM's large and colorful stage was active all day long!

In honor of Liberty State Park's 30th anniversary the first annual LibertyJAM took place on the green at the waterfront park overlooking New York City. The concert was held as a fundraiser for the national landmark with a percentage of the proceeds from the event to be used for park improvements including tree plantings and a picnic pavilion. Liberty State Park (LSP) has impressive views of the Manhattan skyline, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. The place is drenched in history and is home to one of the few remaining tidal marshes in the Hudson River Estuary.

In addition to a full day of music there were a number of organizations present at LibertyJAM including Friends of Liberty State Park - a volunteer group that promotes citizen involvement and on-going improvements in the park. The event also had a small Eco-Village and food venders. For those with VIP tickets there where chairs and a picnic area in the historic Central Railroad Terminal. Family friendly general admission tickets were on the lawn so that people could spread out on their chairs and blankets. A premium-seated section was located in the prime real estate at the front of the stage.

Liberty Jam Concert
The Legendary Cheap Trick headlined the first annual event!

Rockford's multi platinum selling Cheap Trick is on tour in 2006 to promote their first new studio album in three years titled Rockford. They were the headlining act for the first ever LibertyJAM and by the time the band took the stage at around 9 P.M. they were an hour behind schedule due to compounded set up delays throughout the 10-hour event. A good portion of the festival had cleared out after P-Funk and some rain showers returned just before Cheap Trick's set began. The remaining crowd seemed to be Cheap Trick die-hards and the festival organizers let everyone into the premium seats to allow for an excited and fervent pit of several hundred fans. Despite the rain and diminished audience the band seemed to be in a good mood. They gave a stage front shout-out to their friends at VH1, announced a radio appearance on the Howard Stern show scheduled for the following morning, plugged their new CD several times and recalled a recent tour date in London with Def Leppard. In addition to two songs from the new record Cheap Trick performed all their fan favorite hits including "If You Want My Love", "I Want You To Want Me", "The Flame", "Surrender" and "Dream Police"

George Clinton is respected as a great innovator in urban based soul, rock and funk. In 1968, George founded Funkadelic who were later renamed Parliament Funkadelic and since then he has been a vital force in the music industry. His bands have had a number of hits with "Aqua Boogie", "Bop Gun" and others. George Clinton and his twenty-two piece band took the stage in Jersey City to a warm reception. In fact, they were the big draw of the day attracting a diverse range of fans. Standing to my left were two young, white males who knew all of George's racy songs. George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic are all about the rhythm and soul. There is a lot of instruments, some electronics and many singers on the stage, yet the sound is tight.

Throughout P-Funk's set people in attendance were on their feet grooving to the funky beats and various male and female vocalists. George said it was good to be home and started rapping some lascivious lyrics that the audience chanted back. Some of the songs were two or three lines repeated numerous times as the Parliament created the forceful, funky instrumentation. The music gelled as the band soared from one instrumental and word cluster change to another. In addition to a musical wall of sound there were some entertaining dancers on the stage including a muscular guy doing some sexy moves and stretches to the funky music. One of the female singers at one point was gliding on the stage on roller skates. George Clinton really connected with the audience and the Parliament Funkadelic was intensely engaging.

Liberty Jam Concert
George Clinton's Parliament Funkadelic was a favorite with the crowd!

Los Lobos may be best known for their 1987 hit "La Bamba " but their music is an eclectic blend of blues, country, folk, R&B, rock and Tex Mex. Their roots are in traditional Mexican and Spanish music yet their sound has a contemporary flair. Los Lobos' set was heavy on the guitars making it difficult to catch the vocals. They played a mix of up-tempo rockers, Spanish flavored instrumentals and slower more bluesy numbers. The styles and speeds throughout were diverse and dramatic. Los Lobos brought the spirit of the jam band to the LibertyJAM and they kept the crowd dancing when they ended their set on a high note with exuberant versions of "Not Fade Away" flowing into The Dead's "Bertha". There were several fans in Grateful Dead t-shirts gyrating and enjoying these spicy renditions and it made me think the LibertyJAM could've used a few more jam bands for their hearty fan base.

Liberty Jam Concert
Los Lobos brought the jam to the LibertyJAM!

Patti Smith is an unconventional, punk rock poet. Patti is an artist who has always followed her own muse with songs ranging from traditional rockers to avant-garde experiments. Patti walked on to the LibertyJAM stage with a camera, taking a picture of the crowd. Smith has a strong stage presence and her band has just the right edge to support her passionate and powerful vocal style. Patti was in a good mood sharing a story about the Jersey City boardwalk and spotting Jerry Lee Lewis in 1967. Patti's set was a mix of rockers and slower, smoky songs. She made a joke about doing the "south Jersey thing, which is to do a song that we did not practice but have heard on the radio". They covered Steely Dan's "Dirty Work" which was loose with Patti reading the lyrics off a piece of paper. After the hook line Patti shouted "do you hear that President Bush". Smith and her band did an emotional "Come Back" in memory of Jeff Buckley. Patti talked about building up the festival before closing her set with a potent version of Springsteen's "Because the Night". Before walking off the stage she said "thank you, have a great festival and you look great in the picture."

Liberty Jam Concert
New Jersey's Patti Smith performed Springsteen's "Because the Night" and more!

The mayor of Jersey City welcomed the crowd to the city citing the 30th Anniversary of the park before introducing The Fab Faux - a Beatles tribute band. The Fab Faux formed in 1998 and has built a strong following in New York City with their energized live shows. The Fab Faux started their animated set with "Bulldog" that sounded like the original with some variations, which is basically the approach the band takes. The Fab Faux plays accurate renditions of Beatles' classics adding addition instrumentation and extended jamming. They illustrate how much expanding potential these great songs have.

The Fab Faux is five core members with support from string and horn sections that are required for many of the more complex Beatles songs that they covered. Their set included "Help", "I Am The Walrus" and "Nowhere Man". They joked that they were going to play "Here Comes The Sun" but "that's too optimistic for today so we will" play "Rain" instead. Their interpretation of "Yer Blues" captured all the raw emotion of the original taking the instrumentation in a number of dynamic directions. "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" was strong with harmonizing vocals and potent guitar licks. Overall, their singing is right on with each member handling the songs that they are best suited for. They ended the set with "All You Need Is Love" referring to the 29th anniversary of the worldwide telecast of the John Lennon song. As a Beatle fan, I really enjoyed the Fab Faux who also appeared to be relishing paying tribute to one of rock's most influential bands.

Liberty Jam Concert
Ever wonder what it would be like if the Beatles still performed - meet The Fab Faux!

With 5 of the 8 acts hailing from the state the LibertyJAM was a celebration of New Jersey-born music. The event was sponsored in part by the New Jersey Music Hall of Fame, an attraction expected to open in the near future that will include a museum encompassing artists from throughout the state in every musical genre, as well as musical inventions and the details of significant events in music history that took place in New Jersey. The LibertyJAM opened with three strong acts from the musically fertile Garden State.

With their roots in Scotch Plains and Carteret the Smithereens dominated rock radio in the 80's and 90's with a long string of guitar heavy power pop hits that we're gritty, blue-collar tales of life and love. The band, minus long-time bass player Mike Mesaros for this gig, turned the volume way as they presented a broad swath of their catalogue for those on hand. When guitar player Jim Babjak had to take a time-out to retune drummer Dennis Diken and sub bass-player, The Thrilla from Manilla, did an impromptu run through of The Doors' "Break on Thru" that was loose and daring. Heard during the band's fast paced presentation were "Behind the Wall of Sleep", "Drown in My Own Tears", "Yesterday Girl", "Especially For You", "Top of the Pops", and the popular set closer "Blood and Roses".

Liberty Jam Concert
The Smithereens blasted Jersey City with many of their hit songs!

New Jersey favorite-son Bruce Springsteen was performing 60 miles south in Homdel on this day with his Seeger Sessions band but his name and music were in the air. In addition to the classic cover by Patti Smith, the Boss's own Born to Run album was previewed during one of the day's set changes. Long-time Jersey-via-Virginia rocker John Eddie has always been considered a bit overshadowed by the Rumson Rocker. But John gets the last laugh in his rocking song about turning forty. During the tune John reminds the listener that he was forty years old when Springsteen was 56, implying that his own time still might be coming. Clad in jeans and a blue plaid flannel shirt, John Eddie and his band rocked through a set of tight, guitar heavy tunes that were at times humorous and often engaging. He got the crowd to stand and sing along during his set closing "Low Life" which he jokingly said fulfilled a festival fantasy of his.

Liberty Jam Concert
New Jersey rocker John Eddie fulfilled a fantasy while entertaining the fans!

A band that Springsteen is a known fan of - having shared the stage with them on several rock bills in recent years - opened the show promptly at 12 P.M. as the rain came down. Exit 105 put on a passionate set of hard rockers and guitar based songs that revealed that the boss might be right about these guys. With a sound that is reminiscent of Seattle merged with the spirit of the Jersey shore this five-piece outfit from Long Branch won a lot of accolades for their energetic performance that proved new and great music still thrives in New Jersey - and also that these guys belonged on this bill!

Liberty Jam Concert
Long Branch's Exit 105 proved that there is still great music emerging from New Jersey!

LibertyJAM featured a colorful range of New Jersey artists, national acts and non-profit organizations. Their vision to expand Liberty State Park's role in the region is a good cause. Perhaps, more concerts and events will bring attention to LSP and raise funds for on-going improvements. Just as masses of immigrants came to Ellis Island throughout history, hopefully future festivals will see flocks of fans arriving to enjoy the historic park, music and more.

Liberty Jam Concert
New York City rises as the backdrop for the first annual LibertyJAM!

Related Links: For more information on Liberty Jam and the other organizations mentioned please visit the following links -- Liberty State Park | Cheap Trick | George Clinton | Los Lobos | Patti Smith | The Fab Faux | The Smithereens | John Eddie

(Originally Published on June 26, 2006)

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