(BRICK, NJ -- AUGUST 10, 2014) -- "If I knew this would be so much fun, I would have done it years ago!" said Tommy Strazza during a break between songs at his CD Release Party. His big night was not held in a club, as is usually done, but took place at Rosie's Cafe, the name for the house concerts held by Brenda Wirth. These intimate (generally restricted to 25 attendees) gatherings are not only wonderful shows for music lovers, but offer artists the opportunity to have an audience that truly listens to every song -- something that is rare during club shows.
Tommy started off by playing every track from his new release, "Songs From The Escape", in the order they appear on the CD. The set included guest performances by Deirdre Forrest, Michael Askin, and Jerzy Jung -- all artists found on the CD. Performing on an acoustic guitar, the venue and the acoustics were a perfect fit.
In addition to the three artists who performed with him that night, Tommy had the support of numerous artists on the record including Gerry Rosenthal (Big Wake), Anjelia, Peter Horvath (The Anderson Council), and Bob Hart (Claire and the Reasons). Post-production experts Erik Kace Romero, Arlan Feiles, Mike Strazza and 2014 Grammy Winner, Tom Ruff, all worked on the release. "I literally got by with a little help (ok, a lot of help) from my friends," said Strazza.
After finishing the 10-track album, there was a short break in which the audience got to mingle, and enjoy some food or drink. This sense of community is one of the best aspects of a house concert. Attendees are encouraged to bring food or beverages to be shared among the room. It's a great way to meet new people who generally share a love of the same music with you.
Tommy's second set included older songs from his catalog including "Detour" (a personal favorite of mine), "Dinerrall's Song" (which was preceded by the backstory of how Tommy learned the true story of Dinerrall from a 60 Minutes report), and "The Best Day Of My Life" (one of, if not the oldest, songs ever written by Strazza.)
In addition to his own songs, the second set included a few covers by some of Tommy's favorite artists like Prince ("Purple Rain") and Pete Townshend ("Let My Love Open The Door"). Knowing that Tommy regularly plays in a Beatles tribute band (Hey Bulldog), Brenda asked if he could play one of their tunes and he responded with a beautiful version of "In My Life".
A nice surprise in the second set was a pair of songs done with Anthony Walker. Tommy was a member of Anthony's band for a few years and Anthony designed the cover art for "Songs From The Escape".
Having seen Tommy Strazza perform live several times, I can't recall ever seeing him as comfortable on stage. He regularly told stories about the inspirations behind the songs and the album's creation. It's a record full of songs of heartbreak, inspired by real pain, and that pain clearly comes across in songs like "Sunday" (my favorite on the release). One song, however, goes a bit against the grain. It's called "Love's Got Nothing To Do With What's About To Go Down Between You And Me" and it's about having rebound sex with the woman who lives in the apartment across the hall as you. What made the story even better was having it told with Tommy's parent's both listening in the front row!
"I didn't expect for them to be in the front row," said Tommy. "Today you have become a man" replied Brenda from the hall.
Another great story was how the album got made in the first place. With limited funds, Tommy didn't expect to be able to afford recording time in a studio. While rehearsing in his van one night, he learned that his van's acoustic actually created a pretty good recording. Thus, Tommy's Great 2003 Ford Escape (parked in many undisclosed yet scenic locations) was the primary recording studio!
House concerts have become a great way for musicians to add shows, both in their local area and while touring across the country. It's a way to tear down the walls between artists and their fans, and allow them to meet and actually talk to one another.
"My favorite part is being able to share live music in my home with my friends, and seeing the contented and happy faces in the audience" said Brenda Wirth. "I love being able to do a little something to help out touring musicians; to make their life on the road a little more comfortable."
Tommy has been an active member of the local music scene for most of the past decade, both as a solo performer and through work with several bands (Hey Bulldog, Okra Winfrey, G-Man Syndicate) and fellow artists (Anjelia, Emily Grove, Michael Askin, and the aforementioned Anthony Walker. His last album ("The Model Citizen L.P") was nominated for "Top Local Release" in the 2010 Asbury Music Awards. While he didn't win, he did take home the "Top Guitarist" award the following year.
For more information on Tommy Strazza visit http://tommystrazza.com/
Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.