Jump Back at Whiskey & Virtue in Morristown May 7, 2023
Blues music is an American standard genre dating back decades to the 1890s. Tradition has kept up as many blues artists still have careers today that began many years ago. However, in some areas, blues has not been preserved as well as others. One of those areas is Northern New Jersey, where a new organization strives to put this once-widely regarded genre back into the cities and towns of Morris and other northern counties. This organization is the North Jersey Blues Society, and since its founding in winter 2022, has hosted many events within the North Jersey community seeking to spread awareness of the genre.
Cristy Benvenutti is the founder of the society and serves as the board president of the nonprofit organization. As a lifelong appreciator of blues music and former member of the Hudson Valley (New York) Blues Society, she knew that she wanted to bring that same concept to New Jersey, where it had been tested in the past but never gained significant traction.
“One of these [previous] organizations was called Skylands Blues Society,” Benvenutti said. “There was also the New Jersey Blues Alliance. “They did not really sustain themselves, but we’ve been trying to get ours up and running.”
There are about 100 individual members in the society, which includes solo artists, bands and groups. All of these members get benefits such as free or discounted entry into blues events and first access to upcoming blues competitions and concerts hosted by the society. Benvenutti said that obtaining a membership is simple and can be done right from the society’s website.
“We have individual membership as low as $25 and bands at about $50,” Benvenutti said. “We also have sponsors as well.”
The organization has a monthly residency at two venues – The Montclair Brewing Company (101 Walnut Street, Montclair) and Whiskey and Virtue (4 John Street, Morristown). These two performance areas host artists from the society one weekend day each month, rotating through the extensive repertoire that the members of the society have to offer.
The Johnny Charles Band at the Montclair Brewery. (Photo courtesy of Cristy Benvenutti )
Johnny Charles has been a member of the society for about eight months. The veteran performer has been around the industry for over 50 years, even touring up and down the East Coast at one point and signing a record deal. Ever since joining the society, Charles has gotten improved gigs and has noticed his music start to gain some traction again like it did many years ago.
“It’s gotten me into a couple more venues and also advertise my gigs,” he said. “I also appreciate getting the latest blues news. It’s been helpful.”
In addition to hosting the monthly residencies at the venues in Montclair and Morristown, North Jersey Blues Society also partners with The Blues Foundation, a national organization and governing body of the music genre, to participate in the yearly Blues competition that crowns a winner from all over the country. The regional round to name North Jersey Blues Society’s representative at the national finals will be held June 17 at The Stanhope House (45 Main Street, Stanhope) from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“We will send the winner as a representative to compete in the competition,” Benvenutti said. “And then the winners, obviously, get a lot of visibility and promotion so it helps the winner.”
One group that will be involved in this competition is The Outcrops, who have been together since 2017. They have been a member of the society since the beginning of this calendar year and are excited to perform at the Stanhope House event.
“We were very excited to be a part of the Blues Society show hosted at Crossroads, opening up for Junior Watson & Dean Shot,” lead singer Cassidy Rain said. “We respect them immensely, and listening to them play was a treat! Otherwise, we are new to the New Jersey Blues Society, but appreciate the access to a community of musicians and supporters of blues and blues-influenced music.”
The New Watchdog Blues Band at Whiskey & Virtue in Morristown June 4, 2023
There are also other events that the organization participates in throughout the year. From June 23-25, society artists will play at the Rock, Ribs and Ridges Festival at the Sussex County Fairgrounds (37 Plains Road, Augusta). The rock and barbecue festival is in its 13th year.
For Charles, his band has many performances listed on the society’s website, including dates throughout June at venues in South Orange and Chester. He credits the society for getting him into some of these venues that he was not previously booking.
“It is definitely better and it is always a lot of work, but there is a certain percentage that being involved with them helps,” Charles said. “Because they get your name spread around quite a bit.”
In just over a year and a half, Benvenutti has gotten this organization off the ground with quite a few members. But she has ambitious plans for where the society could go in just a few years after all grant paperwork is filed.
“I hope to have a scholarship established for future educational purposes regarding the promotion of blues music,” she said. “I really hope to have more of an educational path, too.”
As her organization continues to grow, so will the number of artists and so will the number of their bookings. Another thing Benvenutti is sure about is finding a third venue to host their artists. She’s looking, but if one approached her, she would be more than happy to take the offer.
“[If a venue approached us] that would be wonderful. We’re always trying to find new venues that we can partner with.”