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The "Hope Rises" Concert: Chris Pinnella LIVE! at the Grunin Center


By Spotlight Central, Photos by Love Imagery

originally published: 06/10/2023

The "Hope Rises" Concert: Chris Pinnella LIVE! at the Grunin Center

Music lovers stream into the Grunin Center auditorium in Toms River, NJ this Friday, June 2, 2023 evening for the third annual “Hope Rises” concert starring musician Chris Pinnella, former vocalist with The Trans-Siberian Orchestra. A fundraising event for Toms River’s Hope Center, tonight’s event features Pinnella performing the music of Billy Joel and Elton John.

Inside the Grunin Center lobby — located on the campus of Toms River’s Ocean County College — Hope Center Executive Director Amy VanBezooijen explains, “We are a non-profit organization which opened in 2008. We offer a full service client-choice food pantry; provide emergency shelter, rental/mortgage, and utility assistance; and administer transportation aid to Ocean County residents in need. In 2018, in celebration of our tenth anniversary, we started our ‘Hope Rises’ fundraising concert series with Chris Pinnella. Chris also performed at our 2019 event, but due to the pandemic, his 2020 show was postponed until tonight.”

The "Hope Rises" Concert: Chris Pinnella LIVE! at the Grunin Center

Chair of the Hope Center Board of Trustees, Liam O’Flynn, welcomes the crowd inside the Grunin Center auditorium to tonight’s event and introduces Chris Pinnella and his band — Ed Kurt and Jared Morris on guitars, Michael Gilch on piano, Gary Mazzaroppi on bass, Greg Grispart on woodwinds, John Martin on brass and clarinet, and Rich Zukor on drums.

Michael Gilch starts off the articulated piano intro to “Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)” as Chris Pinnella takes the stage. Singing “Seen the lights go out on Broadway/I saw the Empire State laid low,” Pinnella’s rich baritone fills the auditorium before the band joins in and guitars wail, horns blare, and drums beat on this 1976 Billy Joel rocker.

The "Hope Rises" Concert: Chris Pinnella LIVE! at the Grunin Center

The audience cheers, and Pinnella asks, “How’s everyone doing?” before announcing, “We’re gonna mash it up tonight with songs by Billy Joel and Elton John.” Moving on to another Billy Joel composition, “My Life,” Pinnella sings with feeling as heads bop in the audience and music lovers clap along on the piano interlude of this uptempo 1978 pop hit.

The "Hope Rises" Concert: Chris Pinnella LIVE! at the Grunin Center



 
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“Thank you for supporting the Hope Center, which does such great work in the community,” notes Pinnella before segueing into “Tiny Dancer.” His voice sounding smooth and legato in contrast to the rhythmic piano, bass, drums, and guitars, Pinnella has the audience join him in singing the “Hold me closer, tiny dancer/Count the headlights on the highway” chorus of this Elton John classic.

The crowd applauds, and Pinnella and Co. launch into “The Stranger.” Michael Gilch skillfully plays Billy Joel’s bluesy and melancholy piano part and John Martin aptly takes over the haunting melody on trumpet before the band kicks in. Heads bop to the irresistible groove of this 1977 album cut which has Pinnella demonstrating his vocal range.

The "Hope Rises" Concert: Chris Pinnella LIVE! at the Grunin Center

Following hoots and hollers, Pinnella tells the audience about how he once sang “songs written about space at a party for a man who had a flag that had been flown on the moon” before performing Elton John’s 1972 hit, “Rocket Man.” He also reveals, “Billy Joel said this next one was the fastest song he ever wrote because he was so inspired to be coming back to New York from Los Angeles,” as he begins the 1976 fan favorite, “New York State of Mind.” On this unique arrangement, Greg Grispart opens with the clarinet introduction from George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue prior to impressing the crowd with his tenor sax chops on an extended bebop-inspired solo.

Pinnella explains, “Billy Joel wrote this next song in the style of The Rolling Stones after having dinner with Mick Jagger and his wife, whom Billy didn’t like,” as he and the band segue into Joel’s 1978 hit, “Big Shot.” Ed Kurt and Jared Morris wail on guitars on this rocker which has Pinnella dancing to the music while conducting the band.

The "Hope Rises" Concert: Chris Pinnella LIVE! at the Grunin Center

Pinnella and Co. then segue into “I’m Still Standing” where the crowd happily sings the “Yeah, yeah, yeah” refrain on the chorus of this 1983 Elton John hit.

Following a short intermission, Michael Gilch plays the introduction to Elton John’s 1971 hit “Levon” on piano as Pinnella retakes the stage. Gary Mazzaroppi offers up quick and tasty bass lines on this rock ballad where Pinnella’s vocal is easy and relaxed as he sings, “And he shall be Levon/And he shall be a good man” to avid cheers and applause.

An audience member calls out “Awesome!” and Pinnella and crew perform “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song).” Sax and trumpet are perfectly articulated on this arrangement of the 1977 Billy Joel tune where Pinnella connects with the audience with a riveting performance as he hams it up with the musicians on the tune’s musical interlude.

The "Hope Rises" Concert: Chris Pinnella LIVE! at the Grunin Center



 
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Concertgoers cheer, and Pinnella announces, “We’re going to slow things down,” before delivering one of his best vocals of the night on Elton John’s “Your Song.” Crooning, “It’s a little bit funny/This feeling inside,” Pinnella’s rich tone is expertly framed by tight rhythm section playing anchored by Rick Zukor’s skilled drumming.

On the Billy Joel 52nd Street album cut, “Zanzibar,” Pinnella sings with emotion to the driving beat. Jazz harmonies ring out from the grand piano before Zukor’s drums pick up the tempo behind a quick and jazzy John Martin flugelhorn solo.

After Pinnella reveals, “I think this is Elton John’s best song. It’s a beautiful ode to New York City,” nearly all of his musicians leave the stage for “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters.” Pinnella’s pure voice floats across the theater supported solely by Michael Gilch’s orchestral piano accompaniment on this cut from the 1972 Elton John album, Honky Château.

Greg Grispart serenades the audience on saxophone during “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant.” The audience enjoys the sound of a Dixieland band before Pinnella tells the story of “Brenda and Eddie” on a spirited performance of this 1977 mini symphony by Billy Joel.

The "Hope Rises" Concert: Chris Pinnella LIVE! at the Grunin Center

Music lovers cheer and applaud for this crowd favorite before Pinnella takes a moment to recognize the work of House of Hope stating, “The amount of things they do is enormous. Thank you all for supporting them!”

Pinnella and Co. wrap up tonight’s “Hope Rises” concert with a poignant rendition of the 1974 Elton John classic, “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me,” before returning to the stage for a rhythmic rendition of Billy Joel’s “River of Dreams.” Rich Zukor starts off this 1993 Top 5 hit with a strong tom-tom beat and Pinnella dances and claps as he vocalizes the song’s “In the middle of the night/I go walking in my sleep” lyric.

The "Hope Rises" Concert: Chris Pinnella LIVE! at the Grunin Center

Audience members stand and dance as Pinnella pops into his falsetto with ease on this crowd pleaser which has the entire audience on its feet. Pinnella says, “Thank you so much for coming out tonight!” and the band bows together at the show’s conclusion.

As music lovers make their way out of the Grunin Center auditorium, several comment on tonight’s performance by Chris Pinnella. Whereas Kathy from Toms River remarks, “I loved it! I enjoyed Chris Pinnella’s performance immensely!” Peter from Toms River recalls, “I saw both of the previous ‘Hope Rises’ concerts so I already knew about Chris’s fantastic voice and that he always surrounds himself with an excellent group of musicians.”

The "Hope Rises" Concert: Chris Pinnella LIVE! at the Grunin Center

Bruce from Parsippany reveals, “This was probably the 30th time I’ve seen Chris perform. I’ve been following him for years, but this was the first time I heard him do songs by Elton John, and it was a lot of fun!” Mary from Toms River agrees, calling Pinnella’s performance tonight “Wonderful!” and explaining “Chris is a great performer! He’s a lot of fun and has good energy!”

Sandee from Brick calls tonight’s show “Fabulous!” revealing, “Chris Pinnella is awesome — I’m a fan!” and wondering, “How could anyone not have fun tonight?” Josh from Toms River calls Chris Pinnella’s performance “Great!” noting, “I especially liked the energy at the end,” before singer Tyler Ricker from Toms River concludes by declaring, “He’s a hell of a showman! He and his band were so tight they were smokin’!”

The "Hope Rises" Concert: Chris Pinnella LIVE! at the Grunin Center



 
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To learn more about Chris Pinnella, click on chrispinnella.com. For more info and/or to donate to the Hope Center, please go to houseofhopeocean.org. Lastly, to find out about upcoming performances at Toms River’s Grunin Center — including The Great Rock and Roll Time Machine on June 23 and Judy Collins on September 10 — please navigate to grunincenter.org.

Photos by Love Imagery

Spotlight Central. Your source for Jersey entertainment news and reviews

Love Imagery Fine Art Photography. all you need. peace/love/flower/power


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