August 14, 2019

Local Woodstock Tribute Concert Features Community-Minded Musicians

MUSIC FOR A CAUSE: Einstein Alley Musicians Collaborative board of directors members (from left) Paul Bejgrowicz, Helen O’Shea, Robert Freeman, Garry Pearsall, and Drew Turock, perform at last year’s Music for Moore concert, which raises money for the Elks-run Camp Moore in Haskell, a camp for youths with special needs. This year’s concert is October 19 at 5 p.m. at the Elks Lodge in Blawenburg. 

By Wendy Greenberg

The musicians at the Woodstock 50th Anniversary Tribute Concert this Saturday have played for countless Princeton area residents who enjoy the locally-produced music at events like Saturday’s upcoming show at the Community Park North Amphitheater.

But what many don’t know is that members of the Einstein Alley Musicians Collaborative (EAMC) volunteer their time all year, supporting organizations like the Elks-run Camp Moore for youths with special needs, and at nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, the Menlo Park Veterans Memorial Home, and libraries, where music is always welcome.

The August 17, 5 p.m. Woodstock tribute event, held on the weekend of the original festival, is co-sponsored by the
Princeton Public Library, Princeton Record Exchange, and the Princeton Recreation Department. (In case of rain, the event will be held in the library’s Community Room.)

In addition to playing together, EAMC musicians are learning from each other. The membership is made up of music lovers and performers of all ages and levels, said board member Helen O’Shea, a vocalist with the group. “We create a safe space for all performers to try out new material in front of a supportive audience,” she said. “We organize both regular events and special events throughout the year.”

The collective, which has more than 500 members, started in 2011 when Steven Georges and Kathy Haynie started a small group to bring area musicians together to collaborate, said O’Shea, who joined in 2012. 

As the group grew, said board member Paul Bejgrowicz, a guitarist and vocalist, an early regular open mic event was with the Princeton Elks, which introduced the musicians to Camp Moore in Haskell. And, eventually, some musicians created their own bands with others they met in the group.

“The group includes beginners to semi-professionals,” said Bejgrowicz, “It’s all about sharing and learning from each other.” Garry Pearsall, Robert Freeman, and Drew Turock round out the board with Bejgrowicz and O’Shea. 

Members of the group were enthused about Camp Moore, where they play every summer for the campers, said Bejgrowicz. A fifth annual Music for Moore will be held at the Princeton Elks Lodge October 19 at 5 p.m., said O’Shea, who produces that event. To date, she said, “we have supported between seven and nine children per year at a cost of $500 for each child with one-on-one care at Camp Moore.” Proceeds from a Pete Seeger tribute went to the Sourland Conservancy and Hopewell Watershed Institute.

Meanwhile, Bejgrowicz has established open mic nights at Hopewell United Methodist Church, on the first Friday of each month, from 7 to 10 p.m. The group has added a coffeehouse at Hopewell United Methodist Church, on the second Sunday, of each month from 2 to 5 p.m., hosted by O’Shea and featuring an artist each month.

“The church has been supportive, providing some music equipment and lighting, and members have provided refreshments,” Bejgrowicz said.

Bejgrowicz started playing just five years ago. His job as director, HR project management and operations at New York Presbyterian Hospital, honed his organizational skills, and the music gave him “an avenue to pursue my artistic side. It’s a great outlet,” he said. “There are all types of people in the group, people who want to be musicians and people who will not be professionals but are just enjoying it.”

Moving from Montreal to Princeton with her family in 2011, Dr. Helen McNamara left her “day job” at McGill University Medical School and took a break from working to help the family settle into their new home. Her husband, Paul O’Shea, encouraged her to revisit her love of singing. She credits her vocal coaches with reigniting the passion of her youth. In June 2012, she walked into the Arts Council of Princeton, sang a couple of songs a capella, and joined the Einstein Alley Musicians Collaborative. She began performing with Jeff Friedman, Ed Hermann, Dennis Nobile, Pearsall, and Turock in various bands. She now has two bands that play locally: Shenanigans (songs of Ireland) and Helen O’Shea and The Shanakees, which she describes as Americana with a Celtic twist.

Pearson, an original member and board member, had sung and played rock music in the 1970s and 1980s. Then, he said, “I took about 30 years off.” After he had more time in his life, (although he runs a contracting business), “the urge to play again was building.” He said he did a simple search on a meet-up website for “acoustic music in the Princeton area” and found the collaborative.  He liked that people were having a good time.

Pearsall produced the Million Dollar Quartet tribute show with Princeton Library, when the show, Million Dollar Quartet, came to McCarter Theatre. According to Janie Hermann, library adult programming manager, “the library has supported and worked with the musicians in the collaborative from the very early days. We hosted some of their original meetings when they were in the organizing phase as well as some of their early open mic nights. One of the original bands to develop from the EAMC was Pi Fight, and for several years the library hosted them as part of the annual Pi Day in town and for our summer reading party. The collaborative did a really fun live trivia music trivia night for us back in 2012 on the theme of ‘One Hit Wonders.’”

More recently, EAMC musicians created an original show called Songs of Protest, Songs of Peace as part of the library’s programming to coincide with screening Ken Burns’ documentary of Vietnam well as a Motown Tribute that packed the plaza last fall for McCarter’s production of Detroit 67. Group musicians have performed as part of the “Listen Local” series, Hermann noted.

For the Woodstock show, three bands have put together a showcase, each led by an EAMC leader. The bands include So It Goes — with Garry Pearsall, Lisa Theodore, John Mazzeo, Laura Manfredi, Eric Heller, and Kathy Haynie; Crown Electric — with Paul Bejgrowicz, Barry Schoendorf, Cecilia Hetzer, Gary Appleby, and Jay Greenfield; and The Beagles — with Rob Freeman, Laura Manfredi, Steve Wolpert, David Ross, Vanessa Visconti, and Joy Okoye.  All bands and guest musicians will participate in the finale, “A Little Help from My Friends.”

And this fall, EAMC musicians will participate in the library’s “Here Be Dragons” on October 27 at 3 p.m., a live multimedia experience which will include music, poetry, and film.