Corrections or additions?

(This article by Richard J. Skelly was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper

on December 2, 1998. All rights reserved.)

At the Old Bay, the Harps Play for a Cause

Harmonica players from around the Garden State will

converge on the Old Bay Restaurant in New Brunswick Saturday, December

5, for the Old Bay’s Eighth Annual Soup Kitchen Benefit. This year,

the annual event will bring together Kevin McGowan of Bordentown,

Rob Paparozzi of Cranford, and Tom Foran of South River, among other

top blues harmonica or "harp" players, to raise funds for

the Elijah’s Promise Soup Kitchen of New Brunswick.

Kevin Williams, general manager at the Old Bay, says the genesis of

the annual Elijah’s Promise benefit was in 1991 when restaurant

employees

saw the underprivileged lining up for a meal at the soup kitchen a

few doors from the Old Bay on lower Church Street.

"We would see the people lining up outside our restaurant for

their daily meal, and we decided this would be a good way for the

Old Bay to get involved in the community, to be good neighbors and

to give something back to the city of New Brunswick," says

Williams.

Since 1991 Elijah’s Promise has moved to larger quarters at 18 Neilson

Street, and the soup kitchen now serves two meals a day, Williams

proudly notes. Aside from his stress-filled, 80-hour-a-week job as

general manager and entertainment booker at the Old Bay, Williams

also sits on the board for Elijah’s Promise.

Williams notes that Elijah’s Promise has recently launched a program

called Promise’s Jobs, a job training program that conducts restaurant

training for about 15 students four times a year. The needy receive

training in basic culinary skills that eventually will help them land

a restaurant or catering service job.

"We’ve had several of their interns here and have hired a couple

of people," Williams says.

The annual benefit began in 1991 with local jazz singer Hollis

Donaldson.

In 1992, having switched over to a mostly blues format at the club,

the Old Bay hosted a reunion of The Hounds, a popular 1980s blues

band co-founded by longtime area guitarist and singer Fred Fry and

the Princeton-raised bassist, singer and guitarist Castle Browne.

In their heyday, the Hounds played clubs from New York’s Village Gate

to New Hope’s John & Peter’s.

"The Hounds reunion was such a huge success, we decided to make

the soup kitchen benefit an annual event," Williams explains.

Since then, the Old Bay has hosted the Weepers or the Castle Browne

Band every year. For the last three years, Williams has invited Garden

State harp players to come in and showcase their skills in a

"harp-off,"

while accompanied by the Castle Browne Band.

Williams began booking jazz bands at the Old Bay in 1989, and switched

to blues almost exclusively in 1990. Since then, the Old Bay has

carved

out a national reputation as a tour stop for touring blues and zydeco

acts. Musicians and groups who have performed there since 1990 include

Frankie Lee, Sonny Rhodes, Johnny "Clyde" Copeland, Sonny

Landreth, Jimmy Johnson, Debbie Davies, Long John Hunter, Chubby

Carrier,

C.J. Chenier, Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Cha’s, Terrence Simien, the

Holmes Brothers, Lonnie Shields, Luther "Guitar Jr." Johnson,

Matt Murphy, Lazy Lester, William Clarke, Big Mike Griffin, Big Jack

Johnson, Duke Robillard, Jimmy Thackery and Shemekia Copeland, among

dozens of others.

"All proceeds from this night go directly to Elijah’s Promise,

and we think our $8 donation request isn’t that much to pay to hear

four or five harmonica players," Williams says. "Last year

we collected $1,500 and gave the soup kitchen a check for $2,000.

In 1996 we raised about $1,700 for them."

In past years during this event, the harmonica playing would get quite

frenzied and energetic, as three and four harmonica players would

get on stage with their own microphones and amps. Rob Paparozzi, who’s

been playing since the late 1960s and is the dean of harmonica players

in New Jersey, can be heard on several television commercials, most

notably, one that aired last year for Mercedes Benz.

"I think it’s great that the musicians have come through every

year and donated their time when they could be out earning money on

a Saturday night," Williams says.

— Richard J. Skelly

Elijah’s Promise Harp-Off, Old Bay Restaurant, 61-63

Church

Street, New Brunswick, 732-246-3111. Donation $8. Saturday,

December

5, 10 p.m.


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