If you are of a certain age, you may remember a night spot from your youth, maybe a bar tucked above a bowling alley, where bands played and young people did some drinking and dancing to popular songs covered by bands with good drummers and decent vocalists. It was a simple formula and good fun.
We’re all older than that now, and lots of those night spots have been lost to changing entertainment tastes (and tougher drunk driving laws) and many of those bands have been replaced by DJs and fancy sound systems. But not all. The other night we checked out the General’s Quarters, the restaurant and bar tucked in above the Trenton/Mercer Airport, and listened to a few sets by Sunset Boulevard. It’s the old formula, and – we are happy to report – it still works.
In front of a decent-sized after dinner crowd that was in the 40-plus age bracket, Sunset Boulevard had folks dancing to everything from Chicago to various Motown artists to the Beatles. With no cover charge and reasonably priced drinks, this was a night out that felt like the summer of ’65, at the Jacinta Lounge above the Rainbow Garden Bowling Alley in Endwell, New York.
And, as a subsequent phone call to lead guitarist Joe Cleveland revealed, this was no accident. "We put this band together with two things people always ask about bands: Can they sing and is the drummer any good? Everyone in this band had to pass a vocal audition. We have five different people who get to sing. Our rhythm section is very heavy with the bass and the congas adding beats on measures 1 and 3, while the drummer hits measures 2 and 4. The younger bands just don’t get that kind of sound."
Cleveland’s dating himself but that’s okay. The "baby in the band" is vocalist Eileen Dillion, in her early 40s, who works for the state Judiciary Department. The others have also been around: Cleveland is a sales manager for a metal stamping company. Ray Ruiz teaches school in Monroe. Skip Heinz is a retired Monroe teacher. Pete Macor sells cars. Louie Diaz writes mortgages for a North Jersey bank. And Steve Trautner is a computer systems manager in north Jersey.
While the band has a broad repertoire ("we once did a country and western wedding and we also performed a Latin night," Cleveland reports), the band knows its core audience.
"We emphasize the music that we grew up with in high school and college," says Cleveland. Sunset Boulevard fans are often "people in their 40s to mid-60s whose kids are off to college and want to have some fun again. A lot of people are ready to forget that they’re older, a little heavier, or whatever," says Cleveland, choosing words that could apply equally to the band. "They just want to enjoy the music they used to enjoy."
Sunset Boulevard, www.sunsetblvdband.com. Upcoming dates:
Friday and Saturday, July 29 and 30, 9:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m., The Willows Restaurant, 1013 Washington Avenue, Green Brook, 732-968-2739. Also August 26 and 27.
Saturday, August 13, 1 to 5 p.m., Jamesburg Fair, Main Street, Jamesburg.
Saturday, September 3, 9:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m., General’s Quarters, Trenton/Mercer Airport, 609-883-4747.