Editor’s Note: U.S. 1 has begun its search for the band to perform at the second annual U.S. 1 Breakdown Party, Friday, October 6, the grand finale of the Greater Princeton Chamber of Commerce Trade Fair at the Westin Forrestal. The public is invited – save the date. We like to call it Princeton’s biggest cocktail party!
If you had told P. Casey Barish in 1986 that in 20 years she would be performing country blues in a band in New Jersey, she would have laughed in your face. Back then the singer was touring all over Texas and beyond in a band that performed pop and rock along the lines of Madonna and Van Halen. "Then," she says in her transplanted Texan accent, "Country was, like, funny!"
Now, two decades and hundreds of miles away from her life as a full-time professional musician, country music means more to Barish. "There’s a big difference between singing `Like a Virgin’ and `Love Me Like a Man," she says. Her most recent project has her performing in a down-home country blues ensemble called Casey and the Broken Hearts.
Perhaps Barish learned a thing or two about the blues on the road. Originally from Arizona, she moved to Texas "without a real plan" and started touring in when she was in her 20s. She spent a large part of this time traveling between Fort Worth and Nashville, Tennessee. According to Barish, these travels helped her become "close to the source of country."
Reconnected is more likely. Barish comes from a family of musicians. Her mother is a pianist who also sings, as do her sisters. Her father could woo women over a campfire with his guitar. Closest to the country tradition, though, were her grandparents. Granny played banjo and Granddad played fiddle as the children did jigs on the living room floor in Missouri. Now Barish, 42, and the rest of the Broken Hearts perform a set list of traditional country that includes Steve Earl, Bonnie Raitt, and Kasey Chambers.
The night we caught them at the Hopewell Inn and Bistro, guitarist Bill Flemer (horticulture and landscaping consultant by day) and bassist Mark Hill (who works in real estate and property management) opened with a beautifully rendered country ballad, setting the stage for a laid-back night filled with friendly conversation.
Barish sang the second song of the evening, "Easy From Now On," (Carlene Clark, Emmylou Harris), her sweet, plaintive voice earning enthusiastic support from the crowd in the bar section of the inn. A mix of blue-collar and office types trying to unwind from a rough week, they swayed and clapped along the music, beers in hand. The third tune, Bob Dylan’s "Don’t Think Twice," introduced the lyrical harmonica of Guy Derosa. Over the course of the evening, Derosa was a featured player, offering sweet, lyrical melodies as well as hot and sleazy harmonica solos that one would expect at a Chicago blues show. Later I was surprised to find that he is a college professor who teaches sociology and political science at Mercer Country Community College. He also teaches Tai Chi.
P. Casey Barish is the owner, proprietor and zen master of Studio Zen in Hopewell, a wellness studio that offers over 40 classes a week in everything from baby yoga to belly dancing to something called Nia, a dance fusion, mind-body fitness experience. The "SZen" is where Barish connected with the Broken Hearts. Derosa wanted to bring the band to the studio, and Barish agreed, joking that in return, they would let her sing with the group. Derosa took her up on the offer, and they have been rehearsing as a group since March.
The Broken Hearts offer a no-frills, no-pressure evening of musicians from all walks of life who enjoy making music together and for others. Barish sums up her reasons for performing: "It’s always so much more fun when people come out and enjoy what you’re doing."
Barish fronts the Broken Hearts in a manner much different from the touring rock-star hopeful she used to be, but this heartfelt and honest crooner is not
Casey and the Broken Hearts, 609-466-7787, www.caseyandthebrokenhearts.com. Upcoming date: Friday, July 21, outdoors at the Hopewell Gazebo, (rain date July 23), 7 p.m.