Jersey Beat Music Fanzine

Story and photos by Jim Testa

The first North Jersey Indie Rock Fest certainly accomplished what it set out to do. The all-day event, held on September 10, showcased the rosters of the festival's two sponsoring record labels, Mint 400 and Sniffling Indie Kids. In the process, it helped debut a new concert space in Jersey City called Cathedral Hall, a former Roman Catholic monastery.

Were there problems? Sure. The sound left much to be desired, given that Cathedral Hall's two floors consist of an echoey vaulted cathedral and a boxey basement rec room with no soundproofing or dampening. Formerly St. Bridget's, one of five Jersey City Catholic churches that were closed in 2014, Cathedral Hall boasts breathtaking classic architecture, stainglass windows, a still functional pipe organ, and the original altars and ornamentation. Like St. Michael's Monastery, my childhood parish in nearby Union City, the church represents an irreplaceable landmark that the Catholic Church simply decided it couldn't afford to maintain anymore in the face of declining attendance (not to mention the cash shortfall the Church experienced after paying out millions in settlements to the victims of its pedophile priests.)

But I digress. While it's an undeniably gorgeous piece of architecture, the building needs a few things - more plumbing and better ventilation top the list - if Jersey City's Fourth Street Arts organization (which currently leases the site) hopes to succeed in turning this into a new arts center for the community. (There are rumors that the building might be sold to developers in 2017, in which case it's a foregone conclusion that it will be demolished to build upscale condos.) The building certainly deserves more respect than that, but given Jersey City real estate trends, it's hard to believe such a prime piece of property will go undeveloped.

But let's hope for the best. As a test run, the North Jersey Indie Rock Festival proved that Cathedral Hall does have enormous potential. The 20-band show, which lasted from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m., ran like clockwork, with bands alternating between the upstairs and downstairs stages. The healthy sized crowd (about 300 paid, with another 200 representing guests, press, and the bands themselves) that turned out for the event didn't seem to mind the Porta-Potties or the humid heat; the final two bands of the night, Hightstown's "fuzz-pop" foursome YJY and New Brunswick jangle-rockers Sink Tapes, received as enthusiastic reponse as the bands who had played earlier in the day.

Neil Sabatino of Mint 400 Records and Frank DeFranco of Sniffling Indie Kids Records organized the festival largely because they felt that the bands on their rosters weren't being invited to perform at similar events in the Garden State, like Don Giovanni Records' New Alternative Music Festival taking place next weekend in Asbury Park. (You can read my pre-fest interview with them here.)

Limiting the 20-band festival to those two labels' rosters created its own shortcomings. Geographically, if you draw a line through New Jersey, north and south would cut off somewhere around Trenton. But New Brunswick - which has a historied music scene of its own, and is home to many Mint 400 and Sniffling Indie bands - traditionally isn't thought of as "North Jersey." And unfortunately, neither label has bands from Jersey City or Hoboken, which certainly would have helped the festival's draw.

Diversity also proved an unspoken issue; New Brunswick's Dollys have a female lead singer, and Maryland's excellent Underlined Passages has a black drummer, but otherwise we're talking a whole lot of white dudes playing electric guitars. That's an issue that probably didn't become apparent until all these bands were together in one place, but it's certainly something that can be easily addressed should be there be another NJIRF next year. (For the record, the co-ed The Ones & Nines was not available for this event, and Mint 400 has had several LGBT-friendly bands on its roster in the past. This is meant as a comment, not an accusation.)

Sabatino and DeFranco's own bands, Fairmont and NGHTCRWLRS, represented their labels well with two of the standout performances of the day. Sink Tapes, who closed the show, for me had the most original and memorable take on "indie rock" of the day, with the Dollys, the Clydes, and Underlined Passages also standing out. I enjoyed the Bitter Chills' more Americana take on the genre, with acoustic instrumentation including mandolin, and New Brunswick's Rocky & the Chapter provided a muscular example of Hub City rock (ala' Gaslight Anthem.)

Members of the local music press (including myself, Makin' Waves' Bob Makin, "Cool Dad" Jim Appio, and SIMGE's Mike Mehalick) were invited to the festival to introduce the acts and share a few thoughts, and other local music media (like You Don't KNow Jersey, Jersey Indie, and the Aquarian) acted as sponsors. Glenn Morrow of Hoboken's Bar/None Records turned out to check out the proceedings as well. Of course, I'm far from objective, but I endorse the idea of getting the people who actually write about unsigned and indie-label bands in the state involved.

With the death of the Hoboken Music Awards, something like the North Jersey Indie Rock Festival offers a much-needed shot-in-the-arm for the area's music scene, and it was heartening to see most of the bands stick around all day and support their peers. That's an important first step in building a community of musicians, media, promoters, and labels... or what, in a better world, we might call a "scene."


A Look at Cathedral Hall


Montclair's LKFFCT on the downstairs stage

NGHTCRWLER on the upstairs stage


Sink Tapes

Mike Mehalick and Bob Makin

back to l back to top is an independently published music fanzine covering punk, alternative, ska, techno and garage music, focusing on New Jersey and the Tri-State area. For the past 25 years, the Jersey Beat music fanzine has been the authority on the latest upcoming bands and a resource for all those interested in rock and roll.

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Music Fanzine - Jersey Beat