The Bongos are, from left, James Mastro, Frank Giannini, Richard Barone, Rob Norris and Issyra Gallery. (PHOTO BY DEBRA L. ROTHENBERG)

By DIEGO JESUS BARTESAGHI MENA
bartesaghi@montclairlocal.news

Montclair’s Outpost in the Burbs will return to in-person concerts for the first time in the coronavirus pandemic this month, when the New Jersey-based Bongos come to the  Van Vleck House and Gardens on Sunday, Sept. 19.

It’ll additionally be the first time in the pandemic the pop-alternative band has played to a live, in-person audience.

“It also becomes like a new experience again, because I’ve felt isolated,” lead singer Richard Barone told Montclair Local. “I’ve been in the music business in some way since age 7, always in front of people in some way performing, and to have been cut off like that for so long has made me very isolated as a musician, because I play for people.” 




Barone has done some virtual concerts without the rest of The Bongos, but said it hasn’t been the same: The energy a live audience projects influences how a musician plays.

“So, this is the first time now in front of people again for all of us,” Barone said. “It’s very exciting to have the music reunited with the audience.” 

The Bongos last performed live in February 2020. There were talks among bandmates to play virtually as a group, but nothing panned out.

James Mastro, The Bongos’ guitarist, is also excited to be reunited with the audience and his fellow musicians in this upcoming concert. 

“For The Bongos, we pretty much had to put everything on hold,” Mastro said. “Everyone in the band, we all don’t live near each other. We are kind of scattered. So, even trying to do a virtual band thing would have been difficult.” 

During this past year, Mastro has been writing and recording with other artists at Montclair-based studio Magic Door Recording, which kept him in contact with people on a smaller scale.

The full band, he said, will appreciate “coming out from something that was so unknown to all of us. None of us have ever experienced anything like this before. To be able to come out of it and do something that you love with people that you love is very special. And hopefully the audience feels the same way.” 

Barone has been working on other projects as well. He has been working on a book about the history of music in Greenwich Village in the 1960s, and its influence on the history of American music. Barone has also been teaching at The New School in New York City about the same topic.

Barone said the audience can expect a celebration at the upcoming concert.

“We love making records, but really, The Bongos honestly were always best on stage. So, this has been a missing element for us, individually and as a group,” he said.

The Bongos will have some surprises for longtime fans. The lineup will include songs the band has never played live before, first recorded in the 1980s. Mastro declined to say which songs — “I don’t want to give anything away.”

The Bongos will also perform songs from their newly rereleased album, “Beat Hotel.” The original version was released in 1985; the expanded version has 12 bonus tracks of demos recorded in Hoboken. They’ll perform songs from their “lost album,” “Phantom Train,” recorded between 1985 and 1986 at Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas and released in 2013. 

“We are all looking forward to being there. We really are,” Barone said. “We feel very close to the community in Montclair and are really happy to be reunited. That’s really the main point.” 

For Outpost, the resumption of in-person concerts has been a long time coming.

“People have been isolated,” Gail Prusslin, head of promotion and marketing for Outpost, said. “Some people have been sick and suffered tragedies in their lives. As a community that loves music and presents music, we know how beneficial that is to one’s emotional health. And we are really happy to bring people together and in a way that we feel is as safe as possible given the current situation.” 

The concert will be outdoors at the Van Vleck House and Gardens. If it rains, the concert will be moved to the First Congregational Church.

In July, Outpost announced it will require its patrons to show proof of vaccination (a vaccine card, a photocopy or a photo of a card, or a record in an app such as New Jersey’s Docket or New York’s Excelsior Pass). A negative COVID-19 test won’t be accepted. Face coverings will be required for entry, but will be optional once seated during the show. Those rules even apply to outdoor shows, such as the concert at Van Vleck.

“People can bring chairs and they can bring food,” Prusslin said. “We will not be selling food or water or refreshments. We are mindful to prevent too much gathering.”

The Outpost chose The Bongos for their history as a band and the impact they’ve had in New Jersey and throughout the music industry, Prusslin said.

“They are an iconic, quintessential New Jersey band and they [have an] upbeat, positive vibe,” Prusslin said. “Their music is fun. Their music builds community. It’s a very uplifting and joyful sound. And again, is this feeling of having optimism during a tough time and having people together after a long time away from each other. So, that seems like a great fit for reopening.” 

Tickets for this show are on sale and can be purchased via TicketLeap at outpostintheburbs.org