BIRDIES CELEBRATE 40TH ANNIVERSARY
So the world was waiting. And The Birdies were waiting. And in the end, it finally happened. The Dirdy Birdies Jug Band's 40th Anniversary Concert took place at Montclair State University on October 8, 2005.
Yep, 40 years after we started this thing of ours, 40 years after a bunch of us met on the campus nestled in the hills of Essex County, The Birdies were invited back to perform at our alma mater for Alumni/Homecoming weekend. Although the weather left lots to be desired, it certainly didn't dampen the spirits of the band, family members, or the special guests who came from far and wide to attend the festivities.
Of course,the biggest thrill for long-time Birdies and Birdie fans alike was the fact that the ORIGINAL BIRDIES (OBs in gangsta parlance) were together, on stage, for the first time in more than 35 years.
More anthropological research will certainly have to be done in order to confirm the fact, but it was probably sometime in 1969 when Barbara Brummer, Rich Fedorchak, Dick Finn, Joe Kloza, Tony Muller and Jack Pignatello appeared together doing that inimitable Dirdy Birdies' thing we do that has thrilled audiences on both sides of the Atlantic since 1965.
In addition to the current lineup of non-OB Birdies,
including guitarist and concert master Jeff Bleeke (also a Montclair State grad), mandolin player Rick Gedney, and banjo player Chuck Winch, the newest Birdie made his debut on that memorable afternoon as Clarence Ferrari added his very tasty fiddle playing to the mix.
And a couple of old friends made special appearances as well.
When Barbara took a few years off to have babies, another Montclair State friend stepped in to play bass and sing. Donna Agnoli was her name, and she came all the way from Verona, NJ to attend the Big Event. After she left The Birdies, Donna became a rocker and started her own band, Ruby and The Dykes. This is probably a fact that most of the patients in her psychotherapy practice would just LOVE to hear more about!
During our initial forays into Greenwich Village during the 60's, one of our favorite stops was Gerde's Folk City. The emcee at Gerde's was a guitar-playing folkie from The Bronx (which is an even stranger concept than Essex County, NJ jug band music). Dominic Chianese was a struggling actor in those days, doing mostly off-Broadway, and anything else where an actor could 'make his bones.' He was a guy who was VERY kind and encouraging to a bunch of college kids from New Jersey. In the ensuing years, Dominic played his music and pursued his acting muse. He finally 'made his bones' as Uncle Junior Soprano in the wildly successful HBO series of the same name. And he was thoughtful enough to accept an invitation to come play with us at this important milestone in our lives.
Kicking off the concert was another friend from the old days...he was probably the first person to introduce us anywhere...most likely at Alley Club, the campus coffee house. Lennie Elovitz, seen here at the microphone, is now a professor at Kean College in New Jersey, and although his business card says 'Leonard', he still found time to come back to MSC and introduce his old friends to a new group of Birdie aficionados.
WHERE'S EVERYBODY BEEN?
How about the other guys? Well, Rich Fedorchak's been living in Vermont since 1989 with his wife Ellen, and as many of you know, Richie performs with us fairly regularly, making that 7 hour drive down from Thetford when he gets a-Jonesing for some of that Birdie music. When we started the band, Richie (Guano Pyle) was our spiritual leader, and in many ways he still is, even as a Birdie emeritus.
Tony Muller (T.M. Bear) has also surfaced from a LONG hibernation in the past few years. Although he lived in New Jersey until 1999, he hadn't played with the band in a long time. Then, on a night at The West Bank Café in New York City in 2004, we were getting ready to go on stage, when a guy who looked like Burl Ives came walking in, carrying a beat up guitar case. It was the return of The Bear, who had come up from his retirement villa in Florida with his wife Marguerite to join us.
Dick Finn (Ty Clip) was the kicker though. After we graduated from Montclair, he moved out to Modesto, CA to take a teaching job, and although we kept through through the years, we hadn't seen him since then. He later moved to Branson, MO, where he still teaches and builds houses on the side. After we invited him to the show, he decided to take the banjo down from the shelf and see if he could still play it. After passing that test, he bought a ticket and came out to Montclair for a whirlwind weekend. Although his wife Nancy couldn't make the trip, she's noticed a big change in Dick since he returned...he's PRACTICING! And this probably won't be the last time Dick'll be on stage with the Birdies.
And here's the picture you've all been waiting for. (Look here for more info on the original photo.)
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Last Updated: June 28, 2006