In Southern Brooklyn, rock ’n’ roll is here to stay!
The north side of the borough’s live music scene may be dominated by eclectic indie and hip-hop — epitomized by this month’s Northside Festival from June 16 to 19— but in Sheepshead Bay, Bay Ridge and Coney Island, it’s all about that old-fashioned genre coined by 1950s disc jockey Alan Freed.
“We’re here to keep rock ’n’ roll alive!” said Paul Lee, guitarist and founding member of the Coney Island-based band NeptuneJam. “The Southern Brooklyn scene is just as good as places like Park Slope and Williamsburg because we’ve got rocking music that takes people back in time.”
Indeed, the neighborhoods are home to both seasoned bands and the bars that host their raucous gigs. NeptuneJam, which formed when Lee and drummer Anthony Latorne started jamming together on the Boardwalk, frequent venues like Peggy O’Neill’s on Surf Avenue. The band really connects with the audience when playing on the bar’s outdoor stage, especially when the quartet rips into tunes like “Coney Island Song,” which pays homage to the shuttered Astroland amusement park.
Peggy O’Neill’s owner John Imbrialey, who also owned the bar’s original Fifth Avenue location until it closed two years ago, says that NeptuneJam is just the tip of the area’s musical iceberg.
“There’s a growing scene down here,” said Imbrialey. “More people are coming to Southern Brooklyn to hear live music.”
Classic rock fanatics can also relive their glory days at Wheeler’s in Sheepshead Bay, a 32-year-old bar that has booked Neptune Jam for a June 10 show. Wheeler’s crams in more than 200 people for its anticipated free concerts several times per year, and owner Mike Starace says that he’s committed to cultivating the local rock scene.
“Most of the bands around here know each other, so it’s like a family reunion when they play,” Starace said. “Music around here is more personal than in other neighborhoods.”
Just west of Coney Island and Sheepshead Bay is another live music haven: Bay Ridge, also known as Bar Ridge to the night owls. But watering holes such as the Greenhouse Café offer more than just booze on the rocks — they offer blues-rock.
“People get really psyched for our shows,” said Mike Riddle, the Eric Clapton of Bay Ridge who now fronts the blues-rock super group Prodigal Child. “They’re shocked at the level of musicianship at local venues.”
Prodigal Child plays at Greenhouse Café on Third Avenue the first Saturday of every month. The band, which features Riddle’s wife, Jane T, on keyboards and three other longtime players, captivates audiences with its jam sessions. The group usually covers 1960s-era songs, but improvises the melodies.
“We want people to really appreciate live music as something that can be different from what’s on records,” said Riddle.
The Greenhouse Cafe is home to another old-time Ridge rocker: Frankie Marra, who has been a front man on the Brooklyn bar circuit for more than 30 years. Marra, who covers everyone from Chuck Berry to the Red Hot Chili Peppers with his quartet, Frankie Marra and His Band, says that his local fans are as loyal as they come.
“The borough’s music scene is always changing and growing, but I’ve managed to keep my crowd,” Marra said. “I love Brooklyn for that reason.”
NeptuneJam at Wheeler’s [1707 Sheepshead Bay Rd. near E. 17th Street in Sheepshead Bay, (718) 646-9320], June 10, Time TBD, free, and at Peggy O’Neills [1904 Surf Ave. near W. 17th Street in Coney Island (718) 449-3200], June 19 at 3 pm. Free; Frankie Mara at Greenhouse Cafe [7717 Third Ave. between 77th and 78th streets in Bay Ridge (718) 833-8200], June 19 at 10 pm. Free.