“There’s nothing better than being on the Boulevard with a New York view on a night like tonight,” said Guttenberg Mayor Gerald Drasheff. He was addressing the hundreds of people from surrounding neighborhoods who came out on a beautiful Thursday night in early August to enjoy the music of oldies band The Cameos on Boulevard East.
The street was blocked off to traffic and a stage was set up near 71st St. Local residents filled the seats and stood on the streets when they weren’t dancing in the fenced off area in front of the stage.
“It’s nice that they do this for the community. It brings a really nice crowd of people,” said North Bergen resident Giulia Pirella. “We live very close by, near the park. I teach so I’m off for the summer. It’s something free to do.”
Arna and Artie Plumb have lived in the Galaxy Towers, just steps away from the concert, for about five years. “I love the neighborhood,” she said. “I love the building. I love the proximity to the city.”
The Plumbs regularly attend the Guttenberg summer shows. “Oh yeah. Whenever they’re here. We don’t have too far to go if we don’t like it. Last week it was a Spanish band and they got a huge turnout. They also had some of the oldie groups we particularly like.”
The Cameos show was the third of four summer concerts put on by Guttenberg, with the last one upcoming on Aug. 28.
A growing tradition
“We’ve been doing these shows for five or six years now,” said Mayor Drasheff. “The first concert this year was the Bronx Wanderers who we’ve had before, so people know them. It was absolutely filled and overflowing. Then we did our Latin concert, that always draws a crowd. What usually happens is by 8:30 there’ll be a lot of people. They wander down. They hear it.”
“I was on my way to get ice up at the bodega and I saw the signs on the sidewalk,” said Guttenberg resident Gary Roberts. “I live right up the street on 70th, right here. It’s free and it’s only a block away and the weather is great.”
A former photo editor at Time magazine, Roberts moved up from Pennsylvania and has lived in the area since 1982. “I missed two of the concerts last summer. I heard one from my window,” he said.
Former Police Chief Joel Magenheimer books the concerts, as he has for years. “Last week about 1,500 people were here for the Latin one,” he said. “Everywhere, sitting on the walls all around, out the windows. I’m telling you, it was incredible.”
“We do four of these a year,” he continued. “This is the third. The last is The Infernos on the 28th. They’re very good. They draw a big crowd. Same time, same place, same everything.”
West New York resident Charlene Melendez was one of the opening acts on Aug. 7, singing songs in Spanish and English accompanied by a guitarist and a backing singer. A regular open-mic performer at La Chateau Restaurant on 67th St., she is spearheading a music festival on Aug. 17 in Miller Stadium in West New York.
“We wanted to pitch to the mayor the idea of having our own music festival,” she said. “It’s free and all ages. I’ve been recently involved with trying to unite the community, all the musicians.
‘She loves to dance’
“I live in North Bergen,” said Paul Cheung, who attends the Guttenberg shows whenever he can. A former marine biologist at the Coney Island Aquarium, he has lived here for 28 years, after 10 years in Brooklyn. His two sisters found the area so attractive they followed him here.
“My sisters live in these two buildings,” he said, indicating the Galaxy Towers. “I have one sister in this one, one sister in that one. They like it. Very convenient to New York. Peaceful. And also secure.”
As the sun went down and the crowds grew bigger and the dance floor more crowded, West New York resident Marlene Cruz sat a block away outside the Dulce View Bakery, enjoying a snack with 2-year-old Sebastian Ceballos while listening to the band play.
“We were here pretty early and my friend here was dancing up there,” she said. “It was great. Perfect weather. Nice, relaxing. He had a great time. We’ll be coming to the last one and will be sure to bring his cousins.”
“Maybe the whole thing over the course of the summer costs us $10,000,” said Mayor Drasheff. “Many people in this town can’t afford to go to a Broadway show or buy tickets to a ’50s concert. To me it’s money well spent.”
Helping to defray the cost this year were cosponsors Oritani Bank, Rumba Cubana Restaurant, and Freedom Bank.
The Town Council members and other officials all attended the show, with Councilman John Habermann bringing his 5-year-old daughter Olivia. “She loves to dance,” he said. “Always has, even when she was small. She loves these concerts. Can’t get enough of them.”
“By the end of the night everybody’s up dancing,” said Drasheff. “You get from kids this big to senior citizens. To me that’s one of the nice things about this town. Because of its size – it’s 10,000 people – everybody knows each other. It’s tough to do that in a bigger town.”
Art Schwartz may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Waterfront park nearing completion
The waterfront park on the east of River Road at the border of Guttenberg and North Bergen is in its final stages. Planned to be jointly maintained by both municipalities, it contains an amphitheater for live shows.
“The way it’s designed, the seating area is built into that amphitheater and the grass area actually comes up a hill,” said Guttenberg Mayor Gerald Drasheff. “So you can put seats on the grass. We stole the idea from the Greeks and from Hoboken. Sinatra Park is where I got the idea for the seating. Except theirs is square. Ours is going to be more oval.”
Drasheff is hoping to cut the ribbon on the new park in mid-September, after Labor Day.
“There’s only three things that still need to be done,” he said. “They have to pave the parking area. There’s a walkway that has to go up from the parking area to the amphitheater – there are going to be some plantings in there, some flowers and stuff. And the lights.”
The parking area will hold 15 or 19 cars. “Not a lot, but the hope is that people will walk to it,” he said.
The current plan is to establish a circle bus route for local residents from about May until October. “So if people want to go to the ferry, if they want to go to the light rail, go to Jersey City, or you want to go to the park, every 20 minutes or every half hour the bus is going to pick you up,” said Drasheff.
Guttenberg’s summer concert series will move to the new location from its current home on Boulevard East.
“I’d move it down there,” said the mayor. “The problem is if we do a concert down there I can bus people down and that will work, but at the end of the show everybody will want to come back at once. And if you’ve got 500 people there and you can fit 50 people in a bus you need 10 trips. But we’ll give it a shot. Because it’s a beautiful spot.”