When George Ellsworth Tocci first began
booking acts for the Sunset Music Series aboard the Waterfront
Museum Barge in Red Hook, it was a difficult task.
"In the beginning, the crowd was very local. We didn’t pay the performers. I basically went around and begged all my friends to play for free," said Tocci, one-half of the group Ellsworth and Hicks.
But over the last seven seasons, things have changed for the music series. "It grew. We got grants. We started paying more and more. Now we pay decent money. The artists know us, and they’re coming from far away. The audiences come from all over New York," the guitarist adds happily.
Now, the Sunset Music Series presents blues, swing, rock, jazz and country music from emerging as well as established artists on Saturday evenings in July and August. Each evening features three acts that may range from high-energy rock ’n’ roll to Brooklyn bluegrass.
Ansel Matthews, who kicked off the series on July 14, is an acoustic guitarist and folk balladeer with a soulful three-octave range. He’s opened for Pete Seeger, Suzanne Vega and Shawn Colvin.
Dave’s True Story, billed as "NYC’s craziest lounge act," will perform on July 21. This band consists of guitarist-songwriter David Cantor, vocalist Kelly Flint, and bassist Jeff Eyrich. They will be performing with drummer Rick Zukor. The group’s name was born out of a Cantor and Flint (now his wife) gig at a coffeehouse in Columbia, S.C.
Flint said, "We’re gonna play you some songs. These are Dave’s true stories." Someone responded, "That should be your name." And so the group was christened.
"Dave has an interesting way of looking at everyday life," Eyrich told GO Brooklyn. "Often people break out in spontaneous laughter."
The group’s three CDs - "Dave’s True Story" (Bepop Records, 1993), "Sex Without Bodies" (Chesky Records, 1997) and "Unauthorized" (Chesky Records, 2000) - have sold more than 50,000 copies worldwide. Because Flint is eight months pregnant and this will be the band’s last New York performance for a while, the group is "really looking forward" to this Sunset Music appearance, Eyrich said. Hopefully, Dave and group will return to Brooklyn with many new stories.
This will also be the last Sunset Music Series for a while as the barge, on the National Register of Historic Places, will be in upstate Waterford next summer undergoing maintenance repairs to its hull.
The Jimmy Nations Combo, playing July 28, was created by its namesake lead vocalist and guitarist. Born in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, Nations picked up the sounds of the region - bluegrass, country and blues. His music is a hybrid of these styles and coastal Carolina influences. But Nations says, "It’s just good old-fashioned honky-tonk."
Brooklyn’s own singer-songwriter Jen Chapin is the daughter of Harry Chapin, which makes her Aug. 11 gig something of a homecoming. She says she’s "trying to write songs with harmonies that are simple but not cliched, words that are personal while also speaking to the universal, and rhythms that are undeniable."
Chapin, who married bassist Stephan Crump two years ago at Grace Church on Hicks Street in Brooklyn Heights, the same church where her father and his brothers got their start singing "This Land Is Your Land," now lives in Prospect Heights.
"I love being near the park. I love the community. I’m a big fan of Brooklyn," she says. As for her illustrious family, which includes her uncle, children’s music singer-songwriter Tom Chapin, Jen says they’ve helped her career more through moral support than connections.
"People think I have all kinds of connections. But that’s not the case," she said. "There is a nice friendly interest from fans. I might get a little more press. But I don’t promote it much. I’m trying to do my own thing."
Chapin’s "own thing" has gotten her gigs at The Bitter End in Greenwich Village, The Living Room on the Lower East Side and at the Waterfront Museum Barge, where she will be performing with her husband.
The Black Coffee Blues Band wraps up the series at 10 pm on Aug. 18. Their music is strong, piping hot blues brewed over their many years playing in New York City clubs.
Add to all this great talent the Garden Pier; summer breezes; the stunning backdrop of the New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty and the lower Manhattan skyline; and the spectacular East River sunsets, and there’s not much more one could ask of a summer’s night.
The Waterfront Museum Barge is docked
at 290 Conover St. at Pier 45 in Red Hook. Performances are Saturdays,
July 21 and 28, Aug. 4, 11 and 18. Doors open at 7:30 pm and
shows start at 8 pm. Suggested donation at the door: $5. Free
shuttle bus service available from Brooklyn Heights, Park Slope
and Carroll Gardens. For the bus schedule and a complete performance
schedule call (718) 624-4719 or visit www.waterf