Is Thursday the new Saturday? It sure will feel like that on Feb. 21, when both Jersey City and Hoboken host top-rate nights of live music.
At Jersey City’s FM Bar & Lounge, harmonica virtuoso John Popper (of Blues Traveler fame) joins Americana rockers Jeb Jones, poet Frank Messina, Asbury blues man Sandy Mack, and local faves Sylvana Joyce & The Moment.
On the same night at Finnegan’s Pub in Hoboken, promoter Mike Kuzan of The Latest Noise presents Smoke & Mirror Routine, the Love Network, Sonic Birds, and the Skullers.
Blues Traveler enjoyed chart-topping hits in the ’90s and continues to record and tour the world, so Popper’s appearance at an intimate local club certainly ranks as news.
“I’ve played a lot of shows with John, I really don’t know how many,” explained Johnny Markowski, the Jersey City-based singer/guitarist of Jeb Jones, who set up the show. “So every once in a while, when I feel like I want to jam with him, I’ll reach out and we’ll do a show, usually when he’s in the area for something else.”
Markowski has enjoyed a long career as a professional musician, touring for many years as the singer/guitarist of Stir Fried as well as the drummer for New Riders of the Purple Sage. After he moved to Jersey City several years ago, he started playing acoustic music with friends Ben and Erin Kumpf under the name Jeb (an acronym for Johnny, Erin and Ben).
“The first time we sat down and played together, we started singing in these three-part harmonies and it blew my mind,” Markowski recalled. “That kind of thing just doesn’t happen. It occurs mystically and magically. And we had that, right from the get-go.”
But the group didn’t last long as a trio.
“I thought we needed a little bit of a band because it would be nice to have something backing our harmonies, so we brought in the musicians I worked with on an acoustic record and called them Jones,” Markowski said.
Now, Jeb Jones performs as a nine-piece ensemble with guitars, bass, drums, banjo, fiddle, mandolin and piano.
Markowski’s relationship with John Popper came together a little less organically.
“My old friend Billy Weyer was working as Popper’s limo driver and popped one of my CDs in while he was driving John around one time and John liked our stuff,” Markowski said. “Next thing I know we had booked a show together. Then he sat in with Stir Fried a few times, he went on the road with us, he even sat in with the New Riders when we were in Seattle a few years back.”
Asbury Park blues musician Sandy Mack will sit in at the FM show, adding electric guitar to Jeb Jones’ acoustic vibe and Popper’s manic harmonica. In addition, poet Frank Messina will do spoken word while the musicians jam behind him.
“John Popper is just a great guy,” Markowski said. “He’s always there to play, he’s always in a great mood, and he never brings any kind of bad vibe. He’s always got his awesome, positive energy about him. And it just rubs off on everybody. We don’t play huge venues with him, we just play these bars, but he likes to hang out and meet the people and be a part of the scene. He’ll hang around and take photos and just be a genuine person.”
THE LATEST NOISE AT FINNEGAN’S
Originally scheduled for FM, Mike Kuzan (“Kuz” to his friends) and his The Latest Noise showcase will be at Finnegan’s in Hoboken that same night.
“Whenever I book a Latest Noise Presents show, I always try to pick bands that I think will work well together and make it a night,” Kuzan said. “Not just from a sonic perspective but also just in terms of our crews. We don’t want people to come for just one band and leave. We want people to come at 8 o’clock and stay till the end.”
Kuzan described the night as starting with Sonic Birds, “kind of a vibe-y, Radiohead thing with amazing vocals, and then getting more rock ‘n’ roll with the Skullers and Smoke & Mirror Routine, and then Ross Sandler & The Love Network brings the funk and a dance vibe to close out the night. So it will start out kind of chill, and then progress and people can put on their dancing shows into the evening.”
Sonic Birds, the new act on the bill, features Julia Kirk.
“She’s just a great vocalist and songwriter on the scene and this will be her band’s debut,” Kuzan said. “I’m very excited about this lineup, just because it’s people I’m connected with directly at the Latest Noise.”
Smoke & Mirror Routine doesn’t play out often, Kuzan said, partly because of personal schedules and also because they spend a great deal of time in the studio.
“We haven’t played out for about three months and we’re using this show to celebrate the release of our EP ‘SMR,’ which came out in December, and also the fact that we’re coming out with a single on that day,” Kuzan said.
The single, “Stick to Your Guns,” was produced by local producer, engineer (and FM soundman) Corey Zack.
“It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes I can use the Latest Noise to not just put on a showcase for the community but also help promote what I’m doing as a musician with my band,” Kuzan said. “It’s just a nice bit of crossover.”
Last year, Smoke & Mirror rarely performed live, and Kuzan said that helped the band progress musically.
“We were at Silverhorse Tracking pretty much the whole year, and that made us focus on the music, and from that, take a new approach to how we’re going to see ourselves as a band,” he said.
“We were able to play White Eagle Hall in 2017, which was great, and then a Groove On Grove in 2018, and I think we played maybe four shows all of last year,” Kuzan continued. “So, I think we’ll try and keep the pacing at a show every two or three months, just to keep it fresh and keep it growing so we can continue to find bigger and better opportunities. When you start a band, you just play whenever you can to get the experience, but now, five years in, we’re more aware of what will make us the best as a band.”
Kuzan will be expanding his role in the Latest Noise to help with artist management, and the next showcase, on March 9 at Finnegan’s, will feature several acts he’ll be working with: Viktor:digital, Brendan Hartnett, Doc Mills, as well as a performance by Finnegan’s owner, Eoin Finnegan.
If you go …
“Jeb Jones Meets John Popper of Blues Traveler” will take place at FM Bar, 340 Third St., Jersey City, on Thursday, Feb. 21, with guests Sandy Mack, Frank Messina, and Sylvana Joyce & the Moment. Doors open at 7 p.m. Advance tickets are available from Eventbrite or $30 admission at the door.
“The Latest Noise Presents at Finnegan’s Pub,” 734 Willow Ave., Hoboken, will feature Sonic Birds, the Skullers, Smoke & Mirror Routine, and The Love Network, also on Thursday, Feb. 21. Showtime is 8 p.m.
1 night, 2 locations for top-rate live music in Hudson