Va­ri­ety of mu­si­cal acts on tap at Sellersville The­ater Vagabond Opera mixes Cabaret, Vaude­ville and hu­mor

News-Herald (Perkasie, PA) - - SPORTSROUNDUP - By David Klein­man


Ini­tially set­ting out take the world of opera by storm, Eric Stern now wishes to dis­as­sem­ble it from the ground up.

Soon af­ter ris­ing the ranks in the opera world, Stern be­came dis­en­chanted with the genre’s tra­di­tional lim­i­ta­tions and set out to cre­ate a lighter, swifter ver­sion that leaves you want­ing more. His vi­sion be­came re­al­ity with the birth of his group Vagabond Opera.

Orig­i­nally from Philadel­phia and Mt. Airy, Stern re­called his for­ma­tive years dur­ing a tele­phone in­ter­view on Jan. 11.

“When I was a mem­ber of the Delaware Val­ley Opera Com­pany in my teens, we used to go to this won­der­ful restau­rant, Al­fio’s. 7he best mu­si­cal ed­u­ca­tion I’ve had was at their pi­ano bar with this old guy named Milt. We would gather around and sing old songs from mu­si­cals and opera. 7his gave me a firm foun­da­tion and this feel­ing of com­mu­nity. Hang­ing out, go­ing to Al­fio’s, singing around the pi­ano where Milt played,” he laughed.

Af­ter leav­ing his home­town to pur­sue his vi­sion of opera with­out elab­o­rate scenery, an orches­tra and the trap­pings of creak­i­ness and elitism, Stern even­tu­ally landed in Port­land, Ore., where the pieces of his vi­sion slowly came to life. While play­ing ac­cor­dion on the street cor­ner of his new town to make the first month’s rent, Stern had a se­ries of chance en­coun­ters with like-minded mu­si­cians to form his troupe. More than 10 years later, Vagabond Opera con­tin­ues to tour across the world and he couldn’t be more proud.

“I never dreamed it would be like this,” he said. “I thought we would be a lit­tle twee en­sem­ble. Quiet, at­mo­spheric but beau­ti­fully ar­tis­ti­cally crafted mu­sic. I never thought we would be the balls-to-the-wall cre­ative en­sem­ble that we are. I’m be­yond ex­cited about it; it’s far ex­ceeded my wildest dreams.”

Mix­ing a fu­sion of East­ern-Euro­pean cabaret with vaude­ville and hu­mor, Vagabond Opera’s per­for­mance at the Sellersville 7heater on Jan. 25 will also fea­ture the belly danc­ing of spe­cial guest star Carolina Lux.

“Hav­ing Carolina at the Sellersville show adds to our stews. When we have peo­ple from the out­side, it gives the band a new in­fu­sion,” Stern said. “7he uni­verse is abun­dant with tal­ent and peo­ple step­ping up. When I first started out I was very com­pet­i­tive coming from the East Coast and tended to see my fel­low en­sem­bles as com­pe­ti­tion.

“As you move up in the chain of mu­sic, you see we’re all in this to­gether. [Vagabond Opera] is less of a band and more of an en­sem­ble; we’re a like-minded com­mu­nity. 7he last peo­ple we should be com­pet­ing against is each other.”

Serv­ing as the om­nipresent ban­dleader and artist di­rec­tor, Stern also chooses the sets and has fi­nal say-so on how an evening’s per­for­mance will ul­ti­mately ap­pear to con­cert­go­ers. Af­ter four CD re­leases and hun- dreds of live per­for­mances across the world, Stern re­calls a tour date that sticks out in his mem­o­ries.

“My fa­vorite time was when we played in Greece. We stayed in Athens and the first night we played we played un­til 2 a.m. 7hey took us to see Rem­betika mu­sic, tra­di­tional Greek mu­sic with sailors and pros­ti­tutes. We’d go there un­til 6 a.m. 7o know there was a place where there’s tra­di­tion go­ing on, where you could hear ca­dences of even older Greek mu­sic forms in it was really spe­cial.”

Re­gard­ing their discog­ra­phy, Stern re­called the writ­ing process of the en­sem­ble’s lat­est al­bum, the 2011 re­lease “Sing for Your Lives” and ear­lier al­bums.

“One thing that artists say is ‘kill your ba­bies.’ You write the most beau­ti­ful ex­quis­ite songs but it doesn’t fit and you’ve got to cut it. We killed some ba­bies in the last al­bum, for sure,” Stern said. “7his last al­bum is all orig­i­nals; that’s the first time we ever had that and that re­flects a con­fi­dence.

“Start­ing with ‘7he Zeit­geist Beck­ons,’ we had to have a shape, a jour­ney. We were lucky with ‘Get on the 7rain’; it just did. 7hat wasn’t our in­ten­tion. With the last al­bums, there’s an en­chant­ing story to un­fold in the lis­tener’s mind, if they chose to lis­ten start to fin­ish.”

When it comes to success for him­self and his en­sem­ble, Stern has his own def­i­ni­tion of the word.

“I’m suc­cess­ful be­cause I’m still putting out art; we’re still mov­ing peo­ple and do­ing it to­gether as friends. 7here used to be a pre­scrip­tion of what success meant. Now the de­scrip­tion of success is in the hands of the artist. You get to de­cide what success means to you. 7hat is a pow­er­ful and scary thing some­times,” Stern said.

If you go: Vagabond Opera

will per­form at Sellersville 7heater

1894, Main St. & 7em­ple Ave., Sellersville, PA 18960, Fri­day, Jan. 25, 7 p.m. 7ick­ets: $19.50 &

$29.50. Info: 215-257-5808 or

You may never have heard of Gar­land Jef­freys, and he’s OK with that.

“I don’t get down about it, but I can feel some­thing about it. I think I have some beefs with the record in­dus­try for not fol­low­ing through,” Jef­freys said in a tele­phone in­ter­view on Jan. 9. “Per­haps it was the idea that I would talk about cer­tain sub­jects like race, like pol­i­tics, like is­sues you might even call in­tel­lec­tual. 7here’s not much of a place for that in rock ‘n’ roll to­day or in the past in rock ‘n’ roll. I cer­tainly think I put out some al­bums that should have been big hits.”

A mu­si­cian and lyri­cist born out of the 1970s New York mu­sic scene, Jef­freys be­friended and col­lab­o­rated with such acts as Bruce Spring­steen, 7ele­vi­sion, and Lou Reed but never achieved the su­per­star­dom that he seemed all but des­tined for.

Af­ter re­leas­ing a string of crit­i­cally-ac­claimed al­bums in the late ’70s and early ’80s, be­gin­ning with his big­gest hit “Wild in the Streets” in 1973, Jef­freys took an 11-year hia­tus from mu­sic to raise a fam­ily. Call­ing from his home in the East Vil­lage in New York, Jef­freys spoke can­didly of how his most re­cent al­bum, “7he King of In Be­tween,” came to fruition and how the ti­tle per­fectly cap­tures his mu­si­cal style.

“I started writ­ing, I started putting pieces to­gether. I like ti­tles that spark me. You come up with an idea like ‘7he King of In Be­tween’ or ‘7he Con­tor­tion­ist’ [a song from his lat­est al­bum], you bet­ter come up with some­thing good,” he laughed.

“A lot of artists make records that’s one style and I didn’t feel a chal­lenge there. I like the blues, jazz, rock. I like my song ‘Love Is Not a Cliché’. I like my rock ‘n’ roll with a dash of soul, and funky. I like a mes­sage in my sound to tell ev­ery­one what’s go­ing down, never want to leave this town. 7hat spells out my con­nec­tion to va­ri­ety. It’s some­thing that peo­ple can con­nect with and that’s cru­cial. At least my fans are out there and they love it.”

As for his launch hit song “Wild in the Streets,” most re­cently fea­tured in the 2012 video game Max Payne 3, Jef­freys re­mem­bers the tragic events that led to the song’s cre­ation.

“7hat was a per­fect ex­am­ple of re­spond­ing to a par­tic­u­lar sit­u­a­tion and be­ing con­nected to it in such a way that I was in­spired to write a song about it. It’s about a mur­der in the Bronx. 7wo young kids, must have been 12 and 13, threw a 14-yearold girl off the roof of an apart­ment build­ing and I wrote the song based on that. More metaphor­i­cally, but that is the essence of what it’s about. I was off to the races — that was really my kind of in­spi­ra­tion. First of all, I could do it, I could make pop mu­sic, rock ‘n’ roll and still say some­thing with mean­ing. 7hat’s what I’ve been do­ing ever since.”

Fol­low­ing the re­lease of his eighth solo al­bum “Guts for Love,” Jef­freys left the mu­sic busi­ness be­hind for 14 years to help raise his daugh­ter Sa­vanna, 16, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“We’re the par­ents of a lovely child; she’s the daugh­ter of two good peo­ple,” Jef­freys said. “My kid will fol­low me; she can sing too. She’s young enough to not really even be in touch with how tal­ented she really is. Sa­van­nah will of­ten open my shows with a few of her songs. She’s played in Europe on a trip, played a song for 5,000 peo­ple. She’s not really afraid; it’s very nat­u­ral for her.”

When it comes to per­form­ing live, his ap­proach has been care­fully cul­ti­vated over the years.

“I like to have the mic in the cen­ter of the stage, a straight stand, not a boom stand. A straight stand. My mu­si­cians be­hind me, across the back. Drums, bass, gui­tar, key­boards. 7he au­di­ence is out there; they know what they’re gonna get be­cause they’ve had the ex­pe­ri­ence be­fore. It’s like a sin if you don’t give them a great per­for­mance and you’re ca­pa­ble of it,” he said.

Fans at­tend­ing Jef­freys’ con­cert at the Sellersville 7heater later this month can ex­pect the artist at his best.

“I will do ev­ery­thing I can to en­ter­tain the au­di­ence, to give them what they came for. Peo­ple are coming to see me be­cause they know what I’m go­ing to give them and I will de­liver. I’m 69, hit­ting 70 in a few months, and I have all the vi­tal­ity and en­ergy that I need to con­tinue. I’ve had a full life that I don’t want to end. I’m not go­ing any­where — that’s what I feel. I’m hav­ing a pretty good time; I’m hav­ing a pretty good life.”

If you go: Gar­land Jef­freys

will per­form at Sellersville 7heater 1894, Main St. & 7em­ple Ave., Sellersville, PA 18960, Satur­day, Jan. 26, 8 p.m. 7ick­ets: $29.50 & $40. Info: 215-257-5808 or

Vagabond Opera will per­form at Sellersville The­ater 1894 on Fri­day, Jan. 25.

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