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