The Ghost of Uncle Joe’s Returns to Rock Harsimus Cemetery, Oct. 24

It’ll be a sunny day, so I’ll meet you at the cemetery gates…. Oh wait, the Smiths tribute band played last year’s annual Ghost of Uncle Joe’s fundraiser concert for the Jersey City and Harsimus Cemetery. Don’t worry, “Dancing Tony” Susco’s Rock-it Docket have put together an all-new slate of top local acts honoring their musical heroes. The main event will be held at the cemetery, 435 Newark Avenue, on Saturday, October 24; gates open at 1 pm, with bands playing from 1:50 to 10 pm — set times are below. (There will be even more bands at the after-parties at LITM, 140 Newark Ave., and Porta, 135 Newark Ave.) Attendees are encouraged to come in costume, and food will be available from Koro Koro, Honey Bakery, and Cal’s Hot Dogs. Suggested donation at the cemetery is $10, with all funds helping its all-volunteer staff — led by president Eileen Markenstein — continue to operate and preserve the historic site.

Saluting the Modern Lovers — Jonathan Richman’s legendary band which included future members of Talking Heads and the Cars — will be WFMU‘s Hoof & Mouth Slimfonia. The combo is a trimmed-down version of the noted Jersey City radio station’s in-house live karaoke band, formed back in 2001 to play the finale of WFMU’s annual fundraising marathons. After paying tribute to both Roxy Music and Brian Eno at the 2013 Ghost of Uncle Joe’s show, and performing songs of death last year, how did the WFMU crew land on the Modern Lovers for 2015? Musical director Scott Williams, who is also a DJ and the station’s volunteer director, explained, “After giving us a little bit of leeway for the past two years, Tony Susco finally clamped down and said, I need you to pick one band and stick to it.”

Joining Williams, who will play guitar, are Evan “Funk” Davies on drums, Matt Fiveash on bass, and Matt Marando on keyboards. Appropriate for playing the Boston-obsessed Richman’s material, “Aside from myself, it’s an all-Massachusetts band,” Williams said. In addition, eight different WFMU staffers (Therese, Bill Mac, Faye, Cheyenne, Gaylord, Amanda, Samantha, and Scott himself) will handle the vocals.

The “Modern Lovers” are slated to play at 6:50 pm. “The Ghost of Uncle Joe’s is definitely Jersey City’s best party of the year,” Williams said. “It’s crazy, it’s fun, it’s debauched.”

Plastiq Passion performing at Tierney's in Montclair

Plastiq Passion performing at Tierney’s in Montclair

Meanwhile, as Madonna, the band Plastiq Passion will be like a virgin, playing the Ghost of Uncle Joe’s for the very first time. “I’ve heard about it before and have seen pictures,” said singer and rhythm guitarist Jessica Chaos, who lives in Union City. “It looks like a lot of fun!”

The band also features Deborrah Sanchez (lead guitar), Christine Simon (bass), and Stacey Lee (drums). After considering the Cranberries, the Cure, and the Violent Femmes, Plastiq Passion decided on a longtime favorite. “Madonna’s the best. She’s the queen,” Chaos said.

For their musical approach to the project, Chaos explained, “They’re poppy songs; it’ll be nice to try to punk them up a little bit.” And as for the visuals, she says, “We’ll all be dressing up as different versions of Madonna. She’s like a chameleon.”

Plastiq Passion as Madonna are scheduled to perform at 8:30 pm. “After us is Led Zeppelin; I know I want to check that out. I’m really excited to see the other bands,” said Chaos. “And it’s in a cemetery? I don’t think we can get more Halloween than that.”

The Pretty Babies performing in Hoboken

The Pretty Babies performing in Hoboken

If there’s a ringer at this year’s Ghost of Uncle Joe’s, it’s the Pretty Babies as Blondie. After all, the band has played a Blondie set in front of Debbie Harry herself, at a birthday party for famed rock photographer Bob Gruen. “She’s an amazing person, down-to-earth and wonderful,” said Pretty Babies’ lead singer Tammy Faye Starlite. “I’ve loved Blondie since I was 13. I worshipped Deborah Harry.”

The Hoboken-based Ms. Starlite has earned some worship of her own, as a noted recording artist and live performer. Her 2014 Off-Broadway show Nico: Underground was a Critic’s Pick in the New York Times. This month, Starlite has been performing her faithful Marianne Faithfull tribute “Cabaret Marianne” every Thursday at Manhattan’s Pangea club. Debbie, Nico, Marianne… is there a theme here?

“I have to be the blond lead singer who can’t play an instrument,” Starlite said with a laugh. “I was an actress pretty much from birth, and I always love pretending to be other people.”

The Pretty Babies got their start around 2007. Starlite recalled, “I wanted to do a Runaways (pioneering group featuring Joan Jett and Lita Ford) tribute band, because I knew all these female musicians. But I figured we were old, so I called us the Stay-at-Homes.” After a brief stint as a New York Dolls cover band, they settled on Pretty Babies. In addition to Starlite, there is Heidi Lieb on lead guitar (“Chrissie Stein” instead of Chris), Jill Richmond on rhythm guitar (“Fran Infante,” not Frank), and Monica Falcone on bass (“Nigella Harrison,” not Nigel). Currently rounding out the band are Ron Metz on drums and Keith Hartel (Ms. Starlite’s husband) on keyboards. The musicians plan to dress in black suits with skinny ties, like on the cover of the classic Blondie album Parallel Lines, and as for Ms. Starlite: “I get to wear whatever I want, something Debbie-esque.”

They’ve played everywhere from Pittsburgh to Provincetown… and now Porta, for the Ghost of Uncle Joe’s After-Party at 11:30 pm.

The tribute-band action continues the following weekend, with a “Mischief Night” show at Lucky 7, 322 2nd St., on Friday, October 30, at 7 pm. And on Saturday, October 31 there will be a special Halloween night show organized by Rock-it Docket for the Historic Downtown Special Improvement District (HDSID) beginning at 6 pm on the Newark Avenue pedestrian mall (between Grove and Erie Streets). The lineup will include the Pretty Babies’ Heidi Lieb in her band the Lonesome Prairie Dogs, playing the music of Hank Williams. (The event will be preceded by the HDSID’s second-annual Family Halloween Party from 2 to 6 pm.)

Should be quite a week of music in Jersey City, all kicking off at the cemetery. As Tammy Faye Starlite says, “Have a good time! Dance, go crazy, no rules, talk on your phones, I don’t care.”

Set Times and “Who’s Who”

Ghost of Uncle Joe’s at the JC Cemetery (435 Newark Ave.):
1:50 pm — Wilco (Miss Ohio)
2:40 pm — The Grateful Dead (a mixed bag of musicians)
3:30 pm — Soundgarden (a mixed bag of musicians)
4:20 pm — Hall & Oates (The Dirty Water Dogs)
5:10 pm — Kiss (Paul Little of Girltown and friends)
6:00 pm — The Misfits (Old-school Uncle Joe’s vets Neil McAneny and Billy Alpha w/ Dave O’Connel and Rob Farren)
6:50 pm — The Modern Lovers (WFMU’s Hoof & Mouth Slimfonia)
7:40 pm — Red Hot Chili Peppers (JC Studios crew)
8:30 pm — Madonna (Plastiq Passion)
9:20 pm — Led Zeppelin (Herb Wiley w/ members of Rye Coalition)

LITM After-Party (140 Newark Ave.):
10 pm — The Smithereens (Lost Romance)
10:50 pm — The Lovin’ Spoonful (Glenn Morrow’s Cry for Help)
11:40 pm — Heart (Hey Anna)
12:30 am — ZZ Top (Bongo Surf)

Porta After-Party (135 Newark Ave.):
11:30 pm — Blondie (The Pretty Babies)
12:20 am — !!! – band name is pronounced chk chk chk (a mixed bag of musicians)
1:10 am — Sublime (Alex Heitzenrater of Aminal/Papermaker w/ John Welsh III)

The 2015 Ghost of Uncle Joe’s fundraiser will be held at the Jersey City and Harsimus Cemetery on Saturday, October 24, at 435 Newark Ave., from 1 to 10 pm. Suggested donation is $10. For more information, visit jerseycitycemetery.org, rockitdocket.com, the JCI Cultural Calendar, or the Facebook event page.

Note: Band member information for The Misfits and clarification on the band named “!!!” was updated Oct. 14.

Top photo, courtesy of WFMU: WFMU’s Hoof & Mouth Slimfonia at the 2014 Ghost of Uncle Joe’s. Other photos Jack Silbert.

Jack Silbert

is a writer, editor, internet-radio DJ and occasional emcee. He is the author of several books and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, New York Press, New Jersey Monthly, Weird NJ, and other publications. Jack’s humorous ramblings can be found at Salt In Wound.