For the fourth consecutive year, Mercer County rockers 'The Beagles' kept us grooving at Scarecrows in the Village!
Launched four-and-a-half years ago by guitarist and vocalist Rob Freeman and saxophonist and vocalist Steve Wolpert, who started jamming together on cover songs, a repertoire of Freeman's original material was soon assembled and The Beagles were born. Performing as a duo at the Einstein Alley Musicians Collaborative, they announced to the crowd, "We'd love a full band if any of you would like to join us!", and by the end of the evening had recruited a bass player, vocalist, and drummer.
Since then, they've been making a splash in the Greater Mercer County music scene. Within a few months, they had their first gig with Lawrenceville Main Street at Music in the Park 2014 and appeared at Scarecrows in the Village a few months later. Regular monthly gigs materialized at Alchemist & Barrister and Hinds Plaza in Princeton and nearby Hopewell Valley Vineyards. The band has grown to include bassists Chris Clark and Frank Genus, drummers David Ross and Scott Mantuano, and lead vocalist Vanessa Viscomi, a young singer with the soul of a classic 1960s musician. Freeman believes Viscomi is helping them reach the next level musically. “I met Vanessa at an open mic night at Hopewell Bistro in June. We heard her sing mellow, jazzy stuff with an acoustic guitarist. We didn’t know she could do rock and roll. We were impressed with her singing! When she started dancing during our set, it was clear she liked our music". Viscomi is a classically trained singer whose repertoire includes big band, jazz, and opera. She also teaches singing lessons (including to Rob’s daughters, a.k.a. “The Beaglettes”). Freeman and Viscomi are excited to have branched out into a songwriting collaboration as well, with Freeman inviting her to add new lyrics that suit her persona to one of his tunes, emphasizing that she “knocked it out of the park with that one”.
Last month, The Beagles signed a contract to cut their first CD together through Lon Van Eaton, who with his brother Derrek Van Eaton rose to fame and signed with Apple Records of The Beatles fame. "This is the most exciting development of my life musically", says Freeman. "I got together with Lon and got to play him some material on the guitar that George Harrison played at the Concert for Bangladesh. I am excited that he's engaged with my material. We can take it to the next level". Freeman worked with Van Eaton to whittle a list of his 30 strongest originals into a 16 track album. "Overall, we've been floored by the sound Lon is creating with our material, and we are starting to see this...as a real breakthrough opportunity for the band". When The Beagles perform, they aim for a combination of original music that hints at the classic sounds: "the catchy, fast ones that make you want to dance, the ones you think are cover songs you don't recognize" explains Freeman. He's excited that recording an album will mean that some of their more downtempo material will be heard. The debut performance of one of these tunes will feature as part of The Beagles set at the multi-act "Music For Moore" benefit show on November 18th at the Princeton Elks Lodge, with the money raised from the show supporting scholarships to Camp Moore, a camp for children with disabilities.
Freeman is proud of his role as a leader of the Einstein Alley Musician's Collaborative, which runs three monthly open mic nights, including one with a back line (a full line up of back up musicians who can help newer artists have a chance to perform their work), one that focuses on acoustic performances in a coffee house style, and one that is geared towards family friendly material. A full calendar of Einstein Alley Musician's Collaborative events can be found here.
Last year, The Beagles and Einstein Alley took their act to a new level with a night of Bruce Springsteen's music held in conjunction with the Morven Museum's Springsteen: A Photographic Journey exhibit, performing more than a dozen Springsteen hits in collaboration with three other Einstein Alley bands. They also played a tribute show entitled "Before There Was Janis", an homage to Janis Joplin and her influences, sponsored by the McCarter Theater in association with their own Joplin tribute show. A big recent highlight was Freeman's chance to play on stage at the Cavern Club in Liverpool, the old stomping grounds of The Beatles. Freeman performed "Help!" and "The Night Before" and received not only a standing ovation but an invitation to come back and play the full album.