A special Sunday night was in the works at Third Avenue’s The Wicked Monk. Well before 5 p.m. on Feb. 10, most of the tables were already occupied. People stood along the bar, chatting, while across the room, one corner had been cleared for a band.
“This isn’t our usual Sunday night crowd,” said Wicked Monk Manager Billy Deluca. “They’re all regulars. But tonight they’re here for something special.”
That something is Whippoorwill. An all-string trio founded by life-long friends Matthew D’Emic, Paul Cassone and John Lepore, the self-described “Good Time Band” has been entertaining southern Brooklyn since the Nixon administration.
“John and I went to Our Lady of Angels Elementary,” recalled guitarist Cassone. “The three of us [including bassist D’Emic, whose day job is as a Kings County Supreme Court justice] played together originally. Then we broke up—played in different incarnations. But John and I were always together. This tonight, is the original band.”
“John and I went to high school together,” said Vinnie Piscani, on hand with his wife, Christine, to hear the band. “We worked together at Bohack’s—they used to lock us in there at night.”
“Oh, that’s right,” said Lepore, laughing at the memory. “Friday nights, they’d lock us in so we couldn’t distribute beer or other merchandise to our friends.”
Lepore, recently retired from stage managing TV and film, is perhaps the most dedicated musically of the trio. He has an album set to release in the next few months containing 19 songs, nearly all of them original compositions. “I don’t want to give out the title just yet,” said Lepore.
With two guitars and only D’Emic on bass for rhythm, Whippoorwill relies more on melody and harmony than the “wall of sound” and heavy drum lines that characterized many of the rock classics that comprise their repertoire.
“We want people to be comfortable,” said Lepore. “We want them to socialize, to hear each other, as well as hear us play.”
By the time D’Emic and Cassone open with their first chords, Wicked Monk is SRO.
“We’re totally sold out on this side,” said Deluca. “We do this with Whippoorwill twice a year. And it’s always like this. People really come out to support them.”
Indeed. Chatting with fans reveals that nearly all of them are life-long Bay Ridge/Fort Hamilton residents. Those who didn’t attend elementary school with John or Paul, probably went to high school with Matt. The whole evening is more like a high school reunion than a concert.
There is also a strong sense of community, of shared histories.
As Whippoorwill persists through nearly four hours of performance, fans hang out in thick, friendly groups, plainly on hand to see one another as much as the their hometown boys on stage. Several birthdays were celebrated.
Probably nothing sums up the scene as well as Bruce and Linda Fortney. Seated at a table nearly in front of the stage, the two clearly had a great time, several times getting up to dance. “We’re complete strangers,” Bruce admits later on. “I’m from Connecticut. Linda’s from Atlanta.”
“We’re just here to for my daughter’s baby,” Linda said. “She lives in Bay Ridge.”
“We stopped in for a bite to eat,” Bruce said. “And the manager suggested we might like this.”
Said Linda, “He was right.”