Bandleader Brian Kirk (center) brings his Jirks back to the Basie stage on December 23, in a Santa for Lunch Break benefit that boasts the chart-topping voices of Elliot Lurie from Looking Glass (left), and Bobby Kimball from Toto (right).
By TOM CHESEK
Over the course of some two decades working favorite watering holes up and down the Jersey Shore — and building a solid following as a go-to group for weddings and corporate events — Brian Kirk & the Jirks have kept the party percolating by specializing in one thing: that attention compelling, wildly eclectic genre known as Other People’s Hit Songs.
This coming Monday, when the guys best known for their long tenure at Sea Bright’s much-missed Donovan’s Reef leave the bars behind for the grand proscenium of the Count Basie Theatre, they’ll be calling in reinforcements on the hitmen front — The Nerds, whose entertaining shtick and awesome chops have broken them out into the big world beyond Jersey. They’ll also welcome a couple of guys from out of town — the sort of men whose names and faces might not be known to all, but whose professional lives are all about The Hits. Who own The Hits.
The occasion is Santa for Lunch Break, a benefit for the borough-based nonprofit Lunch Break of Red Bank, and a sequel to last December’s sold-out Santa for Sea Bright event that raised crucial funds for the seagrass-roots organization Sea Bright Rising. Billed as a “variety show format” with “energetic music, bad jokes, and a little bit of ‘Bruce’ for a great cause,” the 8 pm concert follows in the spirit of Dunesday, the summertime series of beach-bash benefits that the enterprising Kirk maintained even after Superstorm Sandy dispatched Donovan’s to Davy Jones’ Locker — and that drew many thousands of faithful (including an enthusiastic Mr. Springsteen) to its open-air funraisers for neighbor families and community causes.
For the December 23 show in Red Bank, Kirk and his crew will share the stage with a couple of classic voices who are sure to strike a chord with anyone who never left home without a transistor radio or Walkman. Bobby Kimball is the vocalist whose time in Toto resulted in such Top Five hits as “Hold The Line,” “Africa,” and the Grammy winning “Rosanna” — while Jersey guy Elliot Lurie is none other than the singer and songwriter behind Looking Glass, and one of the most recognizable lite-rock bar anthems in all of human history, the 1972 Number One smash “Brandy.”
The Party Committee at redbankgreen spoke to busy bandleader (and owner of Red Bank-based Key Telecom Inc.) Brian Kirk as he made continued preparations for Santa’s wild ride.
redbankgreen: The Santa for Lunch Break show continues a newly minted tradition that dates back to last year’s Sea Bright benefit, which was, maybe even more than the Train concert, a real shot in the arm for the town. Since you’re so closely identified with the scene in Sea Bright, what’s your take on how they’ve worked to pull it back together; how it’s looking a year later?
BRIAN KIRK: I don’t feel like the Sea Bright guy, but it’s something I’ve been identified with over the years. Sandy just changed everything, from the layout of the town to the economics. You see people raising their houses, raising them just to sell them in some cases, and there’s still discussion about what direction the town should take in the future.
I get asked a lot about what’s going on with Donovan’s, and I’m interested to know that myself — all I can say is that we successfully relocated Dunesday to the beach behind the Mad Hatter last year, and we’re planning to do it again next summer. And Windansea, in Highlands, became our new home.
You know, I’m at an age now when I don’t believe everything I see or hear. And I used to believe that all politicians were evil — but now I meet them and I see that there are some genuinely good people in politics. They were really reaching out to the people in town; helping out the ones who were having trouble getting through to the help they needed.
So there was no doubt as far as what the cause was going to be with last year’s concert. When I took the leap and announced that we were somehow going to do this big show for Sea Bright inside the Count Basie, we wound up selling out the event right away. It was a crazy show — we even had a flood of our own! Something happened in one of the upstairs bathrooms, and water was pouring down over the balcony.
And as with the Dunesday events, you’re designating a different beneficiary each time out. Have you had your mind set on doing something with Lunch Break for a while now?
Ever since I first went in there to talk about setting up a new phone system, and what I saw was really humbling. I saw people in there who walk past my office on Shrewsbury Avenue each day.
These people are so purely good, it’s incredible…whoever you are, you can get behind what Lunch Break is doing. Everybody should spend some time getting to know what they do over there. It’ll humble you — you think you have problems, but a few minutes at Lunch Break puts it all into perspective. So I knew I wasn’t going to bill them for this phone system, and I wanted to explore some other ways to help out.
Tell us about the process by which Elliot Lurie and Bobby Kimball got attached to the show. They’re interesting choices for guest stars, since you’d probably sit next to them on a train and never know who they were. But everybody knows their hit records — the bands they were in were all about the song, rather than any breakout person in the lineup.
Since our band plays other people’s music, I wondered what would happen if we contacted the lead singers from a bunch of acts who all had huge songs, but who would never fill the Basie by themselves. We reached out to MC Hammer; to the singers from bands like Ambrosia and Player. Hammer wanted 25 grand, but there’s a chance we’ll be working with the other guys if we do this again in the future.
Turns out that Elliot, who I just thought of as being a Jersey guy, lives in California; we’re flying him in for the show. Bobby’s coming in from there too…we’ll be their backing band for the night.
Can you tell us more about the “variety show” format? Is this gonna be something along the lines of the old Ed Sullivan show, with Albanian plate spinners?
It’s basically a music show. It’ll start with my keyboard player Dave, then I’ll come out and tell a few jokes — and the boys, Elliot and Bobby, will come on and do their big songs. Bobby’ll do the three that everyone comes out to hear him sing — “Hold the Line,” “Africa,” “Rosanna.” And we have The Nerds, who jumped at the chance to be part of this.
This might be a good time to ask the burning question — didn’t “Rosanna” have something to do with somebody in Toto hooking up with Rosanna Arquette?
It wasn’t Bobby! It was the keyboard player, the same guy who wrote “Human Nature” for Michael Jackson.
You’ve fronted a real happy go lucky, beach-bar sort of band for many years — but underneath that are some real organizational skills, what with Dunesday, and other bigger events like that New Year’s Eve party you did at the Red Bank Armory a few years back. Would you say that the Jirks have evolved and matured into a serious provider of soundtracks to good causes and special events?
Sandy unearthed that aspect. I would never have had the confidence to do something on the level of these benefit shows if the Sandy concert wasn’t so clearly something that needed to happen right then. Who knows; maybe insecurity is what fuels me! Or maybe I get whatever organizational skills I have from my mother, who used to work as a volunteer at St. Mary’s Thrift Shop in New Monmouth — they ran a tight ship over there!
But this idea of a “Santa for somebody or something” concert is one that I’d like to make into a December tradition in Red Bank. This time around, the only night we could get was a Monday, but I want to move it to the weekend…for next year, we put in for the third Saturday in December, and I’d like to see it happen every year around that time.
Take it here for tickets to the December 23 Santa for Lunch Break event ($35 – $69) — and here to track the movements of Brian Kirk and the Jirks — including appearances at the annual New Year’s Day Polar Bear Plunge in Asbury Park, and a monthly gig at Red Bank’s Downtown starting in January.