While planning the musical entertainment for this year’s Ewing Community Fest, Jim McManimon, township business administrator, decided he wanted to hire a Ewing-based band to perform at the event.
He was tired of working with outside acts, who wind up charging $5,000 or $6,000 and can be difficult to deal with. “A lot of them are a bunch of prima donnas,” McManimon said.
So this year he reached out to Jonathan Savage and hired his band, Jon Savage & the Classic Rockers to provide the musical entertainment for this year’s Community Fest at the College of New Jersey. The event returns this year on Saturday, Sept. 23, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., after not being held for the past two years due to the construction of the Campus Town development at the college.
“He’a a township resident, and the majority of the band members are township residents,” McManimon said. They also work in area businesses, organizations and the Ewing School District.
“It’s a great community venue for us,” Savage says. “It’s almost a natural thing for us to be chosen to be there.”
Savage has been playing music since he started “goofing around with a guitar” back in the late 1970s, and began playing more seriously when his kids left for college. In 2015 he founded Jon Savage and the Classic Rockers, and recently released his first solo EP, Who I Am, in May.
Back in the ’80s, he says, he imitated musicians he admired and “wanted to sound like,” like Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, David Bowie, Bob Dylan and Neil Young.
“It’s come full circle now. I still play all that as well as my own original songs,” he says. “People compare me to those folks I grew up listening to and wanted to be like.”
Savage, who plays electric and acoustic guitar, harmonica and sings lead vocals, performs at a variety of venues, sometimes as a soloist on acoustic guitar playing his own music at local bars; sometimes in duets; and for big events six or seven band members.
The big band included a horn section, with trumpet, trombone and saxophone, to complement keyboard, bass and other guitars. With Motown music especially, he says, “We’ll really rev it up and get a big sound for people coming to see us. It’s classic rock, so people like to hear horns.”
One of his band’s biggest stages was at Mercer County Park in summer 2016. Others have included World Café Live in Philadelphia and “some pretty cool local establishments like the Ivy Tavern in Princeton.”
‘What I find to be really interesting is the younger folks who come to see us. They all know the music we are playing.’
Last year Savage took his band on a road trip, and they performed in a restaurant in Middletown, Pennsylvania, near his hometown of Collingdale in Delaware County. Among the 100-person crowd were family and friends but also people he hadn’t seen in 40 years. “As a result they asked me to play for my 40th high school reunion,” he says.
“We cater to the people of my age group,” he says, but adds that “what I find to be really interesting is the younger folks who come to see us. They all know the music we are playing and love to sing along with us while we sing stuff 40 and 50 years old.”
Savage distinguishes his band’s performance style from that of other bands he sees at live concerts, who “are basically a karaoke machine. We like people to dance. There is a lot of energy in our shows and it comes back to you—getting people excited and they come back.”
Savage says that when they’re selecting music for a show, “We change it up a lot, primarily to keep ourselves and our audiences interested; we want it to be something that is fresh and innovative, and we throw mine [solo songs] in too.”
The band has gotten its name out, he says, “through social media, word of mouth and having a lot of great friends and family members come see us on a regular basis.”
Savage recently added songwriting to his musical resume. The process, he says, involves “me sitting with an acoustic guitar and thinking on different topics and subjects, then writing, backfilling all instrumentation and vocals, compiling and recording.”
“It’s got to be the most difficult things I’ve every done, but it was very satisfying at the same time,” he says, noting that from start to finish, it takes three to four months.
Savage coproduced Who I Am, with Dave DeLizza, who Savage has known for over a decade but had not previously played with. Savage played acoustic guitar, and DeLizza the other instruments, including electric and base guitar, keyboard, and drums. “It was stripped down in his basement with all his recording and computer equipment,” Savage says.
Who I Am, which is available on Amazon, iTunes, Spotify and other popular music services, is primarily rock, folk and acoustic guitar. With music both in the first and second person, Savage says, “The title of the album says it all: who I am, the type of person I am, and who I’d like to be described.”
He says his themes cover “my upbringing, my way of doing things, and some political statements, the world we live in, although I try not to get too political.”
Describing his band members “as really diverse, good people, and good friends,” Savage notes three who live or work in Ewing. Resident Gerri Teller, lead and backup vocalist, is also a maternity nurse at Robert Wood Johnson Hospital in New Brunswick.
Ewing resident Bill O’Callaghan, guitarist, is in charge of IT systems for Bank of America in Hopewell. Bordentown resident Peter Silipino, guitarist, is the band and orchestra leader and a music instructor at Fisher Middle School.
“Like others in our band, we are all involved, local community leaders who currently volunteer or have volunteered our time to the Ewing Community and a variety of Mercer County nonprofit organizations,” He says.
In his music biography Savage notes that he regularly volunteers for worthy causes and regional nonprofits, “particularly those that support/assist the homeless, individuals with disabilities and preservation groups.”
Savage earned a bachelor of science in geography at Pennsylvania State University. His first jobs focused primarily on land use planning and economic development, followed by county and state economic planning. Starting in the early 1990s, he moved into the engineering sector and today is vice president and principal at the headquarters of Pennoni Associates, an engineering and construction services company, in Philadelphia; he works on operations and national and international business development. The company has 31 offices and does $150 million in sales.
But Savage doesn’t let business get in the way of fun. “I’m never too busy to hang out and play music with my friends,” he says, adding that his band has even played at some company functions as well as events for “associations we support as a company.”
Savage served on the Ewing School Board from 2001 to 2010, including many years as president, and coached baseball, basketball and wrestling. Today he is an advisory board member for Penn State Brandywine. He has played at his church, the First Presbyterian Church in Ewing, and his band was the first to play when the 1867 Sanctuary opened as a community arts center.
“I’ve started late in life in this music adventure and it took on a life of its own,” he says. “We entertain folks in the community and have fun; if it’s not fun, we won’t do it. It’s for love of music and friendship.”
In addition to Jon Savage & the Classic Rockers, the Community Fest will feature a Community Fest Village where attendees can find vendors and community groups. There will also be a food court offering a variety of cuisine and inflatable rides for kids similar to those that appeared at past Community Fests, including a super slide, rocky mountain, UFO laser tag and crayon bounce.
Also on hand will be township police, firefighters and emergency services workers.
Community Fest is paid for through a fundraising effort, including donations from township-based businesses including FMC, New Jersey Manufacturers and American Properties. McManimon said that as of mid-August, $40,000 had been raised for the event, which should pay for the event, plus allow for a small cushion in case of unexpected costs.
Held in conjunction with Community Fest will be the township’s third annual Community Bike Ride, from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. The event will start and end at Campus Town at The College of New Jersey. The theme for this year’s ride is “Bike Riding for a Healthier You.” September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, and all proceeds from the event will be donated to the American Cancer Society’s Run for Dad event in support of prostate cancer awareness and research.
The bike ride is being cosponsored by the township recreation department and the Ewing Green Team. Individuals or teams ages 18 years and older are encouraged to register early—there is a maximum number of 50 riders allowed.
“We would love participants to sign up as individuals or come as a team of friends, family members or co-workers,” says Garry Keel, green team member and bike ride coordinator. The ride registration fee is $20 until Sept. 16 and $25 after. All persons registering by Sept. 16 will receive a T-shirt. Day-of-event registration begins at 8 a.m.
The bike ride will tour Ewing Township and include several rest stops. There is an eight-mile route designed for the casual rider, and an 18-mile route planned for the more experienced bicyclist.
For more information on the Community Bike Ride, go to ewinggreenteam.org/ewingfallspin or call Keel at (609) 771-9611.