St. Charles Place, Granada, Brothers Saloon, Smitty Kicks, Club 33, the Office Café, River Rocks, Casey Jones—these are the ghosts of Hamilton music scene’s past.
Living in these memories of big hair, late nights and early breakfasts at the diner takes us back to a time when music didn’t come out of our earbuds but instead out of our cars, our garages and our clubs and bars.
But how are musicians faring in Hamilton now? And where do music lovers go if they wish to see live music?
Meg Hanson would know. Previously of the popular Meg Hanson Group, the band leader is the namesake of her new band, the Megatones. She also taught vocals and piano at Nottingham High School for 20 years, and grew up in a musical family at a time when the aforementioned venues were thumping until the wee hours in Hamilton Township.
Hanson said that she believes the heart of rock and roll is still beating in Hamilton. She rattled off names of some of the legendary musicians who play in and around Hamilton—Ernie White, Tom Reock, Sandy Zio, Billy Hill, Joe Zook, Bob Smith and Paul Plumeri.
Even with the venues of the past departed, there is still a demand for live music in Hamilton. Places such as the Nottingham Tavern, Mama Rosa’s, Blend Bar and Bistro, the Ivy Tavern, Killarney’s Publick House are a few of the places still offering live music. The Hibernian Club on Kuser Road often has live music.
Rock is still king in Hamilton, but Hanson said there is more opportunity to develop jazz, pop and R&B scenes in town. Hanson’s brother, coronet player Danny Tobias, plays in New York City at Jazz clubs such as Birdland, the Ear Inn and Café Bohemia. She said she would love to see more Jazz music in this area and thinks it could really do well.
But Hanson said the true musician just wants to play, and Hanson has taken her act—sometimes with a drummer in tow—to local senior centers and assisted living centers.
“Music is so important to keep our seniors engaged and vital,” she said. “They get up and dance like a bunch of teenagers. They really love it, especially the music of their time, the early Sixties and Broadway tunes. The music never fades from that magic spot in our brains. Music is truly a gift from heaven that seniors never forget.”
Hanson said the township school system is vital for the future of music in Hamilton, for creating both musicians and people who appreciate music.
“The schools do a great job with providing the students an entry into music and performing,” Hanson said. “Teaching the instrumentals, vocals, theater and the various bands the schools do a really good job. The kids love it. They get this passion from the teachers. Beside the music and performing the students learn discipline to practice, commitment to the schedules, teamwork and attention to detail.”
Hanson points to a few Nottingham students who now have musical careers on Broadway. Nottingham alumni doing well in the music world include Nick Cheng who played keyboard for The Carole King Musical: Beautiful, Sharon Kenny who has performed sold out shows to Joe’s Pub, Le Poisson Rouge, and the Gramercy Theatre. Her songs have been prominently featured both nationally and internationally on television.
There’s also Jennifer Furman who recently toured nationally in Wicked, Natalie Mergules who sang in New York with the dell’Arte Opera Ensemble, and Michael Crea who was an Associate Producer for the Tony Award-winning drama All The Way starring Bryan Cranston.
She also speaks glowingly about the marching bands, gospel choir and jazz bands.
Hanson wishes the community would come out in larger numbers to see these productions. The spring musicals, for example, are a community effort that demand passion and discipline from the students, and the involvement of parents and alumni who assist with things like the designing and building of sets.
“Live theater right here in Hamilton performed by our hard working talented, young people is a joyous event,” Hanson said. “You will be uplifted.”
2020 was a tough year for music, with restaurants, bars and many organized performance venues being shut down or limited due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Venerable music gathering spot The Music Box closed its doors for good.
But Hanson thinks opportunity still exists. She sees the potential for a performing arts venue that could feature all the high school bands, classical and jazz concerts, musical theater, plays—maybe even wine tastings. The venue could be a hub even for religious and ethnic festivals. She said she would love to see a Septemberfest type community festival, but with a multitude of bands playing all day.
“As a musician who has been caught in the weather once too often, I like the idea of an open air type theater but wish at least with a covered area for the performers,” Hanson said. “I like the stage area and bandshell recently added to Mercer County Park. I think a theater—indoor or outdoor—would be a huge hit.”