Friday, February 22, 2008

Blues Bros Do AC


Can Atlantic City survive the Blues Brothers?

When “Jersey Joe” Piscopo realized the kids need some help, he recruited the Blues Brothers and some of his Saturday Night Live (SNL) alumni to do a special show at Caesar’s on the boardwalk in Atlantic City.

Persuaded by Piscopo to back his Positive Image Foundation (PIF) that helps at-risk kids, Elwood (Dan Aykroyd) and “Zee” Blues (Jim Belushi) and their band will headline the show Saturday night that may also include SNL veterans Chevy Chase, Adam Sandler, Dana Carvy and Father (Don Novello) Narduci.

It’s a benefit show that city officials hope will not be like the Chicago1980 benefit concert to save their old orphanage, immortalized in the Blues Brothers movie, that practically destroyed the city of Chicago.

Security in Atlantic City is already on high alert because of the Presidential inauguration, and the city’s public safety has recently survived a brief internship of Paris and Nicole without any major calamity, so they are prepared for anything.

It was 25 years ago, in 1980, when Piscopo and a new generation of entertainers took over from the original SNL crew, and later that year the Blues Brothers got together to play what became a notorious benefit concert that included Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Cab Calloway and other stars, backed by a group of studio musicians who can play.

The band’s talent, and the selection of classic material for their set lists made for one great performance, and movie. The Blues Brothers, still loyal to the strict nuns who raised them, sometimes strayed from their patron’s vision, and in the movie they cut a swathing path of destruction through the streets of Chicago, totaling hundreds of CPD patrol cars.

Now Piscopo and the Brothers are getting the band and the SNL gang together to do the same thing on the boardwalk for “Jersey” Joe’s kids, and Atlantic City is ready. City officials have reportedly checked with their Chicago counterparts to make sure there are no outstanding warrants for the Blues Brothers or any member of their band, which includes some of the best studio musicians on record.

The Casino Control Commission (CCC) has also conducted a background check on Dan “Elwood Blues” Akyroyd, as one of the principle partners in the House of Blues (HOB) showcase venue that is set to open soon at the Atlantic City Showboat casino. The opening of the HOB, together with the Trump Marina rock concerts, the opening of the Quarter at the Trop, and the anticipated Caesar’s Pier, will together take Atlantic City to another level as a tourist attraction, targeting a decidedly younger, hip and lucrative audience.

And Piscopo, the quintessential Jersey Guy, wants to remind those dipping into this money pit to not forget the kids.

In a telephone conversation a week before the show, Piscopo said, “Atlantic City is happening Now. With all that’s going on and all the money that’s there, you have to remember the kids, and give something back to the community, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

“The community,” that Piscopo is talking about isn’t the glitter of the casinos, but the back street ghettos of Newark, Camden, Atlantic City and his own hometown of Passaic, New Jersey. Along with Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen, Jack Nickelson, Danny DiVito, Bruce Willis and….., Piscopo has come to represent the Jersey crew in Hollywood, and is even mulling over a possible run for governor, like they do in California.

Besides his entertainment career that began in 1970(s) as a stand-up comic at the Jersey Shore (Joe Pop’s on LIB), SNL (1980-85) stint, and a slew of major motion pictures ( “Wise Guys,” “Johnny Dangerously,” “Dead Heat”) Piscopo has done an HBO special (“Bloomfield Avenue”), and helped revive “Grease” on Broadway. Most recently he’s been a guest star on TV’s hit “Law & Order,” playing an action-movie star suspected of murder.

Piscopo has also been honored for his off-camera contributions to charitable causes like Big Bros/Big Sisters, and was named to former New Jersey Governor Chritine Todd Whitman’s “Commission to Deter Criminal Activity.” From there he went to starting the Positive Image Foundation (PIF).

Besides just throwing money at an issue, Piscopo was looking to make a real difference with PIF, “to help youth to discover their true potential by mentorship, recognition and community involvement – teaching them that they’re valuable citizens that can achieve more through cooperation with their parents, teachers and community leaders.”

With offices based in Washington D.C. [2801 M. Street N.W., DC. 20007 – 202-338-6100] , the PIF began with a series of TV shows (Produced with PITV – Enterasys Networks), described as a “Groundbreaking series that mixes education and entertainment to reinforce positive behavior and lifestyles among at-risk youth….,” and a million dollar grant to increase Internet and computer access for inner-city schools.

“We’re doing good things in underprivileged areas,” said Piscopo, who mentioned his visit to Camden as an example. “I walked down Mt. Emphrium Avenue in Camden,” said Piscopo, and there aren’t many more dangerous places in the country, “That’s where I found the Unity Community Center.” Through his PIF, Piscopo supports the Camden center, founded by Robert and Wanda Dickerson to “help at-risk communities … through educational, recreational, developmental and the performing arts, and re-establish values of family life, improve character, educate and teach the basics that our youth need to survive in …low income urban areas.”

As a non-profit umbrella group that includes the Riletta T. Cream Family School, the Universal African Dance and Drum Ensemble, and a karate school, all of which preach self-worth, achievement, confidence and discipline, the Unity oasis in Camden reflects the kinds of programs that Piscopo wants to implement.

“I went through some bumps and bruises in my own life,” said Piscopo, “and I can’t tell you why I was such a jerk, but what I want to do is a hard-sell. If I hear – ‘It’s not our target audience,’ one more time,….” While poor black kids in the ghetto may not be a target audience for some big time executives, the talent he’s assembled is certainly going to get some attention, and support for his cause.

“I reached out to Jim Belushi and Dan Akyroyd and I’m going to reach out to others,” said Piscopo, mentioning Chevy Chase, Adam Sandler, Dan Novello, Danna Carvy, and the fact that Eddie Murphy’s already checked in with a nice donation.

As for the Blues Brothers, Akyroyd has already made a big commitment to open a House of Blues (HOB) in the newly renovated Showboat, adding on to the string of mid-sized showcase venues that are already successful in LA, Vegas and other cities on the new “Chitlin’ Circuit,” which promises to bring in a retinue of new, good blues acts to town.

For the Blues Brothers, whether it was with the late “Jake” or his younger blood brother “Zee” as Elwood’s sidekick, they’ve always been the co-emcees of a the show who also sing, dance and do the occasional cartwheebut l, as Elwood said, “The songs and our band are the stars, we are there in service to these classic American songs.”

If the show comes off without the complete destruction of Atlantic City, it’s the appreciative audience and the kids on the street who will benefit the most. Tickets are $100 and can be purchased at Caesar’s box office or through Ticketmaster [ 1-800-736-1420 ] or on line at or .


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