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“A Living Legend!” Bruce Hornsby and The Noisemakers LIVE! at Mayo PAC

By Spotlight Central. Photos by Love Imagery

Bruce Hornsby is a musician who draws from a variety of musical traditions — classical, jazz, bluegrass, folk, Motown, gospel, rock, blues, and more — to create a unique sound which appeals to lovers of all different musical genres.

Born in Williamsburg, Virginia, Hornsby started a band with his older brother, Bobby, which covered songs by The Allman Brothers, The Band, and The Grateful Dead. He and his younger brother, John, moved to Los Angeles where they spent three years writing music for 20th Century Fox. While in L.A., Bruce worked as a session musician, with Ambrosia — known for their hit, “Biggest Part of Me” — and as a member of Sheena Easton’s touring band.

In 1984, he formed his own band, Bruce Hornsby and The Range, and scored a #1 record with his civil rights song, “Just the Way It Is.” He co-wrote and played piano on “The End of the Innocence” for Don Henley and played piano on Bonnie Raitt’s hit, “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” in addition to appearing on albums by Bob Dylan, Crosby Stills and Nash, and Stevie Nicks.

Over the course of his career, this three-time Grammy winner went on to become known for his piano, keyboard, and accordion work with The Grateful Dead, his bluegrass music project with country artist Ricky Skaggs, and his work as a solo artist — in addition to his highly spontaneous and interactive live concerts with his touring band, Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers.

And that’s the group folks have come out to hear on this summery Monday, July 16, 2018 evening at Morristown, NJ’s Mayo Performing Arts Center.

As we wait inside the stunning Mayo PAC auditorium, we chat with Charlie and Debbie from New Milford, fans of Hornby’s since the mid-1980s.

“I love his piano playing and sound,” explains Charlie, to which Debbie adds, “And we love his interaction with the audience.”

“Do you see all those pieces of paper on the stage?” asks Charlie, explaining, “People write down the names of songs they want to hear Bruce play — or just shout them out from the audience — and he plays them,” making every Bruce Hornsby concert a one-of-a-kind experience.

“And he transcends all genres of music and periods,” notes Debbie. “People of all ages like his music,” noting “even our kids, 15 and 12, can sing most of his songs.”

We also chat with Deborah, a pianist and piano teacher from Mountain Lakes, who tells us she’s been a Bruce Hornsby fan since the early ‘80s.

Asking about her initial attraction to his music, Deborah recounts, “There were all of these rock tenors out there at the time, but then there was this other guy — Bruce Hornsby — who played the piano, and his music really appealed to me. Bruce attended the University of Miami — so he’s conservatory trained — and you can tell that when you hear him play.”

“And, as a musician, I really appreciate what he can do — especially at the age of 63,” adds Deborah. “He has amazing technique” and, in addition, “he surrounds himself with such great musicians in his band — they are so tight!”

Following an opening act performance by Jessie Harris, the spotlights come up on Noisemaker drummer Chad Wright who takes the stage and begins to play a funky drum solo. As he rocks the beat, the rest of the members of The Noisemakers take the stage including J.T. Thomas on keyboards and organ, J.V. Collier on bass, Gibb Droll on guitar, and Ross Holmes on fiddle and mandolin.

To cheers and applause, Bruce Hornsby also enters, takes a seat at his grand piano, and counts off “1, 2, 3, 4” before he and the group instantly impress the audience with their big sound on “Barren Ground.”

Singing, “There were people living in a green valley/Found a way to make a lot of money/Made the green turn gradually gray,” Hornsby’s countrified voice sounds soulful and full in this sonically-superior listening space.

Accompanied by his trademark “Hornsby sound” — world-class acoustic piano playing, an organ/synth pad sound, swirling electric guitar, tight bass, a solid beat, and some sonorous fiddle — Bruce and The Noisemakers rock the Mayo PAC auditorium as they deftly alternate between vocal and instrumental segments which include a jazzy Gibb Droll electric guitar solo and a precision Chad Wright drum solo.

Following avid applause, Hornsby and his collegues perform “Go Back to Your Woods” — a Robbie Robertson song — on which Hornsby sings with countrified soul, “I came around to your back door/Just like I’d always done before/Old man took one look at my clothes/Said, ‘Boy, don’t come round here no more’/He say, ‘Go, go back, back to your woods!’”

Extending the piece with a barrelhouse jazz piano solo, a nimble counterpoint exchange between Hornsby on piano and Droll on guitar — not to mention another Chad Wright drum solo — ultimately, the tune morphs into an all-out blues number. The audience responds with hoots, hollers, and applause!

Next, the band launches into what Hornsby describes as “the first bi-tonal pop song played in Morristown, NJ,” explaining that it is in both the keys of C and F#. Opening with an avant-garde piano intro, the piece — “Blinding Light of Dreams” — morphs into a classical sounding concoction before Wright has yet another opportunity to impress the crowd with a lively drum solo.

When the audience cheers, Hornsby jokes, “That was Chad Wright — he’s soloed on every song!” Then, he introduces the next number — one he jokingly refers to as “totally unexpected” — a reinterpretation of his 1986 Bruce Hornsby and the Range chart-topper, “The Way It Is.”

Opening with solo piano, Hornsby starts to play the piece as a ballad with gorgeous harmonies before improvising in a classical style. He continues to skillfully accompany himself on the piano as he sings, “Well, they passed a law in ’64/To give those who ain’t got, a little more/But it only goes so far.”

Continuing with a rhythmic piano solo, he plays with his right hand over his left. Improvising a la jazz pianist Keith Jarrett, he segues into a Johann Sebastian Bach composition before the band joins in with a spacey percussive jazz-rock and Latin feel. There’s a Ross Holms mandolin solo and a J.T. Thomas organ solo before Hornsby’s piano and Holms’ mandolin trade off licks.

Fingers flying, other band members watch the fireworks, clearly enjoying every moment!

Rounding third on his way home, Hornsby plays straight eighth note rhythms as the band accents percussively and Gibb Droll’s electric guitar sails above in a symphonic finish which prompts cheers and a standing ovation from the crowd!

Taking a moment to chat with the excited fans in the audience, Hornsby says, “Every song we’ll play tonight comes from you — from your request list,” before revealing the night’s one exception — “Go Back to Your Woods,” the song he wrote with The Band’s Robbie Robertson.

Talking about playing in Spain in 1994 with Robbie Robertson at a music festival, Hornsby mentions how he was also asked to perform with Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters. He reveals that, at the time, he didn’t know the piece he was supposed to play, “Comfortably Numb,” having spent the1980s — when Pink Floyd’s records were big — “studying the music of Bill Evans and Coltrane.”

After becoming familiar with the piece, however, Hornsby says, “I wanted to write a song that gave me a similar feeling” and went on to create his own composition, “Fortunate Son.” The song was inspired by a book Hornsby had read — the story of a son of a Marine hero who tried to follow in his father’s footsteps by enlisting to fight in Vietnam, but lost both of his legs in battle.

Opening with a beautiful piano intro, Hornsby’s soulful Southern-tinged voice sings, “I was always taught well, taught well/To be the strong one and keep it inside/But sometimes I sit beside the freeway/And howl out at the dark, dark sky.” With its dreamy ethereal sound, Hornsby and the band segue in and out of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb.” They build to a crescendo where Gibb Droll’s electric guitar is featured and then a decrescendo where piano accompanied by J.T. Thomas’ synthesizer takes center stage.

The musicians shine on this number before eliciting another standing ovation for this emotional performance.

“Thank you so much,” says Hornsby. “We’re gonna totally switch the mood here,” as fans shout out the names of their favorite tunes.

The sound of funky piano introduces a highlight of the evening’s show — a medley of “What a Time” and “The Dreaded Spoon.”

Singing, “Here we go to the Tasty Freeze/Or maybe Dairy Queen/If so, then better lock the glove/There’s something in there the old man loves/To break it out with a muffled shout/A shout of glee and it comes out,” Hornsby sings animatedly on this funk-filled tune which features the sound of Ross Holmes’ down home fiddle.

Following huge applause, Hornsby leaves his spot at the piano and takes a seat center stage with his dulcimer. As he tunes the instrument, he tells the crowd that he and Ricky Scaggs wrote “The Dreaded Spoon” about Bruce’s father, revealing, “Daddy used to have big-a** spoon in his glove compartment” which he frequently used to taste his children’s treats!

Accompanied by Chad Wright on spoons and washboard and Ross Holmes on fiddle, Hornsby plays a somewhat unplugged rendition of his Bruce Hornsby and The Range hit, “Every Little Kiss.” Rhythmically strumming his dulcimer like a guitar, audience members nod their heads and tap their toes to the beat as various Noisemakers are featured on the tune, notably J.T. Thomas on the organ.

“J.T. Thomas — 48 years with me!” exclaims Bruce.

Following excited applause, members of the crowd continue to offer up song suggestions to which Hornsby replies, “Keep yellin’ ‘em!”

After the twangy, “Soon Enough,” Hornsby chooses another tune from the crowd, joking, “If this is your song, stand up and bow to the crowd — we’ll put a spotlight on your *ss!”

Announcing, “We’ve had a request for a song with ‘Dan Marino’ in it, so here it is,” Hornsby strums his dulcimer as he begins to perform the clever “M. I. A. In Miami.” Singing, “I marched down to US 1/Down to Little Cuba/I’m M.I.A. in M-I A/A-M-I/M-I-A/F-L-A/3–0–5,” the gentle folk vibe supporting a Ross Holmes mandolin solo and a J.T Thomas organ solo.

Following cheers, Hornsby repeats, “We’re doing all requests!”

As Holmes begins to play a jazzy fiddle introduction to the next song, it seems obvious that the rest of the band doesn’t recognize what they are supposed to be playing, so Hornsby holds up a sheet of paper with the title written on it! Joining in on some self-described “Cajun music!” Hornsby picks up his accordion to perform “Big Stick.” The rhythmic lyrics, upbeat rhythm, and zydeco sound can’t help but put everyone in joyful mood.

“We’re running out of time!” exclaims Hornsby, before choosing his next song, joking, “I like this song but I like another version better. I’ll be kind and play the version you like, too.”

Opening with a slow piano introduction, Hornsby performs his Top 5 Bruce Hornsby and The Range single, “Mandolin Rain,” but in a minor key, giving the song a feeling of foreboding and longing under the cold blue lights. Ultimately, the rest of the band joins in — Ross Holmes’ mandolin gently plinking, Chad Wright’s brushes swishing on drums, and Gibb Droll playing a soulful electric guitar solo. During his own piano break, Hornsby sounds as if he’s playing in church before he and the band shift the song over to the better-known radio version in a major key. For this tour de force performance, the audience whistles and cheers its approval!

Next up is The Grateful Dead’s “Black Muddy River,” a folk-rock number with powerful chord changes. On this piece, Hornsby plays a sensitive chordal piano solo before the band picks up the tempo. They follow this up with Hornsby’s tune with The Range, “Across the River.” Drawing the listener into the music, Hornsby sings, “She moved back around here thirty-five weeks ago today/Oh down the lane/At night she walks on the banks and remembers how she/Dreamed of rowing away/And how she left one day.” Lights spin on the floor of the stage reminding viewers of a flowing river as Hornsby’s piano and Droll’s guitar trade off solos before the ensemble comes to its symphonic conclusion.

The audience leaps to its feet!

“Thank you so much — it’s always a pleasure coming to Morristown!” exclaims Hornsby as he and The Noisemakers take a group bow and leave the stage.

After the audience emphatically demands an encore, Hornsby responds with yet another highlight of the show. Singing with soul, he performs the funky “Place Under the Sun,” rhythmically chanting, “I’ve been bouncing around/Trying hot coals, jogging, shiatsu, cooking, golf, great books/Crochet, croquet, fitness clubs, and the stylish looks/Tried shiatsu, psychic hotline, rollerblades, stamp collecting, comic books/Never did jack for me” as Hornsby and drummer Chad Wright rock the Mayo!

Following hoots, hollers, and more applause, Hornsby says, “We’ll do one more that we got three requests for,” adding, “This is about one of my sons who hated school.”

Here, he and The Rangefinders perform the clever “Hooray for Tom,” a poignant story song about the state of the American educational system. Singing, “All this useless information/So I can talk way above my station,” Hornsby riffs on the lyrics for the local Jersey crowd by changing the line “Teach me long division/So I can figure out baseball stats” to “Teach me long division/So I can figure out Rutgers baseball stats.”

Even though it’s a Monday night, the audience still doesn’t want to go home, so Hornsby performs one more encore. Introducing a number he says, “I wrote with my brother, John, and Charlie Haden for Willie Nelson,” Hornsby performs the country waltz, “Nobody There But Me.” Singing with soul, he leaves the crowd with this lovely song with a message crooning, “’Cause when the sun comes up/And my dreams die down/There’s nobody there but me.”

Taking a bow at the edge of the stage, he waves one last time to his fans in the audience.

As we make our way out of the Mayo PAC auditorium and out into the lobby, we chat with several audience members who share their reactions to tonight’s performance with us.

Kim from Rockaway says, “I loved this show! My husband and I have been listening to Bruce Hornsby ever since the beginning.” Revealing, “It amazes me how he can make cover versions of cover versions of himself,” she exclaims, “It’s always different, and kudos to the band for being able to keep up with him!”

Adding, “This is the first time we’ve seen him here at Mayo PAC,” Kim comments, “It’s the perfect venue in which to see him — it’s just big enough to feel like you’re at a big concert event but just small enough for it to feel completely intimate.”

Kim’s husband, Steve, agrees noting, “I love how his shows are different every time. For example, when he sang, ‘Mandolin Rain’ he said, ‘I’ll play it my way, and then your way’ — and he did,” before remarking, “And I also just love watching the band members watch him, too.”

Steve’s son, Ryan, agrees with his dad, stating, “I love the way he just noodles around — and it all somehow works.”

Lastly, Ryan’s girlfriend, Sara — who accompanied Ryan and his family to tonight’s show — remarks, “I’d never heard Bruce Hornsby’s music before tonight, but I loved it!”

Outside Mayo PAC, we catch up with another group of friends, including Jean from Chester, who exclaims, “Watching Bruce Hornsby play live was amazing!”

Jean’s friend, Tracey — here visiting from Capetown, South Africa — concurs, commenting, “He’s brilliant — phenomenal — and his interaction with the audience is amazing — you feel like he’s playing in your own living room.”

Lastly, we chat with Jean and Tracey’s companion, Alex from Morristown, who declares, “Bruce Hornsby? He’s fantastic!” before concluding, “He’s a living legend!”

To learn more about Bruce Hornsby and The Noisemakers please go to For information on upcoming concerts at MayoPAC — including An Evening with Lyle Lovett and his Large Band on Aug. 7; Felix Cavaliere and Gene Cornish’s Rascals on Sept. 21; and An Evening with Melissa Etheridge on Oct. 5 — please go to



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For the best in Jersey entertainment reviews, news, and interviews, keep it focused on Spotlight Central