Performing artists during the past 16 months of the pandemic social distancing and isolation have fought to remain relevant with the public by ‘takin’ it to the streets,’ in the words of The Doobie Brothers. Highland Park has been among the communities that have supported this trend, starting last November 2020 when Main Street Highland Park arranged the American Repertory Ballet/Princeton Ballet School Nutcracker performance segments outdoors in the Main Street’s Farmers’ Market space.
Most recently at the end of May, residents were heaping praise on Highland Park-based musician Gary Kaplan for producing Porch Fest, an entire afternoon of rock music performances from the porches and/or driveways of homes throughout the town. Porch Fest rocked the community out of its lethargy and into an energetic post-pandemic state of mind. I roamed the streets during Porch Fest and was astonished to see how quickly the isolation and community deterioration of COVID was eradicated not only by a vaccine but also by these performances that brought the residents swinging and mingling together with unmitigated joy in a COVID safe manner. One porch location host even gave away free bags of freshly made popcorn.
Gary became hooked on the concept of a Porch Fest, after a band that he founded The Fletchers performed at the Lambertville Porch Fest last fall. “I was happy with how it went and decided at that time to plan on making it an annual event for Highland Park. The feedback has been heart warming and inspiring,” he said.
This outdoor performance event may have been inspired by the restrictions placed on performers by the pandemic, but in fact it was an event that should continue long past the pandemic, as a way to bring the community together in a joyful atmosphere free of social and political angst.
Gary is moved by many things in life – starting with his wife Terry Jover, the borough’s administrator, and their son, a Bartle School third grader. Also crucial for his health and well-being is his Monday through Friday profession as a widely respected employee assistance program/human resources consultant, drug and alcohol counselor, and trauma specialist.
But it is music that really gets him moving. He thrives on performing in two bands – The Fletchers and most recently RGD.
“RGD and the Fletchers play different kinds of music. RGD is more roots garage 60s sound…. The vibe is late 60s early 70s glam and psychedelic, such as The Velvet underground, The Stooges, early Pink Floyd, Joy Division, David Bowie, The Damned, The Verve.” Both bands have albums, tour the New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania area, and often perform locally, particularly at Pino’s in Highland Park, where the Fletchers took the outdoors stage in early May.
“Music has always meant a lot to me and has got me through some very difficult times in my life,” said Gary, who as a behavioral health professional appreciates the value of music in sustaining one’s life.
Personally, I know that music – albeit online jazz concerts from Jazz at Lincoln Center – saved me from total despair during the darkest days of COVID isolation. And I also know that music will continue to inspire me as the pandemic ends and other stresses and challenges intrude on my life and the lives of my friends and family. So I offer a big thank you to Gary for contributing to the mental health of the Highland Park community – without charging a penny for his services.