by Len Lear
You never know where a good story will come from. Last week I was standing in front of our house, just about to take our dog for a walk around the neighborhood, when an attractive couple walked past, smiled and made a flattering comment about a sweater I was wearing. I told them I bought it for almost nothing at the annual St. Paul’s Church Rummage Sale in September.
One thing led to another, and I asked if they were from the neighborhood. The guy, Adam Monaco, 40, lives in Mt. Airy, and the girl, Cate Gipe, 22, lives in Fort Washington. When I asked what kind of work they did, I found out that Adam is a professional musician, and Cate is a singer as well as an artist who paints portraits on commission.
What are the odds? This is catnip for me. I told them who I was and that they are exactly the kinds of artistic people I profile every week in the Local. It turns out that Adam is a soloist and self-taught musician who is also a member of the folk music band, Under the Oak, which plays all over the Delaware Valley.
The following day I watched their videos on YouTube and could not believe what I saw. They are truly outstanding, reminiscent of the legendary folk music groups I used to see at the Gilded Cage Coffee Shop in center city in the late 1950s and early ‘60s such as Peter Paul & Mary, The Kingston Trio, The Highwaymen, Chad Mitchell Trio (with John Denver), The Weavers, etc., but Under the Oak combines traditional folk music with elements of bluegrass and folk rock. Their original songs are infectious, and the musicianship is eye-OK!
Under the Oak consists of Adam on mandolin, Peter Oswald, cello; Chris Peace, many instruments, Maggie Pope, sings, guitar and banjo, and sometimes Cate singing. Both singers have beautiful, sensitive voices. Typical of the rave reviews they have been getting is this one from Izzy Lopez, from WXPN Radio: “Their song, ‘Beyond the Physical,’ begins with deceptively simple lyrics … but the group’s cascading harmonies enrich the lyrics and tell us that there is much more to this song than meets the eye … The accompanying music video feels like the most cinematic home movie you’ve ever seen.”
Monaco, who grew up in Long Island, taught himself to play the saxophone at age 13 and then traded his $900 sax for a $200 guitar, which did not please his father. Adam, whose father, grandfather and uncle were all musicians, began writing songs in junior high school and has not stopped in the 27 years since then.
After high school Adam worked for Dun & Bradstreet in Bethlehem, which provides commercial data to businesses, for four years. “I was depressed there,” said Adam, “even though I was making good money. I once put a customer on hold, and while he was on hold, I wrote a complete song called ‘Random Thoughts.’ The guy on hold wound up buying a high-end product. Two weeks later I quit and moved to Philly in 2002. I just had to go to the big city to play music.”
Monaco, who had one job as a Keebler Elf, another as a limousine driver and another as a nanny (or “manny”) for 12 years, put together entertainment events even while at Emmaus High School (near Allentown), but he was basically broke after leaving Dun & Bradstreet and literally stopped paying his bills, but after seven years the creditors wiped the slate clean.
“I had bought a car when I still had good credit,” said Adam. “I moved to Manayunk with a friend from high school and another guy we had just met. I hosted a weekly variety show, the Adam Monaco Variety Show, in 2003 every Wednesday at Abilene on South Street for a year and a half. It was always packed, people standing everywhere.”
Adam, who became a vegetarian at age 11, got a call in 2004 from an entertainment promoter asking him to open for the Bacon Brothers at the Borgata in Atlantic City.
“As part of the deal, I had to sell 70 tickets at $40 each. What I didn’t sell, I’d have to pay. I sold over 100. I spent every day calling people I knew. I was very motivated. So the Adam Monaco Band opened for the Bacon Brothers. Over 800 people in the audience. Standing ovation. We sold more tickets than the Bacon Brothers. I got a call a week later to open for Blondie. Had to sell 80 tickets for $50 each. We had over 800 people in the Music Box at the Borgata.”
Adam has also produced events for Linvilla Orchards, Jenkintown Arts Festival and Awbury Arboretum, among others. Under The Oak is signed to Winding Way Records out of Newtown Square. In the past year Adam has been doing mostly house concerts, usually solo or with Cate. He averages two a week, generally for 20 to 40 people who pay $15 to $20 a head.
Rob Carhart Jr,, of Odenton MD, who hosted one of Adam’s house concerts, said, “In his performances, Adam blends engaging stories with affecting original songs, connecting on an intimate and emotional level with the audience. I can easily recommend him without reservation.”
Adam also hosts a radio show, “All Entertainment Live,” on WPPN 106.5 (phillycam.org/listen) every Friday, 12:30 p.m.
For more information, visit undertheoakmusic.com or allentertainmentllc.com. Len Lear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org