Arts & Entertainment

Smithereens Bandmates Reunite and Play Show Honoring Scotch Plains Music Legend Pat DiNizio

d821c10974bc86bd1a98_pat_dinizio.jpg
Pat DiNizio was the founder, principal songwriter, guitarist, and vocalist for The Smithereens and a successful solo performer.
e416ffc7f7a88986f8b1_Smithereens_photo.jpg
The Smithereens in their heyday
d9f1469845c35b69d704_PatDAugust2.jpg
Pat DiNizio played a concert on the Alan Augustine Green in downtown Scotch Plains this summer. Credits: Jon Joshua
d821c10974bc86bd1a98_pat_dinizio.jpg

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - Two of the founding members of the Smithereens reunited at New Brunswick's Court Tavern on Saturday, Feb. 3, to pay tribute to the late Pat DiNizio, the band’s lead singer, who died in December.

The concert, titled “Blood & Roses: The Court Tavern Memorial Tribute to Pat DiNizio,” featured 15 of the alternative band’s hits from over the years.

DiNizio passed away on Dec. 12, leaving a hole in the hearts of many. In his final years, he would often perform solo shows at the Crossroads in Garwood, just a stone's throw from Scotch Plains, where he lived until his death.

Sign Up for E-News

“We’re here to celebrate Pat’s life, songs, the band before,” guitarist Jim Babjak told the crowd. 

During the sold out concert, musicians cycled in to play different tribute songs. Those who made it on stage had at some point performed alongside DiNizio and other Smithereens, opened for them or did some kind of musical piece with them. 

Headlining a show was a blend of musicians from different bands who’ve had such opportunities. There was Kevin Hyland on drums, Keith Hartel on bass and vocals, and Tom Jorgensen on vocals. All three were once members of the band Platinum Load, while Hyland and Jorgensen were also part of the band Swingin’ Neckbreakers. On guitar were Pete Tomlinson, Jeff Jefferson and Doug Vizthum. 

Smithereens drummer Dennis Diken and guitarist Jim Babjak performed three of the band’s biggest hits, “Only a Memory,” “A Girl Like You” and “Behind the Wall of Sleep.” 

The two were joined by The Grip Weeds, a Highland Park band that formed in the late 1980’s and had the chance to tour with the Smithereens and open for them at different concerts. 

Kurt Reil, the singer and drummer for The Grip Weeds, filled in for DiNizio on those three hit songs, something he said wasn’t easy. 

“There’s a big hole in the middle of the band,” Kurt said, in an interview before the show. “We had to fill that hole, we had to stand in those shoes and sing those songs, and it’s not that easy because the songs are tailor-made. He wrote them in his voice.”

His brother, Rick, and vocalist and guitarist for The Grip Weeds, agreed: “He’s known for his voice as well, a very distinctive voice.” 

But Kurt admitted that in doing the tribute, he’d do his best to “fill the shoes,” and to “make it come alive.”

“You’ve got to give it something, you can’t be a parody, then you’re just a fake,” Kurt told TAPintoNewBrunswick. 

As both the Reil brothers gladly pointed out before the show, they and The Grip Weeds trace their roots back to New Brunswick, just like with the Smithereens. 

The two frequented the “Captain Video” record store on Easton Avenue, owned by Babjak. It was a hang-out spot for their circle of friends. 

In the 1980’s, the music scene all had some connection to New Brunswick, Highland Park and Rutgers University, be it someone who lived, studied or worked in the area. 

“We first heard ‘Especially for You,’ the Smithereens breakthrough album,” we first heard that in his store before it came out,” Rick said. 

Hartel and Jefferson, who were performing that night, both used to work at the record store according to Babjack. Many of the musicians met each other through the store, and by extension, through the Court Tavern, which opened in 1981. 

Rick for example, met his wife, Kristen Pinell, at a Smithereens concert in the same venue. 

She’s since been part of the band, and did guitar and harmony at the Feb. 3 concert. Babjak’s girlfriend at the time, now his wife, went to Rutgers, as did his two sons. 

DiNizio, having grown up in Carteret and passing away in Scotch Plains, has essentially been a life-time Central Jersey resident. In the late 1970’s, DiNizio teamed up with Diken, Babjak and bassist Mike Mesaros. The quartet became the Smithereens just a few years later. 

“When Pat and I met, it was kind of a meeting of the minds and a meeting of the souls, and kindred spirits and hearts,” Diken told the crowd. 

Many musicians and die-hard music fans will emphasize the importance of the Court Tavern for success of the Smithereens. 

It is, after all, one of the last surviving music venues for the city’s rock music scene, if you don’t count the basement shows that would constitute a fire inspector’s worst nightmare. 

For local musician Doug Vitzthum, the Smithereens were “the best thing that ever happened out of New Brunswick,” according to an interview with TAPintoNewBrunswick shortly after DiNizio’s death. 

Having worked at the Court Tavern for nearly 15 years, Vitzthum said he had his finger on the pulse of Central Jersey’s vibrant, underground rock and punk rock music scene, and he knew what people were inclined to like. 

Whenever the Smithereens would play, the Court Tavern was packed constantly, Vitzthum said, and considered; the group the venue’s “house band” for a time.

At the Feb. 3 concert, Kurt, once off the drum set and doing just vocals, reminisced in some rather wacky adventures of the band. 

Once, during the Smithereens peak popularity years, the truck made a pit stop at the Court Tavern, in between the massive venues of New York City and Philadelphia. 

“I remember the Smithereens gear truck comes rolling up, and it’s this huge tractor trailer, and they start loading out the gear, amps, drums, all kinds of equipment, and it was piled high,” Kurt told the crowd.

“So they just loaded it right on in, and it was loud, and I think they blew the sound in the court one night, and the whole place went black.” 

The Smithereens coming to the Court Tavern was always a treat for the local music scene, which drew out a packed crowd. This was especially the case during the February sold out show. At their peak before the grunge era of the 1990’s, the only New Jersey musicians who could rival the band were Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen. 

“I think a lot of our success was based on how Pat’s lyrics resonated with so many people, so whatever he was expressing spoke to a lot of folks, Diken told TAPinto New Brunswick shortly before the show. “

Diken added: “We all grew up in workings class towns, working class families. We always had a very strong work ethic when it came to recording, when it came to touring. We worked very hard and we always felt, and I know Pat would say this, we were just a reflection of our audience.” 

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

New Providence

Union County Celebrates National Trails Day with Free Guided Hikes and Activities, June 2

May 23, 2018

The Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders invites residents and visitors of all ages to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of National Trails Day at the Watchung Reservation on Saturday, June 2, where the County’s Trailside Nature & Science Center will host four different guided hikes and an Adopt-a-Trail volunteer activity along with special programs throughout the day for all ages. The ...

The Ducks Are Here

BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ – Just arrived. Over four thousand little yellow rubber duckies, ready to swim their little webbed feet off for their adoptive “parents.”

Ducky adoption tickets are just $5 each and available throughout Berkeley Heights oAm Bagel, 7-Eleven, Stop n/ Shop, and out front of our town post office to find and adopt as many duckies as you’d like.

Field Hockey Is On the Rise in Berkeley Heights and Mountainside; Fall Registration Open

BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - The Berkeley Heights PAL has opened registration for Fall 5/6 and 7/8 travel field hockey teams, as well as a second through fourth grade Fall clinic and a Summer clinic for current second through eighth graders.   Visit the PAL website, www.bhpal.org, to register. Please indicate if you need to borrow a stick.

The PAL Field Hockey program ...

How the Holi Color Festival Came to Summit; Event Planner Shares Her Story

May 21, 2018

Back in India, Holi was a holiday observed by almost all states. The holiday would be declared at all educational institutes and offices. It's a two day spring festival also known as the festival of colors. The festival signifies the victory of good over bad, the arrival of spring with the fragrance of flowers in the air and aura of warmth and happiness.

Holi festival is the time ...

Fallout Continues from Lawsuit Against Mountainside; Police Chief on Administrative Leave

May 19, 2018

MOUNTAINSIDE, NJ – Police Chief Allan Attanasio is the latest member of the police department to suffer repercussions from a complaint filed against the borough on May 11.  Attanasio, who is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit, was “placed on administrative leave,” on Thursday by Borough Administrator and former Police Chief James Debbie, said  Lt. Joseph ...

Video Shows School Board Member In Altercation With Police at Traffic Stop in South Orange

May 16, 2018

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ - South Orange Maplewood School Board Member Stephanie Lawson-Muhammad got into an altercation with a South Orange police officer who stopped her for speeding last month, in which she used profanity, complained when she was issued a ticket and called South Orange Police Chief Kyle Kroll “a skinhead cop.”

Lawson-Muhammad also appeared to suggest that she would ...

Coach Bottone Tribute

May 19, 2018

2017 Pioneer football players took on a tall task of filling a lot of open spots with not many returning players. We had 30 kids on our football team who all wanted to be there. With a new head coach who just came on board in late April, we had a lot of things to do without much time. Most people would say being on a 1-9 football team would be no fun and, at times, it wasn’t, but it was the ...

Upcoming Events

Carousel_image_7f6c107703df2d416aa6_barre_intesity

Wed, May 23, 8:00 AM

Providence Health and Fitness , New Providence

Barre Intensity

Health & Wellness

Carousel_image_9b6d72bb10d15de52ffa_pilates-mat-pic

Wed, May 23, 8:00 AM

Providence Health and Fitness, New Providence

Mat Pilates

Health & Wellness

Carousel_image_c64d737a46240c5e09c6_lean_technique_woman

Wed, May 23, 9:00 AM

Providence Health and Fitness, New Providence

Lean, Cardio, Strength, Tone and Stretch

Health & Wellness

Carousel_image_a4801a3d56342db1596a_pilates_reformer

Wed, May 23, 10:00 AM

Providence Health and Fitness, New Providence

Pilates Reformer

Health & Wellness

Carousel_image_c2872dd7b6bba99b4cf7_ducky_drop

Wed, May 23, 12:00 PM

Passaic River Park, Berkeley Heights

The Ducks Are Here

Arts & Entertainment Giving Back

Carousel_image_d3114c224cbfa47c81e0_restorative-yoga

Wed, May 23, 7:00 PM

Providence Health and Fitness, New Providence

Restorative Yoga

Health & Wellness