SOMERVILLE, NJ - The 20th anniversary Stars and Promises band, led by Jimmy Buffet's lead guitarist Peter Mayer, pulled into Somerville on their tour bus for a Christmas concert Friday night at the United Reformed Church to perform and renew acquaintances with a loyal following, some of whom came from as far away as San Francisco.
Longtime friend Rick Fontana, former Somerset County freeholder, produces the Christmas concert with a big assist from Dan Puntillo, a member of the Somerville Board of Education, who has also grown close with Mayer and members of his entourage.
The annual visit goes beyond the music, the friendships and holiday spirit - it's a fund-raising event for local students that also helps to boost Somerville's reputation and the local economy, according to Fontana.
Close to 500 tickets were sold for the show, $35 in advance and $45 at the door, with a sales breakdown showing ticket purchases on the west coast, with several more purchases made in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Washington, New York and New Jersey.
A former area resident, who had attended the concert in year's past and who now lives in Phoenix, reached out to Fontana from Arizona, knowing that he would be in town for the holidays and wanted to be certain he could purchase tickets for the show.
Those from New England traveled to New Jersey this year because the Stars and Promises tour, which has traveled through Massachusetts and other states in past years did not make it that far north, according to Fontana.
Two sisters from the Jersey shore, who have seen Mayer perform each year since 1999, made it again this year.
"The breadth, the reach this concert has, is amazing," Fontana said. "Even Peter gets blown away."
"We've had that kind of response all along," Puntillo added.
Fontana and Puntillo spoke with dozens of people before and after the show, with the out-of-towners telling them that they had booked rooms at the Marriott Hotel in Bridgewater.
Several mentioned that they had, or would be having dinner and or/drinks at any number of the restaurants in downtown Somerville, specifically mentioning Verve Restaurant, Bar & Bistro, Savor and Mannion's Irish Pub, according to Fontana.
"This is compelling information that shows a significant economic impact as well as showcasing Somerville in a very positive light," Fontana said.
Though still crunching the numbers, Fontana estimates the concert raised between $5,000-$7000 for the Somerville Education Foundation; $1,000 was raised for the Ray Bateman Scholarship at Raritan Valley Community College, awarded annually to a Somerville high school graduate.
Fontana posted his thanks on Facebook:
"So proud of the community impact Stars and Promises has on our area. We plotted all sales on a map and we had audience members from as far as San Francisco and Phoenix. We had a half dozen from Massachusetts. Some from Long Island and Pennsylvania. Also from Baltimore DC area and hundreds from all over NJ. Spoke to dozens of people that visited our Somerville restaurants and many which stayed at Bridgewater Marriott. All while raising approx. 7,000 for charity. Thank You to all sponsors and audience members who support this concert without you it just could not happen. Have a very Merry Christmas it was a special night!!"
Peter Mayer has released 14 albums to date and tours year 'round with his own Peter Mayer Group in addition to being Buffet's lead guitar player. Along the way he has shared the stage with a variety of notable artists such as James Taylor, Don Henley, Joe Walsh, and Ringo Starr.
He was accompanied by six other musicians including his brother, Jim and son Brendan playing a variety of instruments - guitars, keyboards, bass, violin, woodwinds, flute, bagpipe and percussion, performing a selection of Christmas classics and original songs, heavily influenced by Mayer's upbringing by his missionary parents, spending the first eight years of his life in India.
In 1999, Mayer and his brother began work on their first Christmas album, "Stars and Promises." Since then, Mayer has set out on the road for 19 more Christmas tours, and has released four Christmas recordings.
Concert-goers at the Somerville show had the opportunity to purchase a recording of that night's performance immediately following the show. A percentage of each sale was donated by Mayer to the scholarship fund.