Hoggin’ All the Fun with Mel & Tony
Live music was our driving factor when we created SJ Fun Hog. We thought if we could have a list that’s updated daily with local musicians sharing their schedules, it would be the main focus of our site. What we didn’t expect though was to find so many musicians! In putting this list together every week, we have found ourselves saying, “we have to go see them” on a regular basis. Which is exactly what happened with Melanie Caruso & Tony Pontari. I have to admit, I am a little embarrassed to say that when we went out to Bourre last week to hear their show and have a chat with them, it was our first time hearing Mel & Tony play. Needless to say – we are completely hooked.
As we walked up from the parking lot, we could hear the duo playing Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”, which is a favorite of mine. But after we sat down and they transitioned into their next song, I actually turned to Dave and said, “Did the just go from Dolly Parton to Beyonce?!”. Yes. Yes, they did. Without missing a beat Mel was belting out “Irreplicable” like the Queen Bey herself. After their first set they came and sat with us for a quick chat about music, their duo and the South Jersey music scene. Mel jumped in first…
Mel: We met over 10 years ago. We are both school teachers and we both taught in the same school district. He was playing out and I went out to hear him play one night. I got up on the mic and he was like “you sing?”. It started out really small. We would just play one place and it just kind of grew from there.
Kate: So you (Mel) have a little Sinatra influence, what were your musical influences? What did you grow up listening to?
Tony: I grew up listening to everything. The Cure, The Smiths. Then I started listening to the Stones and Jimmy Buffet. I went through that because I was a kid of the 80’s & 90’s so I listened to all the stuff. I went from Poison to the Cure to Pearl Jam.
Mel pointed out that there’s a slight age difference between her and Tony. So while he was rocking out to Pearl Jam, she was listening to N’Sync.
Tony: I didn’t learn guitar until I was 19. The musicians that play out around here, Motts Creek Pickers, Patty Blee… these are the people that influenced me. I would listen to them and think I want to do that so bad. That’s really how I got into it. But really the local musicians that are still out here playing, I still go to their shows when I can.
I felt like we could have talked for hours. But, selfishly, I wanted to hear them play some more. So we moved on quickly to some fun questions so they could get back to what they were there to do.
Kate: Do you have any pet peeves or tips you can share so that we can be a better audience?
Mel: Stop asking for “Freebird”. It’s not funny.
Tony: It was funny like 20 years ago. We don’t really have any pet peeves though. We love when people make requests.
Mel and Tony actually have a sheet that lists, front and a back, a sampling of songs that they play. They hand it out during their shows as a prompt for requests. Mel will walk around between songs, and their listeners can circle songs from the sheet and turn them in and Mel & Tony will go through the sheets on the fly and play the songs requested by the audience.
Kate: I’m so glad that you brought that up! Tell us how you came up with your request sheet?
Tony: So when I did this by myself, I had a giant book of songs. There were no iPads then, I just had this huge book. So when people would make requests I finally just started handing them the book and I’d say just pick something from the book. And I realized, the more the people had ownership of what they were listening to, the more engaged they became. And I would think, this is a good gig. This is fun. And they would sing along. And honestly, its about the energy. I love the energy when people are singing along and having a good time.
Mel: Yeah – it makes the gig go by [so fast].
Tony: And I would think any musician would tell you, you could have ten people in a room, and it could be full of energy and you feel it…. You could have 300 people sitting here right now, and they’re not into it. And it’s flat. So it’s not the people it’s the energy. And it has to do with the energy you give too.
Dave: You guys are pretty engaging. It’s really fun to watch to you guys play.
In fact, when Mel was singing Beyonce, I jumped up to record it for Facebook and the whole yard was fully of energy. Tables with families and kids, tables with young couples, tables with groups of old friends; everyone was singing and dancing along in their seats. I gave Mel a little demonstration of what I saw. Which got a few laughs…
Mel: I haven’t done that one in a while too!
Tony: So there’s really no pet peeves. I would just say please come out and have fun and sing along. And we love when people yell out requests or write in their suggestions.
Kate: So what are the most requested songs and what are your favorite songs to play?
Tony: “Country Roads” is probably the most requested song.
Mel: Favorite song to play – it changes. It depends on the day.
Tony: And how you feel. If it’s a really intimate gig I like to play slower, cooler stuff. Like Cold Play and Bruce Springsteen. When people ask me what my favorite song is, I’m gonna say I don’t have one. It just depends on how I feel that day.
Mel: Also, if we practice a song and were totally feelin it…like right now my favorite song to sing is “Harvest Moon” by Neil Young.
Tony: It’s my favorite to play right now too.
Mel: I’m loving singing that song right now. And it could totally change in 6 months, but right now I love singing that song.
Kate: So this is a silly one, but we need to know… Do you sing in the shower? And if so, what do you sing?
Mel: Yes. Beyonce. Anything buzzing in my head that I just heard. The acoustics are amazing in the shower.
Tony: My wife makes fun of me because I bring my phone into the actual shower, and I go on YouTube, today was 90’s Acoustic, and I will put it on the shelf and it’s just blowing off the tile. And I’m rockin out in the shower. And my wife is like “what are you doing?”. I’m prepping for the gig.
We laughed a lot during this conversation…
Kate: So you guys are the first musicians that we have interviewed for SJ Fun Hog so we’re really excited about that! But we ask all of our interviewees, no matter their specialty or what kind of fun they’re having these same four questions. So first, what is your favorite non music thing to do in your free time.
Mel: We hang out. As a group. Our spouses and us go out and listen to live music. I know that’s a music thing to do but that’s what we do when we’re off.
Kate: Okay. So this would be an individual thing, not a we thing. If you won the lottery tomorrow, what is the first thing you would buy?
Mel: A new car.
Tony: I think I would buy a house somewhere in Costa Rica. Or somewhere more remote.
Kate: Last question. We ask everyone this so no assumptions, but what would be your hangover cure recommendation?
Mel: Oh I just started this, it’s called liquid IV. It doesn’t cure the whole thing but you get rid of the headache and it cures most of it. Or hair of the dog and just keep going.
Tony: I go to Wawa and get a hotdog with cheese, a vitamin water, a coffee and three asprin.
Kate: I mean that’s more than a cure, that’s a recipe.
Tony: Or a bloody-mary.
Mel: Or a fountain soda from McDonalds. It has to be a fountain soda.
Four interviews down for SJ Fun Hog and “hair of the dog” is definitely the most popular hang over cure for those of you keeping track! We had a blast talking to Mel & Tony but we had even more fun listening to them play. Their energy is contagious, and they make you feel like friends, even when you’re listening from the back of the yard. If you’re looking to catch Mel & Tony live, you can follow them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/MelanieandTony.AcousticDuo . You can also find their shows listed here on our website under the live entertainment tab. You won’t be sorry!