Northeast Times

The beat goes on

  • Dance to the music: Local party band the Heartbeats will perform a Friends and Family Reunion Show in the Far Northeast this Saturday. The 11-member ensemble will donate proceeds from the event to the Cancer Support Community as a tribute to the families of four members who have been affected by cancer. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

  • Dance to the music: Local party band the Heartbeats will perform a Friends and Family Reunion Show in the Far Northeast this Saturday. The 11-member ensemble will donate proceeds from the event to the Cancer Support Community as a tribute to the families of four members who have been affected by cancer. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

If you’re old enough to re­mem­ber the mul­lets, the Zubaz pants, the Kiss cos­tumes or the time that Nick Cas­ciano went on stage dressed like a Hoot­ers girl, you already know that The Heart­beats are syn­onym­ous with fun.

But there’s prob­ably something you may not know about one of the Delaware Val­ley’s busiest party bands. They sound bet­ter now than ever be­fore.

Long­time Heart­beats fans and new ones will get a rare op­por­tun­ity to en­joy the spec­tacle this Sat­urday as the 11-mem­ber en­semble steps away from a busy cal­en­dar of wed­dings and cor­por­ate events for a Friends and Fam­ily Re­union Show at The Phil­adelphia Ball­room in the Far North­east.

What began four years ago as the band’s 20th an­niversary show has be­come an an­nu­al cel­eb­ra­tion that last year at­trac­ted more than 800 people to the Buck Hotel in Feasterville. Cas­ciano, the band lead­er and founder, ex­pects it to get even big­ger this year, which is why he moved the event to a spa­cious ca­ter­ing hall at 2014 Horn­ig Road, just west of Roosevelt Boulevard.

“The band has got­ten ab­so­lutely bet­ter with age,” said Cas­ciano, a lifelong Somer­ton res­id­ent. “Mu­sic is about a feel. You have to know what’s go­ing on. Ex­per­i­ence can’t be re­placed.”

Des­pite the billing, Sat­urday’s show is a pub­lic event, with a por­tion of pro­ceeds be­ne­fit­ting the Can­cer Sup­port Com­munity of Great­er Phil­adelphia. But as the name states, friends and fam­ily will be the core audi­ence. By that, Cas­ciano and his col­leagues mean all the folks who used to fol­low the group from club to club in the 1990s and early 2000s, as well as those who have en­joyed them at private events over the years.

What star­ted out as a four-man rock combo now cov­ers a rep­er­toire of some 3,000 fa­vor­ite rock, pop and dance songs span­ning the last half-cen­tury or so. The en­semble now in­cludes three wo­men vo­cal­ists to com­ple­ment Cas­ciano, a three-man horn sec­tion and a bassist in ad­di­tion to the three ori­gin­al in­stru­ment­al parts. Cas­ciano, key­board­ist Ernie McAndrews and man­ager Mike Sper­ando are hol­d­overs from the ori­gin­al group.

Many of the names have changed over the years, but the lead­er­ship and the mind­set have en­dured.

“With The Heart­beats, the num­ber one thing is the band is very ver­sat­ile. We’re like a DJ, but we’re live. We do so many dif­fer­ent styles. That’s why people love us, aside from great mu­si­cians and sing­ers,” Cas­ciano said. “We bring the party.”

Sat­urday’s fest­iv­it­ies won’t pass without one somber note. The group will donate pro­ceeds from the event to the Can­cer Sup­port Com­munity as a trib­ute to the fam­il­ies of four mem­bers who have been af­fected by can­cer.

Sper­ando’s wife passed away from can­cer in Au­gust 2004. Former drum­mer Joel Aaron lost both par­ents to the dis­ease, while cur­rent drum­mer Jose Diaz lost his mom. Vo­cal­ist Tri­cia Ro­dio’s mom is a breast can­cer sur­viv­or.

Pink will per­meate the event with the per­formers, the de­cor, the tick­ets and even some of the in­stru­ments show­cas­ing the sym­bol­ic col­or. There will be si­lent auc­tions for a gui­tar, a vi­ol­in and oth­er good­ies. Ad­mis­sion costs $35 for adults or $20 for chil­dren 14 and un­der. That in­cludes drinks, a buf­fet and four hours of en­ter­tain­ment. The show starts at 8 p.m. Vis­it www.the­heart­beats.com or call 215-676-3171 for in­form­a­tion.

Nightclub-go­ers who might’ve seen The Heart­beats at the Vel­vet Lounge in Mor­rell Park, Brownie’s in Woodlyn or Cal­la­han’s in May­fair many years ago are sure to re­min­isce. Nowadays, the group plays 75 to 100 private events each year, but it made its repu­ta­tion on the club scene.

“We’re re­cre­at­ing a fun time back when we were do­ing clubs, and the live mu­sic scene was so much stronger,” Cas­ciano said. “Our thing was to at­tract as many girls to the club as you can.”

“If you get the girls, the guys will come,” Sper­ando said.

Some­times, they had to get ex­tra cre­at­ive to keep things ex­cit­ing.

One year for Hal­loween, they were booked to play a mid­week show at the former Bronco Bill’s on Grant Av­en­ue. They played a pretty stand­ard first set. But for the second set, they came out in black shirts and Kiss make-up.

“The people went crazy for it,” Sper­ando said.

Based on that first ex­per­i­ence, they grew the concept in­to a full-scale trib­ute show with rep­lica cos­tumes and pyro­tech­nics. They car­ried the act to ven­ues throughout the Phil­adelphia area, bring­ing it to as many new audi­ences as pos­sible.

“We ended up do­ing five shows a year. They were set up stra­tegic­ally,” Sper­ando said.

“That was just something else we did. We tried a lot of dif­fer­ent things to make it fun and keep it fresh,” Cas­ciano said.

The band lead­er now owns a re­hears­al stu­dio in Black­wood, N.J., with a show­case stage fea­tur­ing full sound and light­ing equip­ment, as well as two ad­di­tion­al re­hears­al stages. The fa­cil­ity is avail­able for rent­als. One of the rooms is decked out in wall-to-wall Kiss with au­then­t­ic stage props from the ori­gin­al band.

The ven­ue is re­flect­ive of the pro­fes­sion­al eth­ic that Cas­ciano has main­tained in The Heart­beats since day one.

“I try to cre­ate a fam­ily at­mo­sphere in the band, but it doesn’t run un­less every­body does their part. That’s what makes it work,” he said. ••

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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