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. ••