High Tide

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People Get Ready IV: Motown, Memphis & Music for Social Justice at The Sperlak Gallery & Sculpture Gardens

Photos by Ted Kingston

The History of the ‘People Get Ready’ Annual Tribute Show

The annual People Get Ready concert event was created by producer Marnie Lengle, originating in 2019 at Harbor Square theater in Stone Harbor. “I wanted to celebrate Black history through music and was inspired by Curtis Mayfield’s classic, ‘People Get Ready,’” shared Marnie. The first show was a sell-out event and community success. It did not pick back up until 2023 due to the pandemic, taking place in their previous rehearsal space, Stan Sperlak’s barn.

There have been at least twenty different musicians involved in this tribute show since 2019. “Eddie Morgan, a talented trumpet player and bandleader from Atlantic City, has been playing in Cape May for decades and was involved in Jazz Fest for many years,” said Marnie. “His amazing trio, consisting of Eddie, keyboardist Daryl Robinson, and drummer Jeff Burnside, are the anchor of People Get Ready.”

Bernadette Matthews and Jeff Hebron are local musicians and good friends of Marnie’s who had supported the concept of this concert from the beginning. “Eddie, Bernadette and Jeffrey also brought the legendary Lois Smith into the fold and my life is forever better for it,” Marnie said. “Lois is a multi-talented artist, singer, community leader and icon. To be in her presence, on and off the stage, is awe-inspiring.”  

Those artists were present at the 2024 People Get Ready concert, along with Toni Teschner, Julia Hankerson, Nate Kennedy, Terry Dougherty, and Mike Curley.

Photos by Ted Kingston

People Get Ready IV

This highly anticipated and sold-out concert took place on a chilly evening in late February, with the soft glow of the full moon illuminating Stan Sperlak’s gorgeous landscape. Many cars traveled down his long winding driveway, passing eye-catching sculptures and eclectic fixtures, leading to the bright and bustling barn.

The well-organized event had an attendant who directed us where to park. As we approached the main property, more and more artsy trinkets and figures revealed themselves. It is a visually stimulating environment and creativity is clearly welcome. In this gorgeous setting, on Crow Creek in Goshen, art meets nature. 

This was the barn’s biggest show to date, seating 125 attendants, not counting the musicians and their guests. Stan Sperlak and Marnie Lengle did an excellent job of keeping the order in this busy barn. There was someone at the door to collect and hang coats. The event was BYOB but they had someone to mark, store, and pour beverages. This all came together to help the process move smoothly when fitting so many guests in this limited space.

The barn itself has open-faced wooden beams that give the environment a rustic feel, and framed pastel paintings of marshland on the wall are testament to Sperlak’s artistic talent and the area’s natural beauty. The rest of the decor and furniture gives it a homey feel, making it easy to get comfortable. 

The loft-style, open interior barn is a versatile space. The barn is primarily used as Stan’s studio, gallery, and a workshop for students. Because of Stan’s extensive experience in landscaping as well as art, the barn is also a sign-in station for visitors coming to explore the grounds. The space is often rented out for private events like weddings, showers, lectures, and private concerts. 

On the night of the concert the barn was occupied by extremely talented musicians and an eager audience. We trotted up to the second floor loft area with a spectacular aerial view of the stage. As we made ourselves comfortable, there was plenty of mingling going on amongst friends and strangers.

The show began with Quanette Vasser-McNeal of the Cape May County NAACP discussing the goals of the organization and the concert being to promote equality and social justice. Partial proceeds from this event were donated to organizations that support these important causes. 

From start to finish, this show was engaging. There was gospel, soul, Motown, and more. The show kicked off with classic songs that promote peace and social progression like Bob Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind,” followed by anthems for equality like Nina Simone’s “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free” and Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come.” 

Jeff Hebron gave a charismatic performance, singing James Brown’s “Get On Up” which did in fact get the crowd up on their feet dancing like the performers on stage. Toni Teschner’s vocal cover of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” had the crowd quietly awed, presumably experiencing collective chills. The legendary Lois Smith brought her beautiful voice and quick wit to the microphone and shared a few laughs with the Eddie Morgan Trio. Local musician Nate Kennedy gave a jaw dropping and enduring performance on lead guitar.  

The performers had chemistry and were interactive with one another, appearing more than comfortable to share the stage. The camaraderie was lighthearted and community oriented, and the atmosphere was laid back, stirring with joyous energy. This show had a powerful message and celebrated the civil rights movement through enthusiastic music representative of the times.

Stan’s openness to acquiring new skills is on display during these concerts as he has taken on the role of sound management during the performance, which is no light load when considering the many instruments and voices. “I’ve immersed myself in sound man duties and site organization. Marnie handles the promotion and talent,” shared Stan on how the two team up and balance responsibilities. He was also active on the floor, checking in on everyone to ensure things were going well, as an accommodating and attentive host.

Marnie has much experience in the realm of music production. She has produced many shows, both in the barn as well as Harbor Square Theater and Cape May Convention Hall. Producing shows at the barn is a fairly recent development in the scope of Marnie’s time producing. “Since 2021 we have collaborated on approximately six to eight concerts a year at Sperlak Gallery & Sculpture Gardens,” said Marnie. 

The community has received the barn concerts extremely well, with every event only growing in ticket sales and popularity. 

“The events are leading many to call the Barn ‘an epicenter of community love for music and the arts’ and I’ll humbly agree that the place just attracts the finest musicians and fans,” shared Stan. “We hope to add two more events this year giving us a total of eight. A special Jazz in June is being organized right now, then another singer-songwriter show in September. Our big outdoor Songs From the Barn event the first weekend in November with 300 people or more, twenty acts, food trucks and hiking the sculpture gardens. This benefits musicians in need, helps the roads here and all of the acts play for free to help their brethren.” 

If you missed out on this performance, there are plenty of opportunities in the future to see a show on the Sperlak property. Upcoming concerts and events are listed on the Sperlak Gallery website.