Before they got famous playing with Bob Dylan as The Band, the members of that legendary rock group played at Tony Mart's as Levon and the Hawks.
Now Carmen Marotta, who grew up in that Somers Point landmark of a club run by his father, Tony, is helping put on a musical tribute of sorts tonight to The Band and Dylan and more legends, combined with a culinary tribute to South Jersey produce hosted by the Main Street American Cafe in Mays Landing.
Marotta and the restaurant's chef and owner, Richard Spurlock, are calling their joint venture the King Harvest Dinner and Concert. The music will come from the Dan Burke Band, whose leader promises that the band will indeed play "King Harvest" - the haunting classic released by The Band in 1969 - along with songs by The Grateful Dead, Neil Young and other greats of that rock genre.
And the food comes from Spurlock, a veteran chef who plans a five-course, $30 dinner featuring fresh fall produce in each dish. The soup includes pumpkin and acorn squash; the salad has cabbage, butternut squash and cranberries; the smoked-chicken-breast appetizer has a corn-and-black-bean relish; the main course pork loin is stuffed with very local apples - "I was just out buying the apples in Mays Landing," Spurlock said the other day -and the dessert is pumpkin pie.
"I grew up with Carmen. We were playmates as kids," Spurlock says. "I also cut my teeth in Tony Mart's, and I'm a music lover. It's my mission to try to keep live music alive. As you know, that's becoming harder and harder every day. ... But I try to do music twice a month, one themed dinner and one a la carte."
Marotta was a friend and former business partner (in a New Orleans club) of the now-late Levon Helm, the drummer and one of the lead voices in The Band. By legend, Helm was on a pay phone at Tony Mart's when he took a 1965 call inviting the group to be Dylan's electric band on a concert tour - at about four times the pay they were making as that summer's house band at Tony Mart's.
"The Dan Burke Band will do some of Levon's stuff from near the end of his career, they'll do Dylan, they'll do The Band," says Marotta, who describes the group as a "a bluegrass and new-grass kind of sound." He's also friendly with the percussionist, Ronnie Mortilitte, a veteran of the Bob Campanell Band, a regular player in Marotta's local musical promotions.
Burke, of Galloway Township, said his band is fairly new - and learned "King Harvest' specifically for this gig. Marotta can't wait to hear the title track of the King Harvest Dinner.
"I want them to do all The Band and Levon Helm stuff they know," he says. "Because that of course is part of our history."
Speaking of history, Burke has some of his own at a certain local club. In the 1980s, he was in a country-rock band called Nuthin' Fancy that got its name from a Lynyrd Skynyrd album - and played some of its gigs at Tony Mart's.
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If you go
The King Harvest Dinner and Concert starts 6:30 p.m. today at the Main Street American Cafe, 6001 Main St., Mays Landing. Tickets are $30 plus tax and tip. For reservations, call 609-625-5500, for more details, see tonymart.com.