Top Of The Pops
All it lacked was real cannons. The booms during the “1812 Overture” were recorded but otherwise Peter Nero and the Philly Pops put on a bang-up show May 25 at Convention Hall.
It was a big start to Cape May’s Memorial Day weekend. A 60-piece orchestra in an intimate setting can’t help but wow an audience. The set list for the night was patriotic songs combined with Broadway, movie and television pieces, something that showcased Nero’s decades-long musical career.
The veteran composer kept the atmosphere light, having the orchestra rise from their chairs to do a wave while playing a medley from the PBS television series Victory at Sea.
“Anybody get wet?” he asked.
Councilwoman Terri Swain rose from her chair to offer the evening’s first standing ovation at the conclusion of the medley.
For those seated on the main floor, as nightfall crept into the city a waning azure sky served as backdrop through the windows of the rear wall of the stage. Those who ventured out on to Convention Hall’s beachside deck at intermission were treated to a view of a mustard-colored moon suspended over the ocean.
Nero spent much of the evening leading the orchestra but when he sat down at the Steinway, he delivered an amazing jazz performance from the score of West Side Story.
While he has been playing with orchestras for 52 years, he noted the Philly Pops “could play everything.” That included the theme from the Sylvester Stallone Rocky movie which has become the unofficial anthem for the Pops’ home, the City of Brotherly Love.
A crowd-pleaser was a sing-along of “On the Way to Cape May,” a song Nero said he worked up an arrangement of two days before the concert.
Local business folks Joe Bogle and Susan Tischler were the first to stand during the playing of “God Bless America.” The audience followed their lead.
“I’d like to come back again when it’s summertime,” Nero told the audience on a 62-degree night with a stiff breeze.
The Philly Pops were joined by eight vocalists known as Voices of the People. They offered “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” a big favorite with the largely senior citizen audience.
The best-dressed folks in Convention Hall were members of the orchestra — the men wore black tuxedos and red bow ties and the woman were in long black dresses or slacks. Convention Hall audiences have shown a preference for seashore-chic outfits and business casual attire. The fact the building is on the beach apparently is not lost on concert attendees.
The concert closed with the “Liberty Bell March,” also known as the theme song for Monty Python, a fact not lost on British-born city resident Peter Cole. He said he liked the classics but is headed to see another classic, Paul McCartney, in concert in Brooklyn.
A pre-concert reception scheduled for the back deck of the hall was moved indoors due to the chilly temperature. Folks milled about in Convention Hall’s lobby with conversation centering on Cape May’s summer tourist season.
“It feels like it’s going to be an amazing summer,” said Curtis Bashaw, Cape Resorts’ managing partner. He acknowledged some believe all of New Jersey was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy while in reality only about 15 percent of the state was hit hard.
Bashaw said he was not bothered by television ads on Philly stations for resort towns in other states. He said the word was filtering out that South Jersey is okay.
Mission Inn co-owner Ray Roberts, dressed in a tropical-weight suit, said bookings for his New Jersey Avenue bed and breakfast inn, The Mission, were ahead of last year, which was the best season in its history.
County Freeholder Will Morey said Hurricane Sandy was a “giant dynamic” but the situation was sorting itself out.
“Even this week we received calls at Morey’s Piers about concerns for the rides,” he said. “And they are from people who live relatively close, within an hour or two drive.”
Earlier in the day, foot traffic on the Wildwood boardwalk had been strong, he said.
“The New Jersey Shore, if it wasn’t known before, it is becoming known throughout the world unfortunately because of Hurricane Sandy,” said Morey.
He predicted a positive tourist season but not a wave of new visitors due to damage in shore towns to the north of Cape May County.
Mayor Ed Mahaney said he was expecting a banner tourist season if the weather cooperated. He said beach tags sales and rental house reservations were strong.
This summer marks Nero’s final year with the Philly Pops. His severance agreement permits him to do three concerts per year, one in Trenton, one at Independence Hall, and one in Cape May.
The mayor said Nero comes for a three-day stay in Cape May and enjoys the city and its people.
While there were empty seats last year for Nero’s concert which officially opened Convention Hall, this year’s concert was reportedly a sell-out. A number of businesses participated in underwriting the cost of hiring Nero and the orchestra.
From the look on the faces of concert-goers as they left the hall, Memorial Day 2014 will find Nero and his orchestra once again headed south on the way to Cape May.
Death Race 2013
You would never know it, but Ilir Elezaj is functioning on four hours of sleep. This is the norm for a general manager launching his family’s beachfront hotel, the Ocean Club, entering its third season, while honoring a strict, 25-hour per week training regimen to prepare for the 2013 Spartan Death Race, a 40-miler coined as The Ultimate Challenge.
“This race will be like no other,’ said Ilir. “You don’t know when it starts, and they don’t tell you when it ends. It’s more mental than physical. Your mind tells your body to quit, and you have to reroute the response — convince your body it’s capable.”
Created for endorphin-hungry overachievers or ultra-endurance athletes, they are known in the obstacle-race circuit, the Death Race, which takes place on June 21 in Pittsfield, VT, requires a special breed of competitors to complete 15-20 challenges over a 40-mile course in the woods. It lasts for at least 48 hours. Even the website sounds very intimidating — youmaydie.com.
“There is going to be weighted, uphill hikes; crawls under barbed wire; water challenges; mountain climbs where you have to figure out a riddle or solve a puzzle — this is all while being sleep deprived,” said Ilir.
Just as the delirious effects of nonsleep fuel his quest during a race, Memorial Day serves as a springboard for a successful summer season in the Cape May hotel industry. Ilir balances his responsibilities as GM at Ocean Club with endurance-specific training, which forces him to put forth maximum effort in minimal time.
“I spend a lot of time at Cape May Fitness Center. My training consists of many different strength and conditioning exercises. I mainly do circuits — high-intensity workouts for short periods of time nonstop. I try to run about 20-30 miles a week and increase my effort by carrying a heavy backpack or anything I can find.”
Ilir ran track and cross country and wrestled when he was younger but only recently turned to decathlons and triathlons. “I competed in sports since I was young. Coming out of college I wanted to feel that competitive edge again — that amazing feeling you get when you know it’s all on you.”
June 1 marks the anniversary of Ilir’s first Spartan Sprint. Since that day, he has competed in 14 other Spartan races and ended up finishing 68th out of about 133,000 in the world and 13th in his age group (25–29 years).
In under a year, Ilir has completed 20 races/challenges, each different from the last, totaling 200 miles — a distance exceeding the length of the state of New Jersey. He trains in all elements, nurses his injuries, and keeps on going, building his network of brothers and sisters. Sammy Mui, director of marketing for Body Armor in the NYC/NJ area, took an interest and now sponsors him on his journey to the Death Race.
Embracing the pain with open arms is one tactic that Ilir uses to mentally prepare for a challenge like the Death Race. Another is keeping a positive attitude and having a solid support system.
“If you train your mind before you encounter the thought of giving up, it is 1000 times easier to trust that your body won’t give out,” he said.
This optimism can be attributed to Ilir’s friendship with Young Sun Moon, founder of Numinous Health Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine Boutique in NYC. He helps Ilir get in the mindset before each race.
“She has become a pillar in my life and supports me 100% in what I do. She is crewing for me at the Death Race. This means she will be feeding me; helping me change; and most of all, morally supporting me as I complete each challenge. She plays a key role in my quest to survive.”
As you would expect, the undertow of emotions leading up to an event like Death Race peak and swell, like a heart rate pulsing with anticipation… but Ilir says he is prepared to endure the worst and outlast the best. Good luck Ilir… we hope you won’t need it.
The Chamber of Commerce of Greater Cape May is unhappy with city council. As reported in our recent City Hall column, the chamber had gone to the city asking for $25,00 to help them run the Welcome Center.
That plea, however, has apparently fallen on deaf ears. At a recent council meeting, City Manager Bruce MacLeod appeared to rule out the idea and attempts by the chamber to discuss the matter since then have been ignored, says chamber President John Cooke.
“In spite of repeated attempts to work with the City of Cape May, to seek their support with the Welcome Center, the Chamber of Commerce has had no response from the city. To date, we have not had any official communication from any member of city council, the City Manager or the Mayor. The appearance of ignoring the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Cape May is disappointing to us as an organization,” he said.
“As the official voice of business in Cape May, the chamber understands the necessity of staffing the Welcome Center. Increasing the hours with qualified Visitor Relations personnel is not only the right thing to do; it benefits the City of Cape May, its residents, its visitors and the business community, and its members.”
In the meantime, the chamber is determined to keep the Welcome Center open every day, effective June 1, from 9:00am to 5:00pm. They will be staffing the center with one Visitor Relations Specialist each day but are looking for volunteers to help during the busy 10am-2pm period. If you are interested in volunteering, contact the Welcome Center at 609-884-9562.
All About Us
AND now… some shameless self-promotion. Last weekend saw two new launches from our very busy (read: out-of-our-minds-run-ragged busy) little organization. First of all, we opened a second Exit Zero store on the beachfront — at 316 Beach Avenue. Thanks to the Hirsch family for being such accommodating landlords. And we also launched the exciting new [artBOX] complex on Adventure Pier, on Wildwood boardwalk, in conjunction with Morey’s Piers.
This cool new concept features the Exit Zero Museum Shop, which sells a cool range of maritime and Wildwood-themed merchandise, along with work from five regional artists (whose studios, like our store, are located in recycled metal shipping containers). There is also Cafe 4B, which features superb sushi from the folks at Toykyo in Rio Grande.
Come see us — [artBOX] is open daily from 3pm to 11pm.