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How I Came to Put on a Manny Cabo Concert in Montclair 

On Sunday, May 21 I'll open for Manny Cabo ("The Voice," “La Voz,” Wizards of Winter Tour) at Just Jake's in Montclair, NJ. 

🎫🎫 Get your tickets here. 🎫🎫

I've performed live in Montclair since the early 90s when I used to come here for open mic nights. By 2005, Amy and I moved here. Over the course of decades performing in this arts-rich town, I've gotten to know some of the movers and shakers. I've also become aware of when my show idea was unconventional enough that I'd have to plan and organize the show myself. 

This led me to work with Joann Smalls to create events like a Family New Year's Ball in the Old Mogul Theater (now known as the Vanguard Theater). At the time, Joann was promoting a Manny Cabo show in the same space. So I began to follow this former “The Voice” contestant on social media. I really liked the way he represented himself online - with sharp, professional images and a consistent, inspirational tone verbally. 

One way I support local artists in town is through the use of my “Montclair, NJ Music Scene” playlist on Spotify. So, when Manny was recently promoting a new single, I added it to the top of my playlist and let Manny know about it. He messaged me to say he would like to return to Montclair to play an intimate, acoustic show. So I got to work on how I might best make that happen. 

 Just Jake's struck me as the right sized venue for a well-known performer to give an intimate show in town – but with a bit of imagination for another unconventional show.  Just Jake's is mostly known for its Friday and Saturday night cover bands that get the room up and dancing. Back in 2014, I booked a daytime concert at Just Jake's to mark the release of my debut album for kids and families with my band “Jungle Gym Jam.” So I understood the power of the venue to serve different audiences at different times of the day or week. I've also spent several afternoons there with my family watching our friends' kids perform in special School of Rock concerts. There you had young rockers' parents and siblings listening attentively at tables, rocking out to songs they grew up on. 

Knowing all this, I approached Patty, the venue's co-owner and booker, about putting on an acoustic show with Manny that wouldn't disrupt the cover band schedule her patrons expect. We settled on a Sunday in May - before Memorial Day and summer weekends could take a big enough bite out attendance.  Still, how would we ensure enough turnout to cover costs? For this piece of the puzzle, I looked to School of Rock and those packed weekend afternoons I'd experienced. I've never seen School of Rock put on an acoustic show, so this struck me as an interesting twist and a valuable skill for these students to pick up. It's also an opportunity for up-and-coming music students to open for a touring musician who's been on TV multiple times. Also, given Manny's deeply-held belief in inspiring the next generation of artists, giving the school's students this shot to open for Manny made a great deal of sense. 

For my part in the show, I've recently opened for Willie Nile at Outpost in the Burbs, notching a high-water mark in my music career. Now I'll bring that stage-tested show in front of Manny's audience and hopefully bring many of you, my followers, into the mix. My set will lean more toward my rock songs to create a cohesive experience with Manny's rock stylings. 

I believe our show - my set, School of Rock's house band performance and Manny's headlining set - will delight and inspire you and your family. This is the culmination of decades of my love for making music in Montclair. 

🎫🎫 Get your tickets here. 🎫🎫

If there's a useful lesson here for other artists, it's that taking the moment to promote other artists and your local scene can make good things happen. We independent artists are advised to promote ourselves, but not to be spammy about it. Promoting other artists like I do with my Montclair playlist helps form partnerships and coalesce scenes and movements - gets audience interested in multiple acts that might fit together. Our cross-promotion of other artists makes our presence more multi-dimensional and useful to others. Of course we should include ourselves in it. I'm on my own playlist - with one song like all the other local artists - and I'm usually not at the top. 

When I cross-promote with Manny, my fans take an interest in him. His fans take an interest in me. If you want to go faster, go alone. If you want to go farther, go together. 

 Manny Cabo performing live

Finding my Singing Voice by Controlling Acid Reflux 

Jason Didner singing and playing acoustic guitar solo at Outpost in the Burbs in Montclair, NJ March 10, 2023. Photo by Nicole GrayWhen you learn to listen to your body, many things in life get better. I've gotten several benefits from recognizing when my stomach is about full. One of them is in rehearsing, recording and performing with my singing voice. 

Chronic stomach acid issues had me frequently clearing my throat or singing through intermittent spikes of burning pain. My voice was hoarser with less range and endurance. Doing vocal exercises a few times a week helped, but did not prove sufficient. The acid was affecting me as it occurred during singing and it was having a cumulative effect by coming up for much of the day and night. 

What really helped was cutting my meal portions in half and recognizing that 20 minutes later I wasn't actually hungry. When my stomach is less full, I'm less likely to have acid rush into my esophagus over the course of several hours a day. 

It also helped to see John Taglieri, a singer with a voice strong and true, share stories of his own struggles with gastroesophogeal reflux disease (GERD) and its effect on his vocal abilities. This keeps me more aware of the importance of managing my own case of GERD.  

Mindfulness plays a role

I credit my meditation practice with the Ten Percent Happier app for a subtle improvement in my awareness of my bodily sensations. I believe this is how I'm better able to know when I'm full. I still want snacks between meals, but I'm better able to discern want from need. Also, by eating smaller meals, I know that a snack will not overfill a stomach already inundated with the most recent meal. 

Benefits offstage too

I've experienced benefits besides the onstage ones. I've lost weight after I'd been gradually gaining. I sleep better and am now unlikely to wake up an hour into sleep with my throat on fire, which would happen after a late, rich, big dinner. I worry a little less about my heart (My ongoing issues with anxiety have sent me to the ER three times now). I've slowed my consumption of cough drops by a lot, because I'm not spending hours a day feeling the burning of acid in my throat.  

Self-care, not deprivation

I view my new-found eating habit as a matter of self-care rather than deprivation. It's rooted in feeling better and safer, not in feeling badly about myself, my appearance, etc. It's reinforced by my having given the best vocal performance of my life when it mattered most. I was on top of my game in front of the Outpost in the Burbs audience in my hometown of Montclair last week. 

I understand a little better what the inside of my body feels like from meditation practice. This way I know when I'm satisfied with what I ate. When I feel satisfied, I don't feel like leaving food for later is punishment or deprivation. Plus when I save the rest for the next day, I get to enjoy more of my favorite foods at a time when I will be actually hungry again.   

Self-care also means checking in periodically with my gastrointestinal doctor, Mark Tanchel with Gastrointestinal Associates of New Jersey (GANJ). I take famotidine to limit the amount of stomach acid that comes up my esophagus at Dr. Tanchel's direction. I also get endoscopies when my symptoms are particularly troubling. 

I'm not on a diet

I'm not on a diet program. I'm not accounting for point values of the foods I'm eating. I'm not “being good” or “being bad.” I'm not “sticking with a program” or “cheating.” I'm simply, for the first time in my life, at age 52, eating enough to feel satisfied, no more, no less. 

Most of my life I've been a visual eater. You put a thick 6" sub and chips in front of me and I'll eat the whole thing – because that's what's there for me to eat. I remember hearing of a fascinating psychological experiment with bowls of soup that secretly refilled through a tube to the bottom if the bowl. As long as the subjects had a visual cue there was more soup still in the bowl, they continued to eat more than a bowl full. 

I haven't stopped eating visually; I've just added the element of listening to my body. This has helped me change my visual references. At a restaurant, I'll typically plan on saving half of what's presented to me. I've tried that plan before, and then I'd eat right through it, to the point where there isn't quite enough left over to save for later, so I'd might as well eat that too. And I'd feel the pain in my throat later.  These days, I seem to appreciate the many benefits of limiting my portions to what won't set off my acid. 

Your Story

If you like, use the comments section below to share your story of managing GERD and the difference that control is making in your music or your life in general. 

My Unconventional Path to the Microphone 

Jason Didner at Outpost in the Burbs in Montclair, NJ in 2003. Photo by John MullerSure, I could carry a tune as long as I can remember. But my real passion was always for my instruments, not vocals. 

At age 10, it was trumpet and piano. By 12 I was fascinated with my friend's synthesizer and certain that was my path. When I was almost 16 I attended my first Van Halen concert (because of Eddie Van Halen's synth parts) and became spellbound by Eddie's guitar wizardry. I picked up guitar and gave it my all to learn to play. 

In high school I formed a rock band and wanted to shred like Eddie. I was more than happy for a classmate to handle frontman duties so I could pour my passion into the guitar. It turns out we had a harder time keeping singers in the band than Van Halen themselves! And there were interim periods where I substituted on vocals. All the while I was way more interested in the guitar part. Given my rapidly deepening voice, I was not about to chase the high wailing vocals of Sammy Hagar, David Coverdale (Whitesnake) or Robert Plant (Led Zeppelin). I'd make do by singing their parts an octave lower, in a low, raspy growl. I sang in the school chorus my senior year, but did not enjoy the feeling of vocal fatigue that would come on halfway through a rehearsal. 

This preference of mine continued into college where I was perfectly content to blast riffs and solos and let singers handle the vocal work and the rapport with the audience. 

Two events in my last year of college started to shift my relationship with singing lead. One was the discovery of Billy Joel's live album “Songs in the Attic.” See, I went to college at Stony Brook University on Long Island where Billy is a true hometown hero. Around my school, Billy's deep cuts were heard coming from a dorm or a jukebox more often than the hits. I could hear my baritone voice in Billy's. I could sing his songs and back myself up on piano with some authenticity. I was learning to open up my throat and sing naturally. 

The other event that got me into singing was the early-90s rise of karaoke, which came to our campus bar. I took my chances and signed up to sing Billy Joel, of course. It was a new experience to hold a mic and not play an instrument. Now I needed to figure out what to do with this new mobility of not being stuck behind a mic stand. I continued to enjoy karaoke after graduating, and even while writing songs and getting interested in the acoustic guitar. 

In my cover band after college, I enjoyed taking a turn at the mic to sing Billy Joel's “Miami: 2017” and “You May Be Right.” I started to take on solo acoustic gigs to perform both my originals and a growing number of cover songs. I enjoy the direct communication with an audience that I get by singing my originals right to them. I cherish this opportunity to entertain this way either in-person or in an online performance. 

Willie Nile - a True Inspiration for My Artist’s Journey 

My journey as a music artist is now forever linked to Willie Nile, New York City’s quintessential rock-n-roll poet. At age 74 (or 14 or minus 4, whatever he feels like saying into the mic), Willie exudes rock-n-roll passion and vitality I hope awaits in my future.
I’m 52 and just achieved a high-water mark in my music career last weekend opening for Willie. Like Willie, I’ve chosen a patient and persistent approach to my artistry. Like Willie, I’ve chosen family over pursuit of fame. Like Willie, I’ve given myself the flexibility to work at a non-musical career that keeps my family stable and provides health insurance.
Willie Nile backstage with opening artist Jason Didner at Outpost in the Burbs in Montclair, March 2023And last night I warmed up his audience for his show at Outpost in the Burbs in my hometown of Montclair, New Jersey USA.
In Willie’s two-hour podcast interview with Bob Lefstetz, he generously shares an alternative route to a creative way of life without sacrificing one’s most important ties. When the business of major label records got him down, Willie moved out of the city and kept on writing. He eventually started his own record label and got to define success on his own terms, not those of the mass market.
I never got anywhere near a major label opportunity and would not have been eager to bend my life to its demands or business model of keeping its artists indebted. All four of my albums are self-released, as are all but the first three of Willie’s.
Like Willie, I’ve had decade-long gaps between album releases and am experiencing firsts past age 50. Willie’s story affirms for me that in music, age matters way less than artistry when you’re not in it for fame. We’re both more prolific past age 50 than before that mark.
Preparing for this concert exposed me to a great deal of Willie’s story and his vast musical catalog. It reassured me that it’s OK to still want to grow my artistry and audience even as I live up to my adult responsibilities of work, livelihood and family. Willie’s story strengthened my belief that I have not aged out of rock & roll striving.
Willie and I also share the memory of a common acquaintance, “Mr. Lou” DeMartino. You can read more about this connection here

I'm opening for Willie Nile in March in my hometown. This one is personal.  

Willie Nile and Mr. Lou DeMartino playing in Joe D'Urso's band ad Rockland-Bergen Music FestivalI felt strongly that I would pair well with Willie Nile when I learned that he was coming to Montclair to perform at our town's Outpost in the Burbs concert series for a Friday night, March 10 performance. And I was delighted to learn that Outpost's organizers shared that belief and chose me to open the show. This booking holds a deep meaning for me based on a special common acquaintance we share. 

I was first introduced to Willie Nile's musical stylings in 2003 when an Internet radio station sent me a promo copy of the Light of Day compilation of Bruce Springsteen covers. Willie played "I'm on Fire" in a signature soulful rasp I'd get to know better over time. 

I was later drawn further into the Light of Day movement when one Lou DeMartino responded to my flyer seeking a bassist for my rock band for kids and families - the Jungle Gym Jam. Lou was also the bassist for Joe D'Urso & the Stone Caravan, a band that was the driving force behind the Light of Day project's musical initiatives. The Light of Day Foundation raises funds and awareness for Parkinson's Disease and ALS. 

In the spring of 2015 Lou joined the Jungle Gym Jam as a side-hustle. He quickly got to work recording and performing with us. He loved entertaining kids from the bandshell stage. Shockingly, he passed away from an asthma attack a mere 3 months after joining us. 

After Lou's passing, I got involved with the Light of Day Foundation, creating kids' music fundraiser concerts to help with the cause. I always think fondly of my brief time with Lou when I think of Light of Day. 

Jason Didner, Ross Kantor and Lou DeMartino as Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam in June 2015In our time together, Lou quickly made a deep impression on me as a humble and loving human being, deeply devoted to whatever he took on. He confessed to me that in order to improve his chances of getting into the Jungle Gym Jam, he took the the flyer off the wall where it had been displayed so no one else would see the flyer and compete with him for the gig! I wasn't mad. I was impressed that such an accomplished and well connected musician wanted so badly to be in my group. 

He was a quick study and was quick to make arrangement suggestions that added dynamics to our songs. His tasty embellishments on songs like “Jam Packed” took the funny song about family trips to the next level. 

Lou took it upon himself to carry the PA system and other heavier equipment while Amy and I healed from our kidney transplant and were not medically cleared to lift objects yet. He ended all his emails with LLU - "Lou loves you." 

So you can imagine the emotional response I'm having to the news that Outpost in the Burbs said yes to my pitch to open for Willie Nile - a perennial star of the Light of Day concerts and recordings. "Mr. Lou" is very much at top of mind as I prepare for this very special evening of music. I'll be thinking "LLU" when I'm playing that night.