A local legacy

The annual Creative Inspiration Concert will honor late artist Danny DeGennaro while raising funds for scholarships

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

In December 2011, the local music scene was shaken to its core. The life of Levittown’s legendary singer, songwriter and guitarist, Danny DeGennaro, was taken during a shooting in his home. The news was nothing short of devastating for the artist’s family, friends and community, but his legacy continues to live on. For the third year, the Danny DeGennaro Foundation will host its annual Creative Inspiration Concert at the Newtown Campus of Bucks County Community College on Oct. 21. Proceeds will go toward providing BCCC students with music and art scholarships.

Remembering Danny: Katelyn Cryan of Yardley is a Bucks County Community College sophomore and Danny DeGennaro Foundation scholarship award winner. She will perform at the Creative Inspiration Concert while accompanied by Johnny Betz, as well as Lisa Bouchelle & the Gyrl Band. PHOTO: Theresa Katalinas

DeGennaro, also known as “Rio,” achieved national fame with the band Kingfish and was idolized by many aspiring artists back home in Levittown. One such artist was Paul Baroli, lead singer and bassist for Steal Your Face, a Grateful Dead tribute band that will perform at the Creative Inspiration Concert. As a kid, Baroli always looked up to DeGennaro. After years of following DeGennaro’s career, Baroli was introduced to him through a mutual friend in the music industry.

“We just hit it off and he took me under his wing,” Baroli recalled. “He kind of told me ‘You can make a living playing music. You can do this.’ We were friends the last couple years of his life.”

The two played weekly acoustic sets, and DeGennaro was a special guest at many Steal Your Face shows.

“He gave Steal Your Face credibility by standing onstage with us,” he said.

Though both shared a deep love for the Grateful Dead, he described DeGennaro’s artistry and style as incomparable to anyone else’s. Despite being more than 50 years old, Baroli never heard another musician sing the blues like him.

“When he sang, you could feel everything he lived,” he reflected.

Now, six years later, Baroli’s voice portrays a similar pain as he still struggles to comprehend the loss of his friend. Though he entered DeGennaro’s life toward the end, the artist opened his heart and home without hesitation. It was this kindness and passion that led crowds of people to attend his viewing, with a line stretching down the street.

“It brought people together, which was what he was about,” Baroli said.

As far as Steal Your Face’s performance on Oct. 21, they’ll perform a variety of high-energy Grateful Dead hits, but also tap into DeGennaro’s extensive catalog to honor his work.

“I want people to know what a great guy he was,” Baroli said. “I’m living life and playing music. I wouldn’t be doing that if it wasn’t for him.”

Just like Baroli, Bucks County locals young and old continue to be inspired by DeGennaro. This year, the Foundation awarded its first Bucks County Community College Art Scholarship to Avery White of Bensalem, a BCCC sophomore majoring in cinema/video production. The criteria for the award was to submit a short film featuring the statue of DeGennaro located on the college’s campus. White passed the statue every day without a second glance…until he won the scholarship.

“Hearing the news you’ve been selected for a scholarship, especially regarding the preservation of a local music legend, is both humbling and riveting,” he said.

White immersed himself in DeGennaro’s work, and though he didn’t grow up listening to him like Baroli, he felt a strong sense of nostalgia.

“His lyrics are simple in vocabulary, yet immensely complex in morality,” he said. “His songs are adventures, each taking your hand down exciting paths he led while he was still physically with us.”

Shortly after being selected for the award, White was contacted by a member of the Foundation who wanted to work on a new project with him — a music video for DeGennaro’s song “Gave Me An Inspiration.”

“It’s a proclamation of Danny’s artistic ambition and uncovering that ambition through the loving connection with another person,” White said.

The concert will also feature a performance by Katelyn Cryan of Yardley, also a BCCC sophomore and scholarship award winner. Though she started out playing bass, Cryan discovered a passion for singing after some vocal training and coaching at the School of Rock in Newtown. Johnny Betz will accompany Cryan for a song, and Lisa Bouchelle & the Gyrl Band will also join her onstage.

“I think it’s so wonderful that Danny DeGennaro’s family were able to make something good come out of something so incredibly tragic,” she said.

The concert will also feature performances by Ernie White & Tom Reock, Jim Mitchell and the Repeat Offenders. ••

If you go…

The third annual Creative Inspiration Concert will be held on Oct. 21 from 7–11 p.m. at the Zlock Performing Arts Center at Bucks County Community College, 275 Swamp Road in Newtown. Tickets cost $10 for students, $20 for adults and $50 for a VIP reception, which includes a meet and greet with artists and beer, wine and hors d’oeuvres. Seating is limited. Tickets can be purchased at Langhorne Coffee, 102 S. Bellevue Ave. in Langhorne or online at bucks.edu/tickets.