ON THE SCENE: Southside, Lampanelli, Grey. Wrapped

October 3, 2013

Thanks to everyone for the observations, compliments and all around great feedback on this past weekend’s episode of “ON THE SCENE” with Southside Johnny, Lisa Lampanelli and Joel Grey.

This New Year’s Eve Southside will return to the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, New Jersey for his annual concert. And the show has some special meaning attached: it will be one of the kickoff events to mark New Jersey’s 350th anniversary.  Music has played a huge part in that history, so it’s fitting a concert by a Jersey born and bred artist starts off the year of celebration.

Follow my twitter feed @JohnBathkeLive for continuous updates about interviews that I am doing, and when the next show will air. We’re a recurring special presentation of News 12 New Jersey, so I”m not on every weekend. But we make the weekend that we are on, count!


Southside Johnny, Lisa Lampanelli, Joel Grey: ON THE SCENE

September 29, 2013

Tune in Sunday, September 29th for my interviews with Southside Johnny, Lisa Lampanelli and Joel Grey. “ON THE SCENE” airs this weekend on News 12 New Jersey at 11 AM, 1:30 PM and 3:30 PM.

Southside Johnny’s segment is a wide ranging conversation that delves into his beginnings as a musician and his psyche. Southside and I talk about his start playing harmonica in a local New Jersey band, the one album he made that he hates and the psychological toll it took on him,  and how he met Jon Bon Jovi.

Lisa Lampanelli and I sat down when she gave her new one woman show, “Skinny Bitch”, a test run at George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, New Jersey. We talked about her 107 pound weight loss after gastric sleeve surgery.  It’s an honest interview about drastic steps she’s taken to fight the battle of the bulge. And no, she doesn’t swear as much in an interview as she does on stage. This is tv, after all.

And Joel Grey, at age 81, is going back to his roots. He’s directing the fantasy drama, “On Borrowed Time” at Two River Theater in Red Bank, New Jersey. 72 years ago…at age 9…he starred in “On Borrowed Time” in Cleveland. It was his first professional acting gig.  We also, of course, discussed his career changing role in “Cabaret” for which he won both the Tony Award and an Oscar for playing the role of the Master of Ceremonies.  




Interviewing Southside Johnny

August 23, 2013
John Bathke Interviews Southside Johnny

John Bathke Interviews Southside Johnny

Had an uncommonly candid, revealing interview today with Southside Johnny.  The singer/songwriter doesn’t do that many interviews but agreed to sit down with me at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, New Jersey.  We talked music and about his private life in a way that is going to surprise even those people who know him well.

The interview will run in  a few weeks in our next “ON THE SCENE” special and I’ll write much more about the interview, then. For now, just keeping you all up to date!


Richie Havens: Back To The Garden

August 19, 2013

On the 44th anniversary of the closing of the Woodstock Music And Art Fair that he opened, Richie Havens returned for his finale.

The late folk music icon wanted the site of the original Woodstock concert…Yasgur’s farm in Upstate New York…to be his final resting place.

Sunday, he got his wish.

As day turned to dusk, a small plane emerged over the Catskills,  humming toward the 500 or so people who gathered on a grassy hillside, their eyes to the sky.  The plane carried Havens’ ashes.  As it passed over,  a faint trail of dust could be seen lingering behind.

Havens had returned one last time.

The concert site is not an alfalfa field as it was in 1969.  It is now known as the Bethel Woods Arts Center which includes a museum dedicated to the Woodstock concert. (While the concert carried the Woodstock name, it actually took place some 60 miles from that community.)

As Havens told me during one of my interviews with him in 2005,  not a day went by that he wasn’t asked about Woodstock. And in a statement his family said that even after touring the world for decades, Woodstock is where Havens, who died in April at age 72 , felt his deepest connection.

Three hours before Havens’s ashes were dispersed, a memorial concert began at Bethel Woods.  It included performers who started out with Havens in Greenwich Village in the 1960s.  Among them,  John Sebastian, John Hammond and Jose Feliciano.  And there were stories by the organizer of the Woodstock concert, Michael Lang, and from Havens’ pals Danny Glover and Louis Gossett, Jr.

Gossett, who co-wrote Havens anti war ballad “Handsome Johnny,” recalled the time he was broke, getting evicted, and as he was taking out his possessions the mailman walked up and handed him a letter. In it was a royalty check for $72,000. Havens had recorded the song on his album “Mixed Bag.”

Longtime Havens collaborators also performed.  One of the concert’s most poignant moments came from Havens’ former accompanist Walter Parks.  After repeated calls to the sound operator for adjustments, a frustrated Parks unplugged, stepped off the stage and into the audience, and delivered a passionate, deeply personal and enthralling acoustic version of “People Get Ready” that would have made Havens proud.

Inevitably, tribute concerts such as this become burdened by their own good intention. With seven separate acts, even minimal resetting of the stage between performances dragged down the event.  Silence on stage for five to ten minutes at a time was filled by talking in the audience, some of whom stepped out to buy drinks or smoke a cigarette. No matter how fine the performances, the continuity of the event is lost and it seems like a disservice to the artist everyone gathered to honor.

And so it was crucial that this Havens homecoming concert have a strong closer and it found one in Jose Feliciano.  Feliciano’s touching performance of “In My Life (I Love You More)” not only gave the concert an emotionally satisfying conclusion, it was the perfect bridge to Havens’ final bow.

As the crowd moved from the concert area of the Bethel Woods market sheds to the adjacent hillside to await the plane’s arrival, the live recording of Havens’ “Freedom,” the song he improvised on stage at Woodstock which became not only his signature number but an anthem for troubled times, poured  through the loud speakers.

As a drum circle and the crowd joined in…clapping and singing…the plane buzzed overhead.

Havens had come home.


Is Public Art A Good Bet for Atlantic City

July 23, 2013

Tomorrow I’m heading to Atlantic City. We’re shooting an “ON THE SCENE” piece at Artlantic Wonder, the city’s latest gamble as it fights to make an economic comeback.

Casino industry profits have tumbled…recession, competition from casinos mushrooming next door in Pennsylvania, and the changing tastes of consumers have brought difficult times to Atlantic City’s gaming halls.

Artlantic Wonder, a 7 acre outdoor public art space next to the boardwalk featuring sculptures and performance areas, opened earlier this year. The idea is to draw non traditional visitors or to add value to the tourism experience of Atlantic City regulars.

But can art revive Atlantic City?

We’ll find out more tomorrow…



Being Honored At The Waldorf Astoria

May 19, 2013
John Bathke Honored At Deadline Club, Waldorf Astoria.

John Bathke Honored At Deadline Club, Waldorf Astoria.

There’s no finer place to lose an award the Waldorf Astoria. I can tell you that without fear of contradiction. I have done it, just this past Thursday night, in fact.

I was a finalist for a Deadline Club Award, one of New York’s most esteemed journalism honors bestowed to national and local journalists in television, newspaper, magazine and all forms of online media. The awards dinner is held annually at the glittering, opulent, oh-so New York, Waldorf.

The work singled out by the Deadline Club judges is a piece that means a great deal to me..an emotional, riveting and completely in the moment account of emergency rescues performed following a tidal surge caused by Superstorm Sandy. Three towns in Bergen County, New Jersey suddenly flooded leaving thousands stranded.

I’ll never forget the people who we met that day…being pulled to safety from their homes, others coming to a shelter looking frantically for relatives. It was a crucial story to be told, and I believe we did it justice for all those residents suffering the storm’s wrath.

In the end it was coverage of Sandy by another television station that claimed the award, but to be one of three finalists for an honor as prestigious as the Deadline Club, is an award in itself.


I’m Live At The Count Basie Theatre With Joe Pantoliano

May 5, 2013

Some exciting news to let you know about. Tickets go on sale this week for a one night only live interview that I’m conducting with actor Joe Pantoliano on stage at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, New Jersey.

I met Joey when I interviewed him last year for “ON THE SCENE,” the arts and entertainment program that I host on News 12 New Jersey. He’s a fascinating character…on screen and off…and I know it will be a night of hilarious and moving stories about his film and television career and his colorful family life.

The event is Thursday, June 6th. Hope to see you there.

Joe Pantoliano and John Bathke

Joe Pantoliano and John Bathke


Front Row LIVE! With Janis Ian

April 21, 2013
Janis Ian and John Bathke

Janis Ian and John Bathke

Janis Ian is one hell of a storyteller. In the lyrics to her classic hits including “Society’s Child” and “At Seventeen” and when she’s regaling a crowd with the colorful chapters of her life.

Last night I interviewed the Grammy Award winner for Front Row LIVE, a stage conversation series which I host and moderate at the South Orange Performing Arts Center  (SOPAC) in South Orange, New Jersey.

As an interviewer I hope for an artist who is honest, willing to share their personal life in a compelling and relevant way,  and gives insight into their art. Last night  the SOPAC  audience received that…and then some.   From the famous musicians she has known (as a teenager being introduced to cocaine by Jimi Hendrix with disastrous results) to the infamous (an abusive ex-husband whose beatings haunted her for years afterward) to her family being trailed for decades by the FBI on suspicion they were Communists…we covered it all in one memorable night.


The 2013 New York Emmy Awards

April 18, 2013
John Bathke Presenting at NY Emmy Awards

John Bathke Presenting at NY Emmy Awards


Joan Rivers, Jewel, Glen Burtnik: ON THE SCENE

April 6, 2013

Tune in this weekend, April 6 & 7, for an all new ON THE SCENE on News 12 New Jersey at 11 AM, 1:30 PM and 3:30 PM each day.

This is one of my all time favorite episodes. I interviewed Joan Rivers at her Manhattan apartment. We had a conversation about complicated mother-daughter relationships, her enduring comedy career and who makes her laugh. This is not an interview of punchlines, but about real emotions and I think everyone watching will discover something new about Rivers…even after all her years in show business.

The interview with Jewel was done backstage at the Bergen Performing Arts Center in Englewood where she launched her 2013 national tour. Jewel donated items to raise money for a New Jersey charity helping Sandy victims, and she and I talk about her own ordeal with homelessness as a beginning artist…and how that’s helped her to identify with people in New Jersey who lost homes to the storm.

And my Glen Burtnik interview morphed into a profile of a songwriter and his song, and I think it’s fascinating. Glen co-wrote “Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough” with Patty Smythe over 20 years ago. It’s a heartbreaking rock ballad. But the lyrics never meant that much to Glen…till his divorce years later. And suddenly, that song became almost impossible for him to sing.

Watch, and let me know what you think of the show.