Joe Holaday may well be, and, for the record, these are his own words, "a boring rock star." He's a house-husband and dad who eats (and likes) oatmeal, plays basketball three days a week in an old folks lunchtime league at Latitudes (“My jump shot hasn't left me,” says the 54-year-old Port musician) and actually shows up on time, sometimes a little bit early, for interviews — even in the morning. But, romantic ideas about the lives of rockers aside, he really is a very busy boring rock star. The bassist, probably best known for his long-running gig with The Fools, is back in town after a recording date with Fran Cosmo, the "other" singer from the band Boston, sharing session credits with keyboardist Steve Baler, Holaday's bandmate from Beatlejuice, the Fab Four tribute band that had been fronted by original Boston vocalist Brad Delp until his death four years ago, and that has soldiered on in the wake of his suicide — and in Velvet Elvis, another tribute band, this one giving props to pre-Vegas Elvis and other golden age of rock pioneers: two bands that, to make things even more complicated, include, among other people, Mike Girard and Rich Bartlett from The Fools. And, come to think of it, Holaday's sons, Jared and PJ. They have been known to take the stage with Beatlejuice, which is one of the reasons that a couple of their "goofy uncles," which is how Holaday Senior describes the relationship between his sons and the boys in the band(s), perform in the Holaday Project, the family band that makes its formal debut at the Firehouse this week. And, yeah, we're talking about the mayor's hubby and kiddos.
Jared came to it pretty quickly, taking up the clarinet as a fourth-grader at Brown School. Joe tells a cute, probably horribly embarrassing story about how his son discovered the theme to "Star Wars" on his own and would play it while walking around the house. There was never any looking back after that. He sprinted through the Newburyport High School music system, pit band, the jazz band, University of Lowell, performance on tenor sax. He took the stage with Beatlejuice when he was in the seventh grade, played with The Fools in the mid-'90s — at Newburyport City Hall and at the Orpheum in Boston. He played in the horn section with 10,000 Maniacs. He graduated with a degree in saxophone performance from the University of Lowell. He plays in Moving Forward, a jazz quintet from Lowell, and Soul Baby, a Salem funk band. He teaches woodwinds at Governor's Academy and saxophone at North Star Music in Plaistow — as does Papa Joe.
PJ got there eventually. He had other things on his mind. Like not doing something that his older brother was already getting noticed for? Maybe. He was more of an athlete, at least until seventh grade, when he discovered the drums — like a "fish that found water," says Joe. It was a moment that felt like everything clicked into harmony. He studied with Zach Fields, and at the University of Southern Maine with Les Harris Jr. He's continuing his studies at Salem State University, but has been in the pit band for "Forbidden Newburyport," the satirical music that merges local celebrities and headaches and Broadway showtunes. The "boys" also play in Lux, the funk band led by Todd Clancy, who has filled in on guitar with The Fools.
It's gotten a little tricky getting together to rehearse in the basement, with Jared living in Lowell and PJ in Salem, but they've managed to find time for Sunday sessions at the Musical Suite for the past couple of months. They'll play as a trio in the first half of the show. Beatlejuice's Baker and Mitchell, who also plays in Velvet Elvis, will join them for the second half the show. The music will be mostly instrumental, mostly fusion. Think Weather Report and Mahavishnu Orchestra. But it won't be limited to just that. They'll do funk, bop, rock warhorses like "Frankenstein" — even music from video games and anime cartoon series, like "Cowboy Bebop" — a Japanese anime series that follows a group of bounty hunters, or cowboys, as they travel on the Bebop, their spaceship. “We like finding the hipness in unlikely places," says Holaday. "We love converting classic rock standards into instrumental jazz heads."
But best thing is, now that the kids' choices have been made, now that the deed is done, Holaday doesn't have to sit back and hide his real feelings about it all, as boringly paternal and well adjusted as they are.
"I'm psyched that they chose music,” he says. “I'm honored that they are playing with me.”
JUST THE FACTS, MAN: The Holaday Project performs at 8 p.m. Nov. 4 at the Firehouse Center for the Performing Arts, 1 Market Square, Newburyport.Tickets are $15. The performance is part of the Firehouse's 10-for-20 music series, marking the venue's 20th anniversary. For more information, call 978.462.7336 or click here.