What started five years ago as a group of older friends sharing a passion for rock and occasionally jamming in someone's garage has morphed into Just Cause, a bona fide rock band that has headlined at the Paramount in Huntington.
Playing together ranks high on their list of cool things to do, but for this band of eight musicians -- most of them lawyers -- it's really all about the money . . . specifically, the donations they raise for various charities.
Just Cause front man and guitarist Jim Matthews, 59, of Northport, who provided their jamming space when they called themselves Jimmy's Garage Band, recalled their first gig four years ago. "We didn't charge anything, and we realized people liked us and that we had something we could build on," said Matthews, who is the attorney for the Village of Northport and the Town of Huntington Zoning Board of Appeals.
What followed was a good deal of introspection: What kind of band did they want to be and where would they go from there? "We, as a group, decided, 'Let's do it for charity. Let's do it for our community,' " Matthews recalled. "In any community, when you can do something for people around you, that kind of captures all of our hearts. It helps the karma of being neighbors."
So far, the band has raised about $50,000 for various charities, Matthews said.
The band's moniker seems to fit perfectly as the majority of them work in the legal profession, they play for just causes, and they do it "just 'cause" they like doing it, Matthews said.
For drummer Chris Modelewski, 53, also of Northport, it's about helping others as many as eight or 10 times a year. "And we're pretty good at that," he said. "Making music is an added bonus." Modelewski, a lawyer, is chairman of the Town of Huntington Zoning Board.
At a recent gig at the Northport Yacht Club, many of the nearly 100 enthusiastic folks in the audience swayed, tapped their feet, and sang along to the band's renditions of songs made famous by rock icons including The Beatles, Carole King and the Rolling Stones.
That night, donations from audience members were earmarked for VIBS, the Victim Information Bureau of Suffolk and its Silver Compass Thrift Shop. Executive director Pamela Johnson said the Islandia-based organization helps victims of family violence. In addition to providing clothing and other emergency items to victims of rape and domestic abuse, the thrift shop helps fund VIBS core counseling and advocacy programs not covered by government grants.
Other Just Cause beneficiaries have included veterans, victims of superstorm Sandy, and families left devastated by a sudden accident, illness or death.
The Northport Yacht Club crowd was up on the dance floor minutes after Just Cause started playing. "I love live music, and it's great that they're here supporting the [VIBS] cause," said Tara Lindner, 48, of Northport. "They sound great."
Arlene Flannery, 69, of Huntington Station said she has attended several of the band's performances. "It's not like boom, boom, boom," she said, referring to the decibel level. "They play variations of songs, oldies, but with an upbeat tune -- not hard rock. You can sing along."
One fan, Bob Slingo, 72, of Northport, praised the band's motivation, "They only play at charitable events, and they're very successful people. They're doing this out of the goodness of their hearts."
The group's lead vocalist is the only band member who is not in the legal profession. Sheila Fitzpatrick, 48, a Northport homemaker and caterer, has had no formal voice training but was invited to join the band after Modelewski heard her sing at a birthday party.
Now she looks forward to every show they do. "As I say, living the dream at 48," she said, "It's really fun to sing out loud. It's just such a gift to be able to give back in such a fun way."
Like other band members, bass player Jeff Fried, 54, of Commack, an associate court attorney in Suffolk County District Court, was into music growing up. But he maintains that he's actually a better player now than he was in his younger years. These days, he said, he uses the Internet to learn the songs the way they're supposed to be played, by studying the music or watching videos of professional players.
"When you're a kid, you kind of take things for granted," Fried said. Playing at this age, however, does have its challenges, he said. For instance, memorizing music does not come as easily as it used to, and he sometimes has to rely on sheet music during performances.
"As you get older, it gets more difficult to play," Fried admitted, adding that, for a time, he suffered from acute tendinitis in his right elbow. "I feel things that I didn't feel as a kid." Then, a couple of years ago, he was heartened to meet another bass player who was 62, still playing, and had no intentions of stopping anytime soon.
"Age is really not a barrier to do this, but you really have to want to do it," Fried said. For the most part, Fried is delighted to be able to take up the hobby he started as a teen back in Brooklyn. "It's exuberant, because you like doing it. It's fun," he said.
Still, playing in the band involves a huge commitment, noted Fried. "There's a lot of time that people don't see that goes into it, either rehearsing [with the band] or rehearsing on your own." The band has three-hour practice sessions, two to three times a month, in Matthews' basement, which is more climate-controlled than his garage.
Indeed, Matthews said the band practices as often as possible, especially when learning new songs "to keep growing musically." It's sometimes a scheduling nightmare with everyone's work and home lives.
Yet, all that practice appears to be paying off.
Having seen the band in their early days, tooling around in Matthews' garage, Northport Mayor George Doll, 69, opined at the VIBS event, "They've come a long way."
And with the world filled with just causes, Matthews predicts the band will play on for another 20 years or so.
"It is our desire," he said, "to use our musical talents to help others for as long as we are able and anywhere we are needed."
BOOK THE BAND
Just Cause is looking for more causes to support. "We want people to know they can reach out to us to help for their just causes," said Jim Matthews, the band's front man and guitarist.
If you'd like to request Just Cause for a charity event, email Matthews at firstname.lastname@example.org, or post a message on the band's Facebook page at facebook.com/justcausebandlongisland.
JUST CAUSE PLAY DATES
July 5 -- Seymour's Dock, Northport Harbor, 4 to 8 p.m., for the Northport Cow Harbor Wounded Warriors. Donation, $20.
Aug. 12 -- Family Fun Night on Main Street, Northport, 6 to 9 p.m. The band's fee will be donated to the Northport Food Pantry.
Nov. 15 -- Northport Yacht Club, 11 Bluff Point Road, 7 to 11 p.m., for the St. Charles Hospital Auxiliary, Northport chapter. Donation to be determined.