Ridgemont High, an ’80s Band Ahead of Its Time

May 30, 2018

Modern pop culture has taken a recent liking to ’80s trends. Do we owe it to “Stranger Things,” that sci-fi Netflix series set in the decade of corduroy, big hair, high-waisted jeans and oversized denim jackets? Or maybe those dated trends were simply dug up by a hipster with an Instagram account and access to a decent thrift shop. Either way, ’80s fads have made an explosive return, especially in terms of music. New wave, synth-pop jams have enjoyed a comeback on the radio since popular artists began resurrecting that signature sound.

But long before the contemporary return of the ’80s, a band was forming in 2001, anticipating the revival of the colorful era. This band? Ridgemont High. The appropriately named ’80s tribute band launched yet another LBI summer at Buckalew’s in Beach Haven last Friday night with its covers of one-hit wonders, rock ballads and dance-pop hits.

The six-man band looked dapper amidst the metal of their instruments and tangle of amp cords. Their uniforms sang an ode to the days of The Cure and Cheap Trick. Skinny black ties, white button downs, dress pants and blazers made for a refreshing repurposed look. They said they had wanted to steer clear from costumes, but the ensembles were innately costumey in their simplicity and polish – an unconventional shift from today’s either gaudy or overly relaxed stage wear standards.

The group named themselves in honor of the iconic film “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” an explicit indicator of the band’s musical leanings. “It’s hard to say what you are,” said Thom Sacco, lead vocalist. The name gives bar goers an idea of what kind of sound to expect from the group. Keith Kozak, the band’s bass player, also added, “It’s not a serious movie, and we’re not serious.”

“Not serious” was an understatement. The camaraderie among the band members was palpable both on and off the stage. Outside between sets, their conversations were a back and forth of playful teasing and inside jokes. Each of them exhibited a genuine blend of professionalism, respect and humor toward one another. A passerby might have even mistaken them for relatives enjoying a Memorial Day weekend reunion on Long Beach Island.

Sacco, Kozak and their band mates, guitarist Tom Kozak, drummer Tim O’Neill, guitarist Rich Lancia and keyboardist Larry Town, grew up in Middlesex County. Not together, however. They’d actually attended rival high schools and even competed in a battle of the bands contest against one another, unbeknownst to them. After high school, each of them pursued distinct musical endeavors before finally finding one another to form Ridgemont High.

On being an ’80s tribute band, Sacco noted, “At the time there was no one else really doing it.” Piecing together such a band in 2001 had been a novel idea, and a good one to boot. The band wouldn’t encounter the typical issues characteristic of an original band, including quarrels over credit and creative differences.

“It’s kind of laid back. We just want to sound good and have a good time, and I think that transcends to the crowd. We don’t take ourselves too seriously,” said Lancia.

Ridgemont High is a crowd-pleasing band. At Buckalew’s, there was not one dip in enthusiasm throughout the band’s set. The crowd was primarily middle-aged, vacationers and locals with crisp tans from the only sunny day they’d get all weekend. Old ’80s moves filled the floor as people locked their elbows at 90-degree angles, swung them left to right and stepped foot to foot, fingers snapping in rhythm. John Hughes would’ve been proud had he seen the sea of dancers thrusting their fists into the air at the closing of “Don’t You (Forget About Me).”

Put simply, the crowd was buoyant.

But the band’s skilled arrangements do more than draw just the older crowds to its stages. “It is surprising,” said Sacco. “You’ll see younger people here that are responding to the music, to songs that weren’t even out when they were born.”

Indeed, sprinkled throughout the crowd were twenty-somethings singing along to “Jessie’s Girl” and “Livin’ on a Prayer,” further proof that the ’80s are back and not exiting stage left anytime soon. Based on Saturday night’s crowd shouting lyrics to one another, swinging in the sweetness of nostalgia, everyone seems to be content with that fact.

Before their first break was over, a tipsy vacationer in a Yankees ball cap walked over to the men, holding a phone out in front of him. “Give a shout-out to my brother Brandon,” he said to the group. Then to his phone, “I’m over at Buckalew’s with the best band in the tristate area.”

“What’s up, bro?” Ridgemont High yelled to the cell phone. “You’re missing a good night!”

Ridgemont High’s next performance will be June 23 at Buckalew’s and then June 24 at The Sandbar in Beach Haven. You can find their full schedule at http://ridgemonthigh.net/ or on their Facebook page.

— Sarah Hodgson



Set List Snippet:

“My Sharona,” The Knack

“Used to Love Her,” Guns N’ Roses

“I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles),” The Proclaimers

“Hungry Like the Wolf,” Duran Duran

“Just Like Heaven,” The Cure

“My Best Friend’s Girl,” The Cars

“Don’t You (Forget About Me),” Simple Minds

“New Sensation,” INXS

“And We Danced,” The Hooters

“Should I Stay or Should I Go,” The Clash

“Tainted Love,” Soft Cell

“Jessie’s Girl,” Rick Springfield

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