30 years in, founder Dave Cerrone says The Refrigerators are still a fun ‘party band’

Dave Cerrone has managed and played trumpet with the Refrigerators since becoming a founding band member in 1992. This year marks the 30th that the Refrigerators has played in the Capital Region, and the band has had more than 25 members making up various iterations of the group since then. This year also marks the band’s return to the top of the Best Local Music Group category in the 2022 Best of the Capital Region poll.

This Q&A has been edited for clarity and length.

Q: How did everything start with the Refrigerators?

A: I stopped playing trumpet when I was in college, and I wanted to focus on school and I was doing soccer. My last year in college, I subbed with some wedding band and I immediately got the bug. I thought, “I’ve got to start a band.” Given I play trumpet, there’s got to be a horn section. Anyhow, that’s the impetus of it all. I had a keyboard player of mine, with a sequencing keyboard to get prerecorded bass and drum tracks. We sang and had horn and keys. It was starting to take some shape. But I wanted the full band thing, so we put out ads for horn players. At the same time, there was another group starting up with a drummer, a guitarist. We got in touch and we put it all together. We started practicing.

One of the guys, his friends owned a bar and said we could play a gig, so we wanted some posters up, but we didn’t have a name. We were at the bass player’s house that week, and decided we’d have a couple beers and talk about it. The beers start going, we start talking. The bass player was going around the house and said, “Oh, the Cinder Blocks, oh, the Bricks,” and kept going. He walked into the kitchen and said “The Refrigerators.” And we said, “Hey, that could work.”

Q: And when did that all start?

A: I have a tattoo on my shoulder with the year, 1992. Thirty years. Had it not been for the pandemic environment, we were going to have a 30 year anniversary bash. The 20-year show we started with the original seven members, and then played songs with them, and then we invited the next era of the band and we played. Some of the proceeds went to charity. So it was pretty cool. At the time when I started talking to venues about having this big thing for the 30th anniversary, it just wasn’t the right time. 

Q: A lot of live music was canceled when COVID hit. How are the Refrigerators bouncing back?

A: At the end of 2019, we were looking at the 2020 calendar and we had a great year, a phenomenal year, planned. It got blown up. 2020 was almost nothing, only a few venues were allowing anything to happen, and we had a couple private gigs. Then mid-late 2020 it started to pick up a bit. It’s almost normal now. It’s feeling pretty normal. I think a lot of venues are still hurting with their bottom line. We’re still working with them a lot on the pay. One of my mottos for years has been, “It’s got to be a win-win.” It can’t only be good for the band and it can’t only be good for the venue.

One of the songs I lead is “Let’s Get It Started” (by the Black Eyed Peas). I’ll come out and try to do that with people sitting down and with masks. I will tell you the first wedding where the venue was allowing them to not wear masks, I was emceeing that one, and my opener was, “What do you think about not wearing masks?” The place roared. 

Q: You started the band as all-male, but that changed eventually.

A: When I started the band we were all young men. It was an all-male band for 23 years and, you know, we never got a female member. One night in Saratoga we were walking the streets during a break, getting some air. We heard this phenomenal female singer — wow that sounds great. Nudged my male mates and said, “If we ever hire a girl, we’ll hire this girl.” Fast forward a few years, I was on break and checked in to my phone on social media. She had left her other band. I sent her a quick email and the next morning — she emailed back. Three years into it, Amelia pulled me aside and said, “Me and my husband are moving to New Orleans.” Oh my god, I’m thinking, how am I ever going to replace her? But God works in mysterious ways. We started the audition process, and never heard of our current female vocalist before. We’re blessed to have Beth Tranka.  

Q: What’s the process when you’re bringing in a new band mate?

A: I’ve had other band leaders ask me, “What have you done to keep the band at this level for this many years?” It’s a standards thing. There are two or three things to think about in the audition process. And I, again, I think what we do really well, is as members of the band, we treat each other like family, and that’s not by mistake.

Our audition process, whenever we’ve had a new member, part of it is can they play? So we’ll select the songs we think show different aspects of bass players, if we’re auditioning bass players, so we have an apples-to-apples comparison. When all is said and done, there’s the first pass. If we want to see them again, we bring back for a second run. Are they consistent – did they play the same as they did the first time? And what’s their interaction (with the other people in the band)? I have people tell me this on break. That is part of it. If we’re up there smiling, giving each other fist bumps, that’s coming off the stage. We’ve always been a high-energy band.

Q: In your 30th year, what do you anticipate this year?

A: We meet up every year to see how we’d describe ourselves now, and what we can improve on. In terms of what we talked about last time — a collective thing and it’s not patting ourselves on the back, we currently described us as high energy, as fun, a party band, musically diverse, a family, and interactive with the crowd.

In terms of the things to be described more as: More current. We don’t want to be outdated. Sometimes, our set list can be a little predictable, but we want more of a surprise. We think we’re musically tight, but we don’t hear that language out there (from listeners). The last one is unique maybe something still a little different. I guess in any “business,” you always want to be different with others. In summary, we want to maintain how we’re viewed today but evolve. 

I mean, in terms of our calendar this year, we’re feeling good about things so far. Being a couple years into (the pandemic) maybe we’re cautiously optimistic. But it feels good right now, and hoping it stays that way. As we start looking, we’re also saying, it doesn’t matter if it’s 31 years, 32 years, we’re planning (an anniversary) show at some point. For the 20-year, it wasn’t just having everyone back and raising money at the time for the Albany children’s hospital. So we’re thinking of, what’s the right thing for the community and the environment now? It’s not lip-service, we have to find ways to give back to the community — the only way to stay in the community is to serve the community. We do try to find ways to give back. 

Best of the Capital Region 2022

Best of the Capital Region 2022

Times Union

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There are 100 categories across four groups — including 14 new categories this year. 

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2022 winners

Members of the Refrigerators include:

Kevin Barcomb (saxaphone and backup vocals), Chris Beck (trombone and vocal), Kevin Brandow (lead vocals), Dave Cerrone (trumpet, percussion, vocals, rap), John Costello (keyboards), Chris Haley (drums), Greg Mataruga (lead trumpet and vocals), Dave Messick (guitar), Mike Shudt (bass) and Beth Tranka (lead vocals). Tower East Productions works as the crew, led by Patrick Parvis.