Back in the day, his price of admission was a sweet treat for the band
Chris Cassone grew up a would-be rock ’n’ roller in Port Chester, a village to which rock royalty made regular visits.
“I have what some might call a character defect,” says Cassone, who turned 62 on Wednesday. “I want to be in the center of where it’s all at.”
Back in the early ’70s, “where it’s all at” was Port Chester’s Capitol Theatre, “The Cap,” hosting The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin and Pink Floyd, among others. And it’s where it’s at again, as the storied venue reopens on Tuesday, with Bob Dylan kicking off an impressive calendar of concerts stretching into 2013.
“I wanted to be a rock star, but I didn’t want to practice,” says Cassone, who now divides his time between Patterson and Los Angeles. He also wanted to see great rockers in action, but had neither a ticket nor the means.
He may not have had the dough, but he knew someone who had the batter and the icing: his cousin, Johnny, at the family’s J.J. Cassone Bakery, a Port Chester fixture started by its namesake, his grandfather.
“I had Johnny make a nice big sheetcake and write on it: ‘Welcome Janis Joplin,’” he recalls. “And I showed up at the stage door and said, ‘Cake for the band.’”
And he was in. It was Aug. 8, 1970, Joplin’s last New York appearance. Two months later, she was dead of a drug overdose.
“I didn’t get to meet Janis, but it wasn’t long after that that I started doing it and getting in,” Cassone says. “For two years, I was the Cakeman. They knew me. One time I showed up and I didn’t have a cake, but they let me in anyway.”
He’d hang out with the entourage, watching from the wings.
“I didn’t see all of them,” he says. “I came to the ones I wanted to see,” including Derek and the Dominos, Bonnie Raitt, Rod Stewart, and a one-hit-wonder band called Peter Haycock and the Climax Blues Band.
He’s pretty sure his “Cakeman” days are over.
“Everyone’s so hip to it now, there’s no way it could work,” he says a bit wistfully. “It’s like trying to fool the TSA once. You’d never be able to do it again.”
He and his girlfriend, a reality TV producer, even talked about shopping a “Cake for the Band” reality show, “but we didn’t see life expectancy. She said we could do one show or maybe two, but then all the venues would be hip to it.”
Still, he relives those days in his one-man show, “The Cakeman Chronicles,” which he’s hoping to present at a restaurant or bar within earshot of The Cap, perhaps in a dinner-theater setting.
In the show, he talks about those brushes with greatness, in a song called “Cake for the Band,” which starts:
“In the summer of ’72 At the bottom of our avenue
Ev’ry band arrived. And we were so alive.”
Was there a group he wanted to see that he didn’t?
“The Grateful Dead. They were the one group that was hip to security,” he says. “They took the cake but didn’t let me in. Janis let me in and took the cake, but didn’t invite me up.”
Watch “The Cakeman” You can watch Chris Cassone in action, in a performance of “The Cakeman Chronicles,” here.
(Bottom photo by Doug Abdelnour: Chris Cassone, center, shakes hands with Pete Haycock of the Climax Blues band, backstage at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester.)