Jon Frattasio: Playing for the People
By: James Thomas, July 5, 2012
JIMMY KENNEY JR - Jon Frattasio has played originals and fans’ requests from “the penalty box” at the Courtyard in Cataumet almost every Sunday evening for the last decade.
Every musician is looking for that home base gig. It’s the familiar feeling we get walking into a job knowing that we’ll be loved. It’s sometimes lost on the layman how brutal the commercial music industry can be.
Some nights you just want to be yourself and play for your people.
Guitarist, singer, songwriter and entertainer extraordinaire Jon Frattasio makes his home at the Courtyard in Cataumet. He’s been a fixture in the neighborhood for twenty years.
“I used to play Friday nights at the Willowfield Tavern [now the Beach House] 52 weeks a year. Hurricanes, snowstorms… I never missed,” Frattasio remembers.
Back then, Courtyard owners Jay and Paula Miller would often make the short trek down Route 28A to hear his set. They quietly joked about poaching Frattasio, but everyone was professional and very loyal. When the Willowfield closed up shop, the Millers quickly tapped Frattasio for a Sunday night steady. That was over ten years ago.
Keep your friends close, but your musician closer
When I headed over to the Courtyard to check out the gig, I was immediately struck by the closeness between Frattasio and his audience. You just can’t miss it.
Frattasio plays from “The Penalty Box,” a little wooden cell with a bar running belly button-high across the front. Some folks hang right there, at an arm’s distance from the musician.
Nearly everyone who comes through the door is greeted by name while japes and jabs get thrown into the lyrics for the regular takers. Frattasio never takes a break and spends most of the night getting barraged with requests, which he always plays.
“I’m here to entertain these people,” he says. “These people work hard all week. These are people who get up and do the doing. If they want me to play a tune, even if it’s a tune that the ‘musician class’ might think of as being a little tired, I’ll play it. In return they let me do what I want to do, too. They know the music that I genuinely love to play and my own music. They let me play it. It’s a mutual respect.”
Name that tune
Frattasio’s repertoire for requests is enormous. “Conservatively, it’s between 1,500 and 2,000 tunes,” he estimates, adding it’s probably more since he last checked. “It comes with time. People asking you for things, handing you albums and saying ‘Hey, Jon, I think you’d sound great singing this tune.’”
He credits the preceding generation of hard-working musicians with instilling in him a proper respect for the industry. “Those guys worked hard. They taught me how to orchestrate the gig and told me to have a huge repertoire to separate myself from the other guys,” he says.
The hard work has paid off. Frattasio still plays up to 300 gigs a year, booked into about 50 venues throughout New England, down in Key West, and sometimes out in Las Vegas.
“I never thought I’d be doing this full time,” he laughs. “I got my degree in education; I never thought I’d be playing three hundred nights and paying my mortgage this way.”
Frattasio’s show works because he does the tunes his own way. Yes, some of the covers are ones you’ve heard a fair amount before, but with his distinctive voice and excellent finger-style guitar playing, Frattasio breathes new life into the standards.
And Cataumet loves him for it.
“I gotta tell ya, I don’t actually live down here so it’s gonna sound kind strange, but it’s absolutely true: this is like a home town gig for me,” Frattasio says, genuinely moved.
“These people have accepted me over the last twenty-odd years. I don’t even like to call them ‘fans;’ they’re friends, they’re extended family. For this neighborhood to have accepted me the way they have… I can’t even put it into words.”