561 Collective: Collingswood Neighbors Revive DIY Aesthetic to Bring Live Music Downtown


The local promotions group hosts its first show June 30 at the Collingswood American Legion hall, featuring a slate of four original acts from the surrounding area.

By Matt Skoufalos | June 19, 2023

561 Collective logo. Credit: 561 Collective.

It all started with a question.

Anthony Passaro kept searching for local shows featuring acts that played the music he’d grown up with — namely, punk and Midwest emo — and kept coming up empty.

So he posited the question to a neighborhood Facebook group, asking if anyone else felt the same way; wondering if there was something he was missing in the South Jersey live scene.

Passaro quickly discovered he wasn’t alone in his thoughts.

“There was a huge outpouring of people who were like, ‘I would go to shows,’ not, ‘There are shows,’” he said.

Passaro took that as a cue to start trying to organize the kinds of shows he wanted to see. In short order, his friends and neighbors in Collingswood stepped forward to dedicate their talents to the cause, and The 561 Collective was born.

Vanessa Crupi was among the first to see potential in the momentum Passaro was hoping to generate.

“I heard somebody say, ‘Hey, is there something in this community for artists to get together?’” Crupi said. “We all happen to live in Collingswood; we all love this town. We all agree we need some kind of outlet in this area.”

To Tom Bell, the call felt like a question of how best to channel an undercurrent of energy that he felt already was stirring in the region.

“It really did seem like there’s that untapped well here,” Bell said. “We have so many very talented musicians that are making original music in this area. Wanting to give more of a voice to bands around here doing something that’s new, that’s unique to this area; that’s at the core of it, too.”

To Bell’s fellow collaborators, the work of organizing and promoting live music feels akin to the same kind of creative outlet as performing.

Frank Gerace, who described himself as “a cerebral hobbyist,” was drawn to the notion of helping kickstart the local music scene as a way of helping shape the community in which he resides.

“A lot of us bring something to the table in some way,” Gerace said. “Anthony is well-versed in the art of sound design and production. Vanessa runs her own business. Tom and Ciara work in marketing. I think a lot of this brings all of that together.

“At the core of this, art is the most important factor,” he said. “Eventually, we want our shows to lead out into all these sectors where art can come through.”

The group also described feeling the impact of the long creative layoff brought on by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Ciara O’Shea, who moved to Collingswood from Ireland in early 2020, said she went from performing several times a week “to just not.

561 Collective Show Flyer. Credit: 561 Collective.

“I didn’t know the community here, and didn’t have any way of an in to get to meet people,” she said.

O’Shea and her husband bumped into Gerace at Tom Fischer’s Tavern in Westmont, where they bonded over their appreciation for the band Idles.

Gerace invited O’Shea to join the collective, and with her background in arts marketing, she seized the opportunity to contribute.

“The two things that stick out to me about this whole collective are community and art,” she said.

“I think it’s just leveraging what’s already there, and then building something hopefully that’s a little bit different than what went before.”

As long as 561 Collective establishes consistency with its work, O’Shea believes its potential is wide open. Starting simple is critical, she said; so, too, is maintaining the inertia from the inaugural event.

“Nothing happens if nothing happens,” O’Shea said.

“The pandemic was really hard and everybody seems to be at odds with each other,” Passaro said. “It would be nice to bring people together and remind them that this is a community that loves the arts.

“That kind of DIY, punk mentality is something that could really help everybody,” he said.

As music fans who recalled well the do-it-yourself (DIY) aesthetic of independently produced shows held in area church basements and VFW halls, members of the 561 Collective knew they needed a venue with which to grow. They found a critical partner in Bob Rossi, Post Commander at the American Legion Tatem-Shields Post. The first show from the group is scheduled for June 30.

“The space is perfect for us,” Gerace said. “They needed people to have events there as much as we needed a place.

“Once we set the grounding, we’ll let the artists run with it,” he said. “These first couple shows will say, ‘Here’s who we are, but here’s who we want to be.”

The inaugural 561 Collective show was built around local artists who not only have a following and an interesting body of work, but which the group also believes may be the type of acts to connect with touring performers looking to join a solid local bill when they come through the area.

“We’ve got kickass bands,” Passaro said. “We looked for people who have really, really got something going, who deserve to be in front of an audience and get their name out there.”

Our Fair City. Credit: Our Fair City.

The June 30 show features four local, original acts: Elephant Jake (Philadelphia), Old Friends (Haddon Township), Pale Shade (Collingswood), and Our Fair City (Collingswood).

Passaro described their sounds as drawing from a range of influences, including emo, shoegaze, punk, and similar styles.

Additionally, the 561 Collective is committed to a mission of fostering community, not only through the arts, but through charitable contributions.

The beneficiary of its first show will be the Collingswood High School (CHS) music program, with which Passaro works as a marching band drum instructor.

The celebrated high-school band program lost its director, Joseph Lerch, earlier this year, and 561 Collective will honor his contributions to the local music scene by donating a portion of the proceeds in Lerch’s memory.

For Our Fair City lead singer Joe Conboy, the opportunity to showcase his band in front of a welcoming local crowd feels like the first step toward reviving a local music scene into which “COVID really put a knife in the tire.

“I really hope this 561 Collective takes off and inspires other groups to do their own thing,” he said, “even [if it’s]. just [creating] a shared art space for the community.”

The Philadelphia-area music scene is something of a beast unto itself, Conboy said; “a dark horse” that, despite being replete with talented performers who “put out such good, well-thought-out, heartfelt music,” nonetheless still feels like an underdog story.

“Some people are surprised that things come out of here,” he said.

It is in that spirit and with that energy that Conboy hopes the 561 Collective can help even the odds for emerging acts like his own. By rooting its foundation in bringing something fun to the neighborhood, he believes the group is off to a good start.

“Kids have nothing to do in the towns they grew up in,” Conboy said. “Adults, about the most that they can do is go check out the local brewery that opened up around the corner, and that’s kind of about it anymore.

“We have to provide for our local community if we want to get something good out of it.”

The 561 Collective will host its debut show June 30 at the American Legion Tatem-Shields Post 17, 622 Atlantic Avenue in Collingswood. Doors open at 7 p.m., bands start at 7:30. Tickets are $15 at the door, and $20 after 8 p.m. All ages are welcome to attend; guests 21 and older may sample Passaro’s home-brewed beer, Goth Sloth Brewing, for free.

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