Climb every mountain: Morristown singer Eric Hayes scales heights for lofty performance

Eric Hayes above the Hudson. Photo by Austin Hein, November 2016
Eric Hayes above the Hudson. Photo by Austin Hein, November 2016
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Video: Eric Hayes’ musical cliffhanger

By Kevin Coughlin

Musicians dream of scaling the heights. Morristown’s Eric Hayes has done it.

The hard way.

This month, Hayes and four pals heaved, hauled and grunted his upright piano for a mile, up a wooded trail to a precarious perch overlooking the Hudson River to shoot a video that only can be described as spectacular.

“I’ve played a lot of stages in a lot of places. But this was the most touching one for me,” said Hayes, 34, who has performed with Gavin DeGraw, Ziggy Marley, Martin Sexton and the Allman Brothers Band over the years.

His Roland instrument — a few hundred pounds, by Hayes’ estimate–was balanced atop stones hastily foraged on the cliff, at Little Stony Point, about two hours north of Morristown in Cold Spring, N.Y.

Hayes wanted a breath-taking backdrop. A Google search found it.

Eric Hayes above the Hudson. Photo by Austin Hein, November 2016
Eric Hayes above the Hudson. Photo by Austin Hein, November 2016

The numbing November wind blew so hard that videographer Austin Hein only dared to launch his camera-toting drone for less than a minute, Hayes said. A couple of times, the singer added, he feared gusts would launch him over the edge, to the horror of astonished Sunday hikers below.

Somehow, Hein captured two takes of Hayes singing Bob Dylan’s Make You Feel My Love before hypothermia and the setting sun could get the better of them.  Adele scored a hit with the song in 2008. But it’s unlikely anyone ever will “top” Hayes’ cover.

Slideshow photos by Austin Hein

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‘I JUST WANTED TO OFFER SOME RELIEF’

His inspiration?  Donald and Hillary.

“I’m big on social media. I had enough of the political commentary, the negative back and forth,” Hayes said of the volcanic presidential election.

“No matter who you support or what you believe, it’s really a downer. It’s been happening for months on end. I just wanted to offer some relief: Look how beautiful this world is, how beautiful the music is.”

Eric Hayes above the Hudson. Photo by Austin Hein, November 2016
Drone’s-eye view of Eric Hayes above the Hudson. Photo by Austin Hein, November 2016

The weekend adventure was a spur-of-the-moment affair–right down to the musical selection. Hayes figured he would play something classical, maybe Chopin.

But on the drive north, Make You Feel My Love came over the car radio.  Hayes worked out a piano arrangement in his head, and read the lyrics from his smartphone. A digital recorder, wrapped in a wool hat and stuffed inside his jacket, got audio of the performance.

It was very emotional, Hayes said.

It was emotional for his girlfriend, too. Kate Atkinson had to lug his piano bench up the mountain.

“When I told her about my idea, she said, ‘We never get to do anything normal on a Sunday!’ I thought she was going to break up with me.”

Hayes pals Tyce Hoskins and Steven Gindler rounded out the impromptu crew.

LOOKING UP

The craggy climb was symbolic for Hayes. Everything seems to be looking up for him.

He had internet success last year with an original song, Let It Go, which he lent to an animal rescue organization. Now the tune is competing for a $25,000 prize in an online contest sponsored by Guitar Center.

In September, Hayes opened the Morristown Music Academy, which offers voice, piano and guitar lessons in a beautiful studio overlooking the historic Morristown Green.

View of the Green from Eric Hayes' Morristown Music Academy. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
View of the Green from Eric Hayes’ Morristown Music Academy. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Next year, he anticipates fulfilling another dream: Delivering a talk at TedX Morristown.

Although this month’s lofty video may not quite rank with Fitzcarraldo, Werner Herzog’s epic 1982 film about an entrepreneur portaging a steamship over a mountain in the Amazon jungle, it’s still a testament to the perseverance  of  Hayes’ friends.

“Everyone was kind of stressed,” the musician conceded.

Astonishingly, they’re still taking his calls. And his piano escaped without a scratch.

The struggle, he thinks, was worth it.

“A lot of people needed this,” Hayes said.

MORE ABOUT ERIC HAYES

Morristown Music Academy opens, September 2016. Slideshow photos by Kevin Coughlin

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