Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of previews of finalists competing in Morristown Onstage 2019.
By Marion Filler
Frank Saia never was supposed to be a solo act.
But members of his band, Dog Days, were dogged with bad luck and unable to attend the December tryout for Morristown Onstage.
“Our bass player had a knee replacement, but he was still going to show up in a cast and hobble along anyway,” Saia explained.
“And then, the guitarist, who is such a good guitarist, was lifting something and pulled something in his back and couldn’t lift his arm, so he was unable to play.”
Undeterred, Saia brought a video of the group to the audition, hoping it would be sufficient to qualify. It wasn’t.
So, at the urging of judges from the Morris Educational Foundation, he did what he does best –- play the piano and sing.
Things have a funny way of working out.
To Saia’s surprise, he was accepted as a solo act. He will perform Blue Sky by the Allman Brothers on Feb. 27, 2019, in competition with 14 other finalists at Morristown’s Mayo Performing Arts Center.
More than 50 acts auditioned for this 12th edition of the show, which aims to top last year’s record of $143,000 raised for local school programs. The competition is open to amateur performers who live, work or study in Morristown, Morris Township or Morris Plains, and to graduates of Morristown High School.
There is one more twist to Saia’s story.
At one time, he produced Morristown Onstage show himself.
Saia, a digital marketing consultant in the healthcare industry, is a former member of the executive board of the Morris Educational Foundation, organizers of the show.
“I was the guy behind the curtain with the headset, saying ‘open the curtain, close the curtain, get the next act ready.’ It’s so crazy that I’m going to be on the other side. This is a whole new set of pressures –- this is much more nerve-wracking for me,” Saia said.
“When you’re in a band and hit a wrong note, you can adjust quickly and no one will really notice. But when you’re up there all alone, it’s another story.”
It’s unlikely that Saia will hit a wrong note. He is a self-taught musician with an amazing ear.
“My mom came from a big Irish family and played piano beautifully. There was a piano at every family occasion and we were surrounded by music. I was inspired by it. I took piano lessons in the 3rd grade and I hated it, so I taught myself,” Saia said.
Building on some basic knowledge, he figured out where all the notes were.
“By the time I was in the 8th grade, something clicked for me musically and I decided this is something I love and I’m going to do it all the time,” Saia recounted.
No one had to make him practice.
“I would play for three hours each night. They had to slam doors to shut me off.”
Fifteen top amateur acts from Greater Morristown will compete for cash and glory in the 12th annual Morristown Onstage, on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, at the Mayo Performing Arts Center. Tickets: $29-$79. Proceeds benefit the Morris Educational Foundation. Call 973-539-8008.