Last week, we began the first of a two-part story about “First Friday” in downtown Johnson City. This monthly event features art and music in the heart of the city and after a stroll through the art galleries and a warm-up at King’s Coffeehouse we decided to walk down the street and see what else was going on.

There were at least four clubs hosting live music on Main Street for First Friday. King’s Coffee house had ambient music while Heather’s Hideaway had four metal bands on the playbill. One of our other favorites, Halo, had a bluegrass group performing too, but the real crowds were headed to Gatsby’s.

Gatsby’s is a signature venue in downtown JC that is cradled in a nostalgic brick building. Inside they have plenty of tables, a great bar, pool tables, a dance floor in the back with an urban mix (the boom-boom room) and a spacious music hall with one of the best stages in the Tri-Cities. They usually have a good crowd, but when Ansley Roberts brings the Pop Tart Monkeys to the stage, the place quite simply … rocks!

If you listen to rock radio in the Tri-Cities, you’d be oblivious not to have heard the name Ansley Roberts over the past few years. Ansley is a native East Tennessean and a successful concert promoter who is never understated. His shows continue to attract large audiences as he showcases popular acts that bridge the mix tape of Generation X, Y and Z.

When The Pop Tart Monkeys come to town, we hear a lot about the band on our music forum at GoTriCities – The Buzz. Ansley thinks so much of the band that his own avatar is the band’s logo and they respect him as well.

Just inside Gatsby’s we were introduced to the band’s manager and PTM’s drummer, Rob Hampton, just before he went on stage. Rob explained the guys perform about 200 shows a year and we both agreed that there were lots of easier jobs, but few that could be as much fun.

The Pop Tart Monkeys are in perfect pitch with today’s rock culture and almost immediately they established a relationship with the audience that is up-close and fun like a rowdy pool party. It’s clear that those 200 shows are paying off, too, because every musician in this band is a great entertainer with lots of experience. Once the downbeat started they never let the foot off the accelerator, either, and that’s good for anyone who travels into the night fighting off yawning in public.

The band is great to listen to because it performs most of the songs you’re liable to hear on any alternative rock FM station with a delivery that is realistic and uncompromising. Tyson Clark is the front man for PTM and his bleached blond hair and stage presence is a convincing ornament for the band’s rock cover songs that included Nickelback, Blink 182 and one of my favorites, “Get Free” by The Vines.

One of the many comments I heard about the band this night was the fact that a lot of people not only like to hear them play, but they love to see them perform. That’s crucial in the age of short attention spans, because not only does a band have to perform great music, but it also has to be fun to watch too to keep the fans coming back.

Bassist James Balogach and guitarist Chris Kutrz are the masterminds of the music, but more importantly, I think the audience really enjoyed their stage antics. Part rockers and part comedians, the guys were deliberate as they carved an edgy sound for the Pop Tart Monkeys, but they also delivered the goods with a smile and unpredictable expressions that made you want to keep your eyes on the stage.

PTM have recorded three original CDs and they performed a lot of this material on stage at Gatsby’s. Their music blends well with their rock covers, but another element of their success is their deep set list of memorable pop songs from the ’80s and ’90s.

I ran into one of my old girlfriends outside and I couldn’t help but laugh as we both tried to name the tunes that were coming from the stage. At one point, PTM played all of the Bon Jovi songs that you thought you would never hear again and we also heard J Geils Band, Culture Club and the Katina and the Waves one-hit wonder, “Walkin’ on Sunshine.”

The high point of the night though was when we heard “Love Shack” from the B52s and the stage creaked as 20 young girls made their way to the stage to dance with Tyson as he screamed the lyrics, “I’ve got me a Chrysler and it’s as big as a whale and it’s about to set sail!”

From the back of the room, I squeezed through the crowd and five police officers to see the melee and must admit it was enjoyable to watch the faces of Johnson City’s finest as smiling girls surrounded them with all the love Gatsby’s could conjure.

I’m sure you’ll get a chance to see The Pop Tart Monkeys again soon. Their Web site talks about their upcoming tour and an announcement that they will also be appearing in Panama City as a part of MTV’s Spring Break with Hoobastank and Black Eyed Peas.

So the next time you hear Ansley Roberts and The Pop Tart Monkeys, I’ll tell you that the hyperbole is justified, especially if you like your music fun and unpretentious. They put on a great show that taps into the hedonism of three generations and you’re sure to enjoy a night out with friends.

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    Relevant Links:

  • Ansley Roberts
  • Pop Tart Monkeys

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    David Cate is director of new media for the GoTriCities Network. E-mail him at