Village People brave Hackensack Chill

HACKENSACK — On the corner of Main and East Passaic streets on Saturday afternoon, chiseled singing men in leather, feathers and chaps tossed red and blue glitter over hundreds of bouncing, bundled-up spectators.

The chilly stalwarts had toughed out 40-degree weather and a palpable drizzle for the main attraction of the 10th annual Hackensack street fair: the Village People.

The Village People perform at the Hackensack street festival on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015.

JENNIFER BROWN/SPECIAL TO THE RECORD Bora Bibe, from the entertainment company Life O’ the Party, fights the balloons at their booth at the 10th annual Hackensack Street Festival on Oct. 3, 2015.

City resident Jayantha Fernando, her black knit hoodie pulled over her head, just could not stop dancing. “Good group, good group!” she shouted over a disco medley as she swung her arms and shook her hips.

Her Go Fast cap-wearing partner, Stuart Heller, also of Hackensack, said the two had been fans since the ’70s, and they had luckily enough seen them a few times over the past few years. “They’re a fun band. They bring back a lot of memories.”

Typically, 20,000 people attend the fair, which organizers — the Upper Main Street Alliance — hoped this year would celebrate the ongoing revitalization project in downtown Hackensack. But despite the relatively small turnout, the energy was high among arm-waving attendees, wrapped up in coats and scarves, and the sleeveless performers.

Ever recognizable and beloved worldwide, the ’70s-era disco group has traveled more than 100,000 miles this year while on international tour, and the current lineup features members new and old, like Alex Briley — the Navy recruit — and Englewood’s own Ray Simpson.

As the group warmed up in a child-care room on the second floor of Hackensack’s YMCA, Simpson said in an interview he’s grown used to grandmothers throwing bras at them and being recognized in public.

But it was good to be back in his own back yard, he said. Over the years, he has regularly bought his own police officer uniform at Some’s Uniforms on Main Street.

“Jerry Some always told me when I went on stage, ‘You’re wearing my clothes, so it’s like I’m going on stage!’” Simpson said, referring to the store’s late owner, whose family has continued the business.

As the nearly one-hour performance went on, the group’s antics drew laughter and applause: from cowboy Jim Newman’s one-handed push-ups, to headdress-wearing Raymond Rodriguez’s double pirouettes, to the group’s gyrations and synchronized flag twirling.

“We might be few, but we are mighty!” Simpson cried out, urging those in the crowd to raise their voices.

Another New Jerseyan, group member Eric Anzalone — the motorcyclist — braved the cold in a sleeveless, studded vest. “Nothing says Hackensack like a man in leather!” he quipped.

The group also tried out newer pieces, like the anthemic, techno-infused “Let’s Go Back to the Dance Floor,” which fused a modern dance beat with the group’s classic strong vocals.

But it was of course the group’s biggest hits, like “YMCA,” “Macho Man” and “In the Navy” that got those in the crowd singing along and waving their smartphones.

“I was a kid in the ’70s, and in my household, we’re Hispanic, so we used to do disco, salsa, all the dances,” said Christina Fanego of Little Ferry.

Worries about an impending storm led her to cancel her family’s camping trip this weekend — and she was pleased to get a chance to see the Village People.

Fifteen year-old Anya Dwelle of Bogota was also happy — mostly to catch a glimpse of her famous uncle, Simpson.

Her mother, Veronica, who grasped a cup of coffee to warm herself up, said they go to all their shows.

“Everyone loves them, the young, the old, everyone!” she exclaimed.