Plucking Heartstrings

An established restauranteur from Little Silver helps spread the holiday cheer to those less fortunate.

TIm McCloone, Holiday Express, Little Silver.
Photo by John Emerson.

Tim McLoone doesn’t have a white beard or a team of flying reindeer, much less a pot belly (he’s a runner). But that doesn’t stop the 63-year-old Little Silver restaurateur from spreading holiday cheer to those less fortunate. For the past 18 years, McLoone has led a rotating troupe totalling more than 100 professional musicians known as Holiday Express (holidayexpress.org) who perform for the physically and mentally disabled, the homeless, the isolated elderly and others in need.

“There is something about music that is transformative,” says McLoone, a Harvard grad and a pianist since childhood. “People might feel awkward around each other, and then a song comes on and it’s like, ‘Let’s dance and get goofy.’”

Holiday Express brings more than just good cheer. “They fill this place with music for hours,” says Barbara Maran, director of St. John’s Soup Kitchen in Newark, where Holiday Express has performed on Christmas Eve for the last 10 years. “They bring gifts. Tim even has his restaurant cater the event with a gourmet meal. The people [Holiday Express plays for] are truly down and out, and they cry. They say they have never been treated like this. They say, ‘You have just made my year.’”

Typically, Holiday Express, which has performed 734 free shows to date, plays 50 two-hour interactive rock ’n‘ roll concerts between Thanksgiving and Christmas. This year, its ambitious leader has added six more, partly due to the increasing number of musicians wanting to join. “There is a bit of a Forrest Gump nature to this,” McLoone says. “It’s surprising that so many people followed me into this.”

McLoone, a husband and father of four, may be surprised at the organization’s growth and popularity, but he says he was certain from inception that he was doing the right thing. “What’s not to like?” he says. “It was pure. There was no motive except making other people feel good and then getting it in return, because you feel great when you do it.”

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