Brooklyn Boro

Justice Matthew D’Emic’s band a hit in Brooklyn’s legal community

July 21, 2016 By Rob Abruzzese Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Judge Matthew D'Emic formed Whippoorwill in 2010 after a judicial ethics committee ruled that judges could play in bands for money. Eagle photos by Rob Abruzzese

Justice Matthew J. D’Emic put together his band Whippoorwill six years ago at the request of the Associated Press. Today, the band is more popular than ever, with plenty of members of Brooklyn’s legal community attending events to see the classic rock group wherever it plays.

“We did that gig, and six years later, we’re almost as popular as the Beatles,” D’Emic joked.

The judge likes to use humor at his own expense, but perhaps he is being modest; the band managed to pack the upstairs room at Hill Country BBQ in Downtown Brooklyn during a recent Kings County Criminal Bar Summer Bash, and it has been known to draw large crowds to each of its gigs.

“I remember last year, when we played on the Sunday afternoon after Christmas, we thought that nobody would show up, but more than 200 people ended up coming,” D’Emic said of his show at Three Jolly Pigeons in Bay Ridge. “We’re the Court Jesters — song and dance men.”

At the recent summer bash, Justice Lawrence Knipel, administrative judge of the Kings County Supreme Court, Civil Term, even got on stage to sing along during a rendition of “Woolly Bully,” and Justice Danny Chun was seen on the dance floor showing off some serious moves.

Whippoorwill started with a photoshoot back in 2010.

New York’s Committee on Judicial Ethics had recently ruled that judges were allowed to sell artwork or play in bands for money, and a New York Law Journal reporter called D’Emic for a quote, since he had heard that the judge was in a band. It turned out that the band was long defunct, but the Law Journal still used a photo of the judge playing during his college days.

That article got the attention of the New York Post, which ran the photo. Then, the Associated Press called, and suggested sending a videographer to the band’s next performance. D’Emic reiterated that the band was no longer in existence, but at the AP’s insistence, he called his two former band members from his high school and college days to see if they were up for one more gig.

D’Emic called owner of BallyBunion, a bar in Bay Ridge that has since become the Wicked Monk, explained what was going on and asked if they could use the stage. It turned out that 60 people showed up to watch the gig.

“After that, we did a gig at Brooklyn Law School, because they had picked up the story and posted it to their website, citing me as an [alumnus],” D’Emic explained. “Then they asked if I would do a gig at their Geraldo Cafe on State Street, so we did that, and we’ve been together ever since.”

The band even inspired Knipel to start playing the guitar, which he has been learning over the past four or five years. “[Knipel] even called me his mentor,” D’Emic said with a laugh.

Today, Whippoorwill only plays about three to four times a year, usually around Bay Ridge. D’Emic said that he doesn’t know when the group’s next gig will be, but said that they’re looking for a spot to play again sometime this fall.

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