As Toad’s Place Hits “Middle Age,” A Muscian and New Haven Artist Creates a Visual History

As Toad’s Place Hits “Middle Age,” A Muscian and New Haven Artist Creates a Visual History

Live in New Haven long enough and there’s a good chance you’ve been to Toad’s Place. Whether your memories take you back to one of their weekly dance parties popular with the college-set, or they bring to mind that time you were in the crowd bopping your head to your favorite band, almost every local has a fond memory or classic story that took place at Toad’s. While the face of the Broadway area has gone through some changes lately, you turn down York Street and the iconic green awning and the dapperly-dressed strutting amphibian are the same as always. 

Santana Mural Detial

Potocsky’s new murals reflect an update of the history of the club with
artists more well-known to the Gen-X and Millenial set like rappers Iggy Azalea and
Snoop Dogg and rockers Beck, Santana and Bon Jovi. 
Photo: Claudia Ward-de León

When you think about the changes technology has brought to the way we consume music, and what entertainment conglomerates like Live Nation have done to independent music clubs, it is nearly a miracle that a place like Toad’s is still going strong, and yet there’s always been something about Toad’s that’s been magical. For those too young to remember, The Rolling Stones graced Toad’s stage with a surprise, hour-long concert in 1989 as a pre-kick-off to their Steel Wheels Tour. Nine years prior, Billy Joel recorded the song Los Angelenos during a live set he played there. U2, Macklemore, Bob Dylan, Bon Jovi, Kendrick Lamar, Snoop Dogg, Iggy Pop--they’ve all played there, too, and they’re just the tip of the iceberg. At 41 years old, the exterior of Toad’s looks unchanged, but don’t be fooled: the club still holds a lot of surprises, and it’s inside where those surprises are brewing. 

tupac toads

New portraits of musicians who performed at Toad’s can be seen all over the club.
left: Snoop Dogg, right: Dave Mathews (of Dave Mathews Band DMB)

Some of the updates include interior renovations and even plans for a rooftop smoking lounge, according to Toad’s owner, Brian Phelps, a plan that has required a lot of preparation, planning, and patience, but one the club hopes to see come to fruition.  

Perhaps the most exciting of these changes, though, is one that’s happening right now.  If you’ve been to Toad’s in the last week, you’ll see that some of the artwork in the club is new and reflects a better mix of some of the more notable faces that have serenaded, rocked, and rapped on stage in the past four decades. That’s where local muralist and painter Marc Potocsky comes in. Potocsky, who today is in his 60s, has a long and interesting history with Toad’s. As a young musician, he played Toad’s in the ‘70s as Moe Potts, the drummer with the high-energy rock band, the Laughing Dogs, once a favorite of the New York underground music scene at CBGB’s. The Dogs played at Toad’s so frequently that they were practically considered the honorary house band. Potocsky also reminisces about accompanying Michael Bolotin on stage before he adopted the Bolton stage name, back when the famed singer songwriter was just another local New Haven musician trying to make his way into the big time. 

Potocsky’s personal history with Toad’s, and experiences as both a decorative painter and musician, make him the perfect choice as the craftsman commissioned to update the look of the legendary New Haven club. Together with owner Phelps, Potocsky has helped select some of the musical notables that will be displayed in the new murals he’s creating for the club. 

bonjovi toads

Artist Marc Potocsky is on a mission to paint all of the greats,
from “back in the day” to today’s top artists.

On a recent visit to his North Branford studio, Potocsky showed me the the piece he’s most proud of: a mural made up of fine art portraits of Dave Matthews, The Ramones, Dirty Heads, and Billy Joel commemorating each performer and the dates on which they played Toad’s. Later on in the week, Potocsky and I were standing within a few feet of the stage and he proudly pointed out how close he and his wife, who are both big Billy Joel fans, stood they day they saw Joel play some 30 years ago. On this same visit to Toad’s, Potocsky was delivering the finished mural of Matthews, The Ramones, Dirty Heads, and Billy Joel and showing me where it will be hung, and as he was figuring out details, I glanced up to see a mural he had already completed hanging above our heads--one which features everyone from Snoop Dogg to Carlos Santana to Beck to Iggy Azalea. 

Potocsky, who never had any formal art training outside of the continuous mentoring of a devoted art teacher at his Fair Haven high school, says the inspiration for the murals came from some artwork that he saw while at BB King’s club in Manhattan. While his artwork is a full time endeavor today, back when he was playing with The Laughing Dogs, it was just a thing he did to make some extra cash in between gigs. While Potocsky’s art teacher in high school was so confident about Potocsky’s talent that he managed to get him a full ride to Cooper Union in New York, Potocsky had different plans for his future.

“As soon as I saw Ringo playing,” he says about the Beatles famed drummer, “my art career went down the tubes.” 

Although Potocsky, who was raised across the street from Sally’s Apizza in Wooster Square, did not pursue painting through a formal channel as a young man,  it certainly did not hurt him in any way. Today, he is the owner of MJP Studios, a full service decorative painting company that creates Trompe l’Oeil, custom faux finishes, faux painted marble and faux wood graining, glazing, gilding, 18th and 19th century patinas, handmade plaster finishes, painted ornamentation, custom hand cut stenciling, architectural trompe l’oeil art for interior designers, decorators, architects, businesses, hotels, churches, public spaces and residential owners.  And of course, he does murals. The murals that Potcsky is creating for Toad’s each take anywhere between 30 and 40 painstaking hours and his style veers towards photorealism--you look closely at the mural with Billy Joel or Bon Jovi, and you swear you’re looking at a photograph, but it’s actually done in acrylic and pencil, the painter reveals to me. 

When complete, the murals will encircle the interior of Toad’s, giving guests a chance to see a new visual history of a club that’s weathered the years with a lot of grace. 

“It’s hard to be an independent club,” says owner Brian Phelps, who became acquainted with the former club owners at Toad’s while still a junior at the University New Haven. His tenure with the club has reached the 40 year mark this year, and even as it has, Phelps says he still likes listening to music, and still likes getting up for work every day. “Every night that the crowd erupts during a performance and looking out at the eclectic group of people gathered in one room,” that, Phelps says, is what makes it all worth it.