IT’S PRIME TIME FOR SOME PRIME CUTS OF (MARC) RIBLER

Marc Ribler (left) and Steven Van Zandt (photo by Rene van Daimen)

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, February 21 2019

“He got the bug again,” says Marc Ribler of his friend and frequent collaborator Steven Van Zandt, by way of explaining how that iconic prime mover ‘n shaker of the Shore music scene — a guy who, after all, had diversified his portfolio in recent years to score significant successes in the realms of on-camera acting, Broadway theatrical production, satellite radio, education, philanthropy, and everything this side of branded spaghetti sauce — came to rely on the veteran musician as his music director for a newly resurgent iteration of the Disciples of Soul.

“Steven was working with Darlene Love, and asked me to be her music director for some shows,“ recalls the singer, songwriter and guitarist whose own solo trajectory ranges from charting songs for other vocalists, to earning a reputation as an ace interpreter of signature stuff from the classic rock playbook. “We’d do a few of his compositions at each show — ‘‘Love on the Wrong Side of Town,’ ‘Til the Good Is Gone,’ ‘Forever’ — and we all came to the realization that, wow, there’s a great body of work here.”

“A year later he called me to do a one-off festival in London, and, well…ever sonce then he’s been immersed in his own artistry. Right now his music is the center of his universe.”

Having “toured continuously”  in recent years as Van Zandt’s right-hand lieutenant (as well as co-producer of SVZ’s recording sessions), the Brick Township-based Ribler prepares to hit the international road once again, on the momentum of two new projects with the resurgent Little Steven: the just-issued Soulfire Live! box set/ Blu-Ray package, and the May 2019 release of the all-new studio set Summer of Sorcery.

“If he had somehow misplaced that songwriter within, he’s reconnected with it in a major way,” says Ribler of the bandana’d bandleader whose upcoming itinerary brings him to Australia in April, and various European ports of call in May (with some high profile CD release shows planned for New York and LA). “He’s a man on a mission!”

Before all that, however, Marc Ribler returns, in the company of assembled Friends, to the Asbury Park venue where he’s found happy harbor for the past several years — Tim McLoone’s Supper Club, the sophisticated space-age saucer that hosts not just one but twoRib-sticking repasts in the next couple of weekends. This coming Saturday, February 23, it’s a birthday salute to the life and musical legacy of the “Quiet Beatle,” George Harrison — a retrospective for which Ribler is joined by the in-demand rhythm section of Rich Mercurio (drums) and Jack Daley( bass), as well as by keyboardist Andy Burton from SVZ’s band. Then the following Friday, March 1st, it’s an Electrifying Tribute to The Who that finds the core band joined for the occasion by vocalist Dale Toth.

“Everyone in the band grew up with this music…it’s in our DNA to begin with,” observes the chief Friend  whose repertoire of special salute sets also includes a Traffic tribute performed in partnership with Jukes keyboardist Jeff Kazee. “We’ve been celebrating George’s birthday for five years now…both here, and at the Cutting Room in New York…and we like to do it at least once or twice each year.”

Scheduled for 8 pm, the Harrison set traces the personal and professional journey of a Beatle bandmate whose years in the considerable shadow of Lennon and McCartney saw him emerge over time as “an artist with an incredible sense of self…and a genuine humanity.”

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IT’S A 3-DAY, V-day WEEKEND IN ASBURY TOWN

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, February 14 2019

Ah yes, Valentine’s Day — the candy kisses and the cardboard Cupids; the sweet swirl of the sauvignon and the scent of Sunoco station roses; the prix fixe menu and the pure peer pressure of participating in a “romantic” ritual designed to make the unattached feel like they’re little more than…

Whoa, wait a minute now…that’s Anti-Valentine’s talk, and that’s an avenue that was explored to fine effect just this past Wednesday, when the Asbury Hotel hosted its Anti- V-day songwriting competition. But beginning tonight, February 14 — and continuing on through an extended interlude of concert events and variety vaudevilles — the venues in and around Asbury Park have you Casanovas covered in style, with a choice of entertainments (ranging from hyper-current to classic retro) that are all about the Live and the Love.

Among the most highly visible of the weekend’s events are not just one but two major manifestations of the modern art of Burlesque — a Burlesque-a-pades in Loveland revue that commandeers the stage at House of Independents this Friday, and a NJ Burlesque Valentine’s Show that returns to the Asbury on Saturday. Scroll it down for more details on these exemplars of the art form’s “newly re-energized, multi-gender encompassing, even empowering next wave.”

Following up on that theme of everything old being new again, the Valentine’s interval is a time in which the classic sounds of Great American Songbook pop, vintage soul serenades, and timeless jazz jams come once more to the fore — and it’s no coincidence that all of those genres have been well represented at the Brown Performing Arts Center, the intimate storefront space operated by elegant crooner Bill Brown at 312 Main Street in downtown Asbury.

A little too intimate, it can be said, to meet the demands of V-day’s romantic rush — so with that in mind, Brown has re-teamed with the more spacious Mister C’s Bistro on the Allenhurst waterfront, programming a three-night dinner/show residency that finds the singer holding court there on February 14 and 15. Then on Saturday the 16th, Bill’s buddy Bobby Valli (pictured) — brother to Jersey Boy-for-all-seasons Frankie, and a seasoned performer in his own right — closes out the stand, with available seating for any of the three shows ($69 per person) reserved by calling 732-531-3665.

Upside Tim McLoone’s Supper Club on the Asbury boards, one of the greatest non-rock albums of the classic-rock era is celebrated in style on Friday night, when Asbury’s own Chris Pinnella (himself profiled in these pages back in December) channels the legendary Chairman of the Board in a special salute to Sinatra at the Sands, the Rat Pack artifact that found Ol’ Blue Eyes singing, swinging and swaggering at peak powers, backed by fellow Jerseyan Count Basie’s band (including a next-generation arranger by name of Quincy Jones). The 8 pm event — for which Chris has shared that he won’tbe recreating Sinatra’s sign-of-their-times comic monologues — has sold out as we post this, but fans will be able to reconnect with Pinnella as he honors a regional music master of a different era, Billy Joel, at the Asbury Hotel on March 23.

Valentine’s Day proper finds the Supper Club stage playing host to an altogether different act: From Blue to Greene, the acoustic duo that pairs singer-songsmith-guitarist Austin Vuolo with vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Kaela Fanelli. The 6 pm dinner/show event ($49.95) represents the first of two opportunities to catch the twosome this weekend, as they take it downstairs to Robinson Ale House on Saturday night. Continue reading

SHORE’S CHAMPIONSHIP BLUESBUSTER BRINGS O’REE-LY BIG SHOW

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, February 7 2019

It was some time in 2006 when Shore music fans came to the sobering realization that, effective immediately, they would have to share dibs on Matt O’Ree with the rest of the planet.

The clincher was Guitar Center’s annual King of the Blues competition for that year; a contest that the young blues-rock guitarist from Holmdel aced over a field of thousands of contenders for the throne. In addition to the instantly conferred cred, it was an accolade that netted O’Ree a cash prize, a Gibson Guitars endosement, a personal Guitar Center shopping spree — and a brand new Scion automobile, about which more in a bit.

It was a sure shot in the arm for the young veteran who’d made his rep playing in just about every indoor or outdoor setting to be found on the regional scene — from the portable parkside stages of the Jersey Shore Jazz & Blues Foundation’s summer series, to the hallowed halls of BB King’s, and pretty much every barroom, bistro, barn, backyard BBQ or boardwalk bench between.

“I was using credit cards to finance my career up to that point,” recalls the guitarist who formed his first edition of the Matt O’Ree some 25 years ago, in 1994. “So no matter how much mileage I get out of that win, being able to pay off those cards was the greatest feeling!”

That said, the single greatest thrill of Matt O’Ree’s career arguably occurred nearly a decade after that, when he was tapped by Bon Jovi to serve as an onstage guitarist for the mega-band’s Burning Bridgestour of major international markets.

“Suddenly I went from playing to a couple of dozen regulars at a local bar, to being in front of anywhere from 50 to 70 thousand people,” he says. “It was an awesome perspective to be able to experience…truly a magic moment.”

As the hometown guitar hero confesses, the aftermath of the Bon Jovi tour was an interval that “took a bit of adjustment,”while he resumed a schedule of hyper-local gigs that included a first-Friday monthly set at the music-friendly Red Bank bar Jamian’s — a tradition that he maintains to this day.

At the same time, a sold-out “homecoming” show at the Stone Pony served to “O’Ree-inforce” the fact that the guitarist was operating on a newly heightened level of play —  a fact borne out by the release of his 2016 album Brotherhood.

A followup to such multiple Asbury Music Award-winning opuses as Shelf Life, the long-player found the singer-songwriter-instrumentalist (then newly named to the NY/NJ Blues Hall of Fame) working within some rarefied company — in particular Bon Jovi charter member David Bryan, with whom he cemented his friendship and professional partnership via their co-authorship of the album’s breakout track “My Everything Is You.”

The keyboard man would go on to make several guest appearances at O’Ree gigs — and listeners would soon enough discover that the cut “Black Boots” boasted backing vocals by one Bruce Springsteen. In addition to the legendary Memphis guitarman Steve Cropper, a deeper delve into the recording sessions revealed additional collaborations with Blues Traveler harpist John Popper and Parliament-Funkadelic keyboardist Bernie Worrell— with O’Ree divulging that he’s “still sitting on”tracks featuring those artists, whose contributions were cut from the final release due to legal issues.

Even with all of that collaborative energy zinging about, the most significant partnership of Matt’s career was soon to manifest itself — and when the Matt O’Ree Band takes to the stage of Monmouth University’s Pollak Theatre this Saturday, February 9, audiences will key in on a genuine labor of love in big, bluesy bloom. Continue reading

FLOYD’S YOUR UNCLE, FROM SPAGHETTI DINNER TO SUPPER CLUB

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, January 31 2019

He’s been branded a menace to the morals of impressionable youth; a living standard-bearer for an all-but-forgotten style of humor and song, and a colorful cultural ambassador for Jersey pride — a human equivalent of pork roll (that’s a compliment) in a porkpie hat, and a LOUD jacket that would give pause even to the late great Mets announcer Lindsey Nelson.

No less a showman/fan than David Bowie (who saluted him in the song “Slip Away“) praised him as “one of the Last Entertainers” — and, in a career that’s taken him from the brink of nationwide stardom to the spaghetti dinner at your local firehouse (and all points between), Floyd Vivino has staked a claim to that mantle like almost no other performer alive.

“Comedy can heal or destroy,” says the veteran vaudevillian best known as Uncle Floyd. “It’s the most delicate form of entertainment, because unlike a music act you have to give the comedian your full attention, instead of hitting the dance floor.”

“You really need to look at the performer.”

For just about half a century now, Vivino has “made ya look” — and not only via those signature mega-decibel duds.

“I have very few checked blazers left…and forget finding porkpie hats anymore,” he says. “They’re in disrepair, but I manage to keep ‘em together, as long as you don’t look too closely.”

More than that, Floyd Vivino has made you listen, through a mastery of early 20th century popular piano styles and an encyclopedic knowledge of joke-book chestnuts, vintage novelty ditties, Italian favorites, singing-cowboy standards, and other Hit Parade paraphernalia from the era of sheet music and wax 78s.

To an entire mildly misguided generation of Garden State boomers, however, the man at the piano will forever be the host of The Uncle Floyd Show, the cheerfully anarchic, low/no budget “children’s program” that aired in various broadcast forums and formats from the mid 1970s to some time in the late 90s.

A throwback to the earliest pioneer days of television in terms of production values — and, for a demographic that grew up on the likes of Soupy Sales, Chuck McCann and Sandy Becker, a cherished echo of the “local kiddie host” era — the show was a madcap minestrone in which Floyd and his stock company of regulars (including Scott Gordon, Looney Skip Rooney, Mugsy and Netto) bulldozed their way through a very loose collection of puppet segments (featuring Oogie, Bones Boy and Mr. Tony), old-school songs, character skits (Eddie Slobbo, Cowboy Charlie and Joe Frankfutter, to name but a few), and viewer-generated “pictures on the wall.”

Somewhere along the line, the Floyd show got noticed and embraced by a burgeoning scene of punk/ new wave artists who jockeyed for exposure within the claustrophobic confines of the modest suburban studio. Lip-sync guests ranged from breakout acts like the Ramones, and NJ-based favorites like The Misfits, Smithereens, and Shrapnel — to downtown NYC avant garde percussionists, and even the occasional visitor from across the pond.

More legendary than lucrative, the TV show inspired Floyd to hit the regional road (with castmates, puppets, and full band featuring brothers Jimmy and Jerry Vivino) for a series of live gigs at nightclubs that included Asbury Park’s much-missed Fast Lane. While that TV heyday is sadly long past, Vivino has remained a frequent returnee to Asbury town — and when the entertainer comes back to the circuit this Friday, February 1, he’ll be taking it topside to the space-age saucer roundhouse of Tim McLoone’s Supper Club.

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ROBERT GORDON: THE ‘FIRE’ STILL BURNS BRIGHTLY

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, January 24 2019

Take a stroll through the Asbury Park Pop-Up Museum, the temporary exhibit now open weekends on the boardwalk through mid-March, and you’ll see among the many artifacts, images and ephemera of the city’s architectural, cultural and sociological history a set of photographs taken at the old Fast Lane nightclub back in 1978. The pictures show a recently clean-shaven 28-year old Bruce Springsteen in a very familiar setting: jamming on the Asbury stage with a visiting musician; seeking out and finding that common ground in a shared influence, a fondly remembered song, or, failing that, a boundary-busting Chuck Berry riff for any occasion.

Then there’s the out-of-town guest whose gig that was some forty-plus years ago — a slick and slender figure sporting a mile-high atom-age mutant pompadour, a finely tailored sharkskin suit, and a knowing grin that lets on he’s well aware of the value of this cool moment.

The visitor in question was Robert Gordon — and the common ground was “Fire,” the classically catchy slowdancer that Springsteen originally pitched to a still-breathing Elvis Presley during that weird interlude between Born to Run and Darkness; a time when The Future of Rock and Roll was stranded in a jungleland of litigation, even as he was giving generously of his time and talents on projects involving everyone from Lou Reed and Patti Smith to those monumental first few albums by the Jukes.

While the prisoner of Graceland apparently had other peanut butter banana sandwiches to fry — and while The Pointer Sisters would be the ones to score an eventual hit with the tune — it was Robert Gordon (and his band that included the legendary guitar wolf Link Wray) who lent his king-ly baritone and his old school “he’s good bad but he ain’t evil” savoire faire to the song’s debut in the public arena. And whenever the rising-star veteran of the same CBGB scene that spawned Blondie, the Ramones, and Talking Heads passed within fifty miles or so of the Asbury HoJo’s, any rock fan might reasonably expect that “Fire” could spark a duet between the song’s ace interpreter and its proud papa.

“Bruce and I used to do ‘Fire’ a lot in those days, not just in Asbury but in some other places,” recalls Gordon, at the top of a winter tour of northeastern nightspots. “Thanks to that song, I feel like I have a real connection to Asbury Park…I’ve been coming there forever, and I’ve always loved the place.”

The old sky-high pomp may have retreated back to earth — and the svelte suits may have been mothballed in favor of a working-class wardrobe of black slacks and bowling shirts — but at the age of 71, the voice that lent new life to the music of Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, Johnny Burnette and Jack Scott (and, lest we forget, introduced many of us to the songwriting skills of Marshall Crenshaw) has lost little to none of its smooth bourbon-y blast. As the self-described “rock and roll singer” tells it, however, there’s one traditional ingredient that’s gone missing from the old vocal recipe.

“I struggled with it for a while, but I finally gave up smoking cigarettes cold-turkey, about three years ago,” he says. “I made that choice for my voice…and I made the choice for my heart. I had a heart procedure a while back…I’m feelin’ good, and I consider myself lucky to be around.”

That said, when Robert Gordon comes around Asbury town once more this Friday, January 25,  he’ll be falling back into one of the happier habits of his long career.

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IT’S JUST AROUND THE CORNER: LIGHT OF DAY KEEPS THE AP HOME FIRES LIT

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, January 17 2019

To hear the man tell it, “Longevity is a benchmark of greatness” — and given that the speaker is Tony Pallagrosi, the words are no mere fridge-magnet platitude. After all, this is the veteran music scene mover ‘n shaker whose unimpeachable cred extends from his days as one of the cats in the band (The Shots, The Asbury Jukes), to host of some much-missed Shore nightspots (The FastLane, Xanadu), to co-founder of major concert venues and promotion entities (Starland Ballroom, Concerts East), to manager of The Weeklings — and quite possibly all the way to “the other side,” thanks to Asbury Angels, the musical memorial initiative that he chairs.

Pallagrosi, however, isn’t referring to himself, or to any of those aforementioned feathers in his cap, but to the endeavor that may ultimately stand as his most lasting legacy: Light of Day, the music-driven fundraising vehicle that’s  illuminated some of the darkest winter days and nights in this City of Summers for well nigh two decades.

Co-founded by Pallagrosi with music promo/ management pro Bob Benjamin as an awareness resource for Parkinson’s Disease research — and inspired by Benjamin’s own diagnosis with the disorder — the annual slate of star-studded happenings grew out of a 40th birthday party for Bob at the Stone Pony; taking its name from the Springsteen soundtrack song “Just Around the Corner to the Light of Day” on its way to becoming a sprawling affair that’s spanned several continents, major North American cities and additional satellite events throughout the calendar year.

Of course, along the way Light of Day became indelibly identified with the stamp of Benjamin’s long-time friend Bruce Springsteen — not just via the organization’s name, but in the very real presence of The Boss as an onstage participant and de facto ringmaster for the majority of those all-star Bob’s Birthday concerts. As an undeniable draw (and a focal point for some tantalizing will-he-or-won’t-he buzz each year), the Bard of the boardwalk has generously shared the stage with a core cast of frequent-flyer performers (including Joe Grushecky, Willie Nile, and Steve Forbert), as well as drop-in guest stars that have ranged from Southside Johnny, Darlene Love and Gary US Bonds, to Light of Day movie star (plus high-profile person with Parkinson’s) Michael J. Fox, and  The Sopranos’ Vincent Pastore.

While the nonprofit Light of Day Foundation is a year-round entity upon which the sun never sets, the heart and soul of the positively charged enterprise remains LOD Winterfest, the mid-January jamboree of activity that commandeers the stages, storefronts and saloons of Asbury Park during the post-holiday “off season” interlude when most other Shore towns are deep into a long winter’s nap. Having offered up a couple of preliminary pace-setter events on January 13 (see the feature on Bob Burger in last week’s Coaster), the circus comes to town in full force for a long weekend that begins tonight, January 17, with a choice of tuneful entertainments that includes a “Hall of Fame Jam” featuring veteran Bruce drummer Vini Lopez (Langosta Lounge), a special edition of Sandy Mack’s Wonder Jam at the Wonder Bar, and an official kickoff concert at downtown’s House of Independents that spotlights such next-gen talents as Williams Honor and Anthony “Remember Jones” D’Amato.

“No other town this small has such a vibrant music scene,” says Pallagrosi. “And at the end of the day, I want everyone involved.”

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STILL THE KING: BURGER GETS BUSY, BY NIGHT ‘N LIGHT OF DAY

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, January 10 2019

For a self-described “working musician with a day job,” Bob Burger has always seemed a bit devil-may-care about the impact on his workaday grind, from those many long weekends, out-of-town jaunts, and late nights spent in the company of  folks who like to raise a glass and have themselves a rocking good time.

But as a special counsel in the Newark offices of the prestigious law firm McCarter & English, the Eatontown resident is all business; an award winning attorney with go-to specialties in the fields of intellectual property/ copyright law, NDAs, and software-related issues.

That same scrupulous attention to detail is evident in Burger’s myriad musical projects and live gigs, whether he’s performing in solo, duo, or combo contexts at any of a number of favorite watering holes up and down the Shore — or even jetting off across the pond with The Weeklings, that sublime salute to The Beatles co-founded by Burger with fellow paladin of the pop playbook (and original Beatlemania cast member) Glen Burtnik. And for validation, look no further than that time that Paul McCartney himself hit the dance floor to Bob’s rendition of “Back in the USSR” at a star-studded private party.

If anything, the bespectacled Burger has long stood as a “thinking man’s” version of the stereotypical Guy in the Corner with a Guitar; an impression based not so much on those signature specs (or on the fact that he was valedictorian of his class at Penn State), as it is on his very evident knowledge of and facility with a panorama of pop music styles — an encylopedic, but never dryly academic, mastery of the music that shook the world in the latter half of the last century.

“I do know a lot of songs,” says Burger in what might prove to be one of the understatements of the current millennium. “But you have to be really versatile to survive in the music business these days.”

That quality of versatility has been the special sauce that’s set apart such Burger projects as a full-length Fleetwood Mac tribute show, as well as a heartfelt homage to the One Hit Wonders that defined the 1970s — and it’s a big part of the reason that, when it came time for Max Weinberg to recruit a band for his crowd-pleasingly interactive Jukebox live shows, he called upon Burger and his Weekling mates Burtnik and John Merjave.

Max Weinberg’s Jukebox plays Schenectady, NY this Friday, January 11, as one of the affiliated events in Light of Day XIX Winterfest, the  annual slate of benefit concerts for Parkinson’s Disease research that has burst the borders of its Jersey origins; expanding into satellite events at venues in NYC, Philadelphia and other North American cities, as well as several well-received whistlestops in Australia and Europe. On Saturday the 12th, The Weeklings reconvene for a set of Beatles deep cuts and inner grooves (as well as some celebrated Burtnik/ Burger-penned originals) in another Light of Day barnstormer, this time at the World Cafe in Philly.

Then on Sunday, January 13, Bob Burger switches fab gears once more, as he returns to Asbury Park to perform the music of Tom Petty in a special Light of Day “Cover Me” program at the Stone Pony.

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ANGRY ORCHARD: SECRETS, PAIN RIPE FOR THE PICKING AT NJ REP

Kersti Bryan and Christopher M. Smith co-star in APPLE SEASON, the play by E.M. Lewis making its world premiere at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch. Photo by New Jersey Repertory Company

The Russian master Anton Chekhov had his Cherry Orchard and its group portrait of a fast-fading aristocracy, rotting from the inside out as it falls to the axe of social change. In the latest drama to make its world premiere at New Jersey Repertory Company, it’s Apple Season in the Pacific Northwest’s Willamette Valley — and it’s there where the low-hanging fruit of past behaviors and secrets threaten the members of one local family with a one-way trip into a wormhole of regret and suffocating grief.

Opening this weekend at the company’s downtown Long Branch playhouse, the play by E.M. Lewis represents NJ Rep’s first staging of a work by the the Oregon-based playwright who, by her own admission, is “the kind who goes back and forth between smaller, personal stories and bigger political plays.” Describing this one as “an intimate little three character play,” the award-winning dramatist declares that its themes of “the danger of secrets and the importance of truth telling” operate within her desire to “write about rural people…the ones who are less visible on most theatrical stages.”

“Sam Shepard wrote about non-urban people in a way that captured the largeness of human questions,” she observes. “People who live in ‘small’ places are people who are still wrestling with some big issues.”

In the production under the direction of Zoya Kachadurian, a funeral brings a sister and brother (Kersti Bryan, Richard Kent Green) back to the family farm that they turned their backs on years ago — leading to an encounter with a neighbor (Christopher M. Smith) who shares a history with both of the siblings, and a situation in which “a legacy of violence” puts an indelible stamp on the here and now. It all unfolds within “the season when the apples are hanging and ready…with no one there to pick them.” Continue reading