Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ), April 2, 2020 

“Seattle just banned all live music performances for 30 days!” read a widely disseminated meme that made the social media rounds a few weeks back. “This cancels over 1246 gigs, affecting 320 working musicians…with a total income loss of almost $426.75!”

It’s funny because it’s true, more or less — but with the COVID-19 public health emergency having subsequently slammed into the Garden State like a killer frost, it’s a bit less funny for all those who toil in the fields of what up until very recently stood as this area’s major cash crop: the bar/ restaurant/ theater/ nightclub circuit.

When the region’s music scene shuttered almost overnight, music makers from all stylistic corners of the local soundscape took to the wi-fi “airwaves” to serve up home-cooked concert creations for their fans — a sonic smorgasbord that ranged from “saloon singer” supreme Pat Guadagno, to classic crooner Chris Pinnella, to kidrock romper Yosi Levin, to dancefloor DJ Mick Hale. But it was a longtime patroness of the arts by the name of Ellen Berman who took it as a cue to do something unprecedented, for the scores of creative individuals who have historically counted on eking out a spartan but steady existence making music. Beginning on March 18 and scheduled to continue every night at 9 pm for the duration of the public venue shutdown, a cast of singers from our neck of New Jersey (and the big world beyond) connects with their fanbase via Facebook, in an ambitious endeavor entitled Ellen Berman’s Viral Video Productions presents Corona Classic Concerts.

Appearing in that inaugural mini-concert — and taking a major role in the planning and production of the series — was a familiar presence on the Shore soundscape: Arlan Feiles, the singer/ songwriter/ producer/ multi-instrumentalist and activist whose intensely personal-yet-universal compositions have graced a catalog of acclaimed indie albums, stages of every conceivable size, high-profile film soundtracks, and collaborative projects with the likes of vocal veteran JT Bowen.

“Ellen is one of New Jersey’s great music fans,” observes Feiles in a call from his Matawan home. “I first met her at a holiday show at the Stone Pony, where she bought 40 of my CDs to give out as Christmas gifts!”

“She hired me to help put together this live stream project, with the idea that the musicians get paid for their work…I thought I’d line up a few guys; get a few shows going for a few weeks…but within three days we got a huge response, a healthy schedule, where we’re employing over 40 artists. So far it’s just been overwhelmingly incredible!”

Featured artists have thus far included such Jersey Shore perennials as Emily Grove, Tara Dente and Cranston Dean, as well as nationwide acts like the LA-based Canyoneers, Nashville (by way of her native Neptune City) sensation Nicole Atkins, and Joan Osborne (best known for the hit “One of Us”).

As Feiles emphasizes, “This is a curated schedule of artists who have been paid to perform…they all get 200 to 300 dollars, which is a drop in the bucket for someone like Nicole Atkins, but which goes a long way for someone whose livelihood depends on music-related activity. They can pay it forward, do what they want…but the important thing is that Ellen and I want to see these musicians get paid for their art.”

“They get to produce their segments as they see fit…but we ask them to please let us see where you are,” adds the music programmer in reference to the videos that have presented a quirky and engaging look at these “captive” creatives in their home environment. “And the at-home format has allowed us to get April Smith, who was such a big part of the scene before she retired from performing about ten years ago (the singer is scheduled to perform on Monday, April 13).”

Feiles, who performed his own virtual set on Wednesday night, returns for additional 9 pm schedulings on April 8 and 15 — while other upcoming Corona Classics spotlight such fellow Shore faves as Rick Barry (Sunday, April 5), Quincy Mumford (Monday, April 6), Dentist (Friday, April 10), and Rachel Ana Dobken (Friday, April 17), as well as NJ-to-NOLA transplant Allie Moss (Thursday, April 16).

The response to the nightly series has been such that Berman and Feiles organized a separate slate of virtual “Happy Hour” concerts, scheduled for 5 pm on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The series that kicked off on March 27 continues into another weirdly quiet weekend with Ocean Township’s own Frank Lombardi featured on Friday, April 3. Gayle Skidmore and John Anaya, respectively of the Netherlands and Scotland, round out the Saturday/ Sunday scene — while Asbury fans will not want to miss a solo appearance by Swagmatics frontwoman Deseree Spinks on Sunday, April 11 (there’s also talk of an 11 pm late-nite series).      Continue reading


NOTE: By order of the State of New Jersey, all bars, nightclubs, theatres and performing arts centers are closed until further notice. Restaurants remain open for take-out and delivery on a limited schedule, while local cinemas and playhouses have cancelled all shows. Contact individual venues for information on regarding prior ticket sales and reschedulings of announced events…and keep the safety of our community in mind!

Published in The Link News (Long Branch, NJ), March 26, 2020

To be clear about it, the various film-actor celebs that we were anticipating seeing — including Full Metal Jacket star Matthew Modine, or Terminator tandem Linda Hamilton and Robert Patrick — will not be making any of those promised personal appearances at area restaurants, theatres or screening spaces.

Instead, these distinguished guests and many more will be coming to your living room, your home office, your kitchen, your bedroom, your bathroom — wherever you choose to take in a movie, TV series or video on your personal screening space these days.

With its 18th annual edition — the third since returning to the Monmouth County milieu of its birth — set to unspool over the course of this weekend, the Garden State Film Festival had mapped out a sprawling slate of screening-event blocks, panels, seminars and ceremonies; a rigorously organized schedule set to commandeer auditoriums, businesses, and municipal meeting places all over Asbury Park and Ocean Grove.

Our unprecedented public health emergency, and its mandated closings of nearly every space in which audiences congregate, had another something to say about those best-laid plans of mice and men. And it appeared as though the GSFF would be just one more small ripple in a wave of postponements and cancellations that included big-time concert events, Broadway shows, major pro and college sports contests, the Cannes Film Festival, and a little thing called the Olympics.

Rather than remaining lost in the tsunami that’s crashed against the economic shore, however, the festival diverted its current to a place Down by the Old Live Stream — with the result that beginning today, March 26, and continuing through this coming Sunday, March 29, the event with the Jersey Tomatoes in its logo soldiers on in “hothouse tomatoes” style; presenting all of its previously announced films as scheduled, and as streaming programs available exclusively to GSFF “attendees.”

Speaking on the eve of the first live-stream happening, festival founder Diane Raver observed that “as recently as ten days ago, we were still a physical event…but when we realized what had to be done, we turned this thing around in record time.”

“That’s all Lauren, God bless her,” said Raver in reference to GSFF exec director Lauren Concar Sheehy, “along with Sage Del Valle, our director of operations and technical wizard…thanks to them, we were able to design a solution, and to build something ourselves.”

As the festival organizers point out, this remains a “ticketed event” for which anyone who purchases an admission at the official website is able to access their choice of featured programming blocks from private servers (“not YouTube or Vimeo, and not prone to pirating”). According to a press announcement, previously purchased tickets will be honored for the streamed programming, as well as at the 2021 Garden State Film Festival — and while panels, workshops and other in-person offerings have necessarily been cancelled, the live-stream format has the advantage of allowing film fans to “be in two places at the same time,” with none of the scheduled events subject to turning away attendees from a sold-out screening space.

As Sheehy put it in a statement, the festival “promises to be a celebration of independent film that you can’t see anywhre else, all from the comfort of your home.” Festival chairman Eric Ascalon added that “we intend to ‘virtually’ reach not only our traditional attendees, but also an expanded homebound audience yearning to interface with the arts.”

The 18th annual event kicks off tonight at 7 pm with a special Meet the Filmmaker video that offers previews of featured films — and continues at 8 pm with one of the most anticipated offerings on this year’s schedule, the feature-length documentary QT8: The First Eight. An examination of the career of game-changing director and producer Quentin Tarantino, the project from filmmaker Tara Wood features contributions from such frequent QT collaborators as Samuel L. Jackson and Kurt Russell, and is made to order for passionate film buffs in a state of self-”Quarantino.”     Continue reading


NOTE: By order of the State of New Jersey, all bars, nightclubs, theatres and performing arts centers are closed until further notice. Restaurants remain open for take-out and delivery only until 8 pm, while local cinemas and playhouses have cancelled all shows. Contact individual venues for information on regarding prior ticket sales and reschedulings of announced events…and keep the safety of our community in mind!

Director Craig Singer is pictured at left, with his “6:45″ cast members Thomas G. Waites, Augie Duke, and…….?

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), March 19, 2020

In the midst of everything that’s come to pass within these last several days — the spawling spectre of a global pandemic; the calls for “social distancing” and unprecedented disruption to everyday/night life; the mandated curfews and closings of all places of public gathering — a body can almost take a curious kind of comfort from such dependably terrorific touchstones as spooky spirits, grisly murders, and descents into vortexes of hellish horror and madness.

Of course, staying home only feels safe and snug when the house in which one lives — in this correspondent’s case, the Stephen Crane House in Asbury Park — doesn’t happen to be an in-demand location for film crews from ghost-chaser TV shows, paranormal investigators, and producers of supernatural fright epics.

So it was that one recent winter’s day found the 140 year old historic site playing host to a large crew of young actors, technicians, and production assistants, led by Craig Singer, a veteran producer/ director/ screenwriter who’s worked with such diverse talents as Robin Givens, Neil Patrick Harris, Debbie Harry, Lainie Kazan, Matthew Lillard, Michael Rappaport, and Mickey Rourke.

The Jersey Shore native was back on familiar turf — Asbury Park, where several of his projects have been set and/or filmed — to lens a few scenes for his latest feature-length work in progress; a chiller entitled “6:45.” It’s a “time-loop” tale in which a man (young horror-movie veteran Michael Reed) is forced to re-live the same day over and over — a day that saw tragedy befall his female companion (Augie Duke of Netflix’s Messiah) on an outing to the seemingly benign New England seashore resort of Bog Grove. Think Groundhog Day if you must — only in place of the groundhog seeing his shadow, substitute a mysterious shrouded interloper known only as the Shadow Man.

“It’s a great feeling, to be back doing a low-budget indie film here on the Shore,” says the industry pro whose recent résumé includes a stint as an exec with the Disney organization (“a wonderful journey; incredible company”), a gig that he secured when the giant entertainment concern acquired a small Tribeca-based company co-founded by Singer. “I get to work with a young, hungry group of filmmakers — and I get to sleep in my own bed at night!”

Currently “knee deep in post-production,” the project that wrapped shooting this past Valentine’s Day also utilized locations that included downtown Asbury’s Bangs Avenue and exteriors in Ocean Grove, as well as additional “Bog Grove” settings in such Ocean County locales as Seaside Heights, Toms River, and Lavallette. The film that’s on track to hit the festival circuit in summer 2020 (a foreign distribution deal is also in the works) further boasts an intriguing supporting cast that includes veteran character actor Thomas G. Waites (“Windows” in the John Carpenter cult horror fave The Thing), hip hop artists Remy Ma and The 45 King — and, doing double duty as actor and co-producer, former pro boxing champ Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini.

“6:45” stars Augie Duke and Michael Reed (at front left) are pictured with Craig Singer and crew, on location in Toms River.

 “Ray’s an old hand at this — he’s done seven or eight films already, and he’s working here with his son Leo, where they play a couple of police detectives,” says Singer, who credits the fact that “I’m my own casting director” for 6:45’s eclectic ensemble. “I’ve actually been working with him for years, on a Mickey Rourke picture (Monkey’s Nest) that we’re hoping to start shooting in April.”

Rourke, of course, has his own strong Asbury connection courtesy of Homeboy, the grim 1988 boxing story (filmed almost entirely in the down-and-dirty Asbury Park of the late 80s) that predated the writer-star’s own foray into pro boxing. The actor would return to the AP waterfront in 2008 for his Oscar-nominated turn in The Wrestler — while Craig Singer would mine his fascination with the city in three other passionate projects.      Continue reading


Chris Collins, Mick “London” Hale, and Bobby “Werner” Strete perform as MOD FUN, Friday the 13th at Asbury Park Yacht Club.

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), March 12, 2020

 “They say that turbulent times are good for the arts,” says guitarist and vocalist Mick London, by way of explaining a level of activity that brings his long-running rock band Mod Fun back to the local stage this Friday, March 13. “And what does it say that we’ve stayed together a lot longer this time around, than when we were first on the scene?”

One of the most attention-compelling original combos to emerge out of New Jersey in the early to mid-1980s, Mod Fun caught the cutting edge of a rock renaissance that centered around such creative hives as Hoboken, New Brunswick, and our own Shore points; fortified by such legendary outposts as The Dirt Club in Bloomfield (site of the band’s inaugural gig), City Gardens, Maxwell’s, Court Tavern, the Fast Lane and the Brighton Bar; supported by a robust indie press and the pioneers of college/ alternative radio (oh, and The Uncle Floyd Show). While most of those cultural outlets are the stuff of late-boomer nostalgia these days, the trio of London, drummer Chris Collins and bassist Bobby “Werner” Strete remains on call; ready to assemble like Avengers or some jukebox Justice League, whenever turbulent times demand the peculiar diplomacy of the band’s supercharged postpunk powerpop.

Hosted within the satisfyingly stripped-down setting of the Asbury Park Yacht Club on the famous boards, the Friday night fracas finds the Fun playing its first Asbury Park gig in a full decade, having last appeared at the “old” Asbury Lanes in 2010 as part of a “Modsbury Park” bill in support of their to-date most recent recording, the full-length album Futurepresent.

Bolstered by a widely viewed video for “Give” (a clip filmed against the backdrop of such now-vanished landmarks like the Baronet Theatre and the aborted Esperanza condo project), the album cemented the band’s bond with Asbury Park, even as charter member Strete relocated to the Cincinnati area. For the core trio whose career was inspired by the “Mod” era revivalism of Paul Weller’s `1970s band The Jam — and whose early focus on northern NJ and NYC led to and high-profile sets up and down the eastern seaboard — it was a “homecoming” rooted in a 2004 show at The Saint; a reunion that marked the 20th anniversary of the band’s hard-driving debut single, “I Am With You.”

Even as he’s kept one foot planted in the garage-land realm of guitars and amps, however, “Mick London” is better known to current city residents as DJ Mick Hale, the dance-music specialist who presides over “Tempted Tuesdays,” Tea Dances and Pink Proms throughout the calendar year. Having enlivened the normally drab foothills of the working-week hump via his long-running Tuesday night gig at Georgie’s Bar, Hale prepares to augment his weekly residency at “the gay Cheers” of north Asbury with a summer-season stint at the poolside lounge of The Asbury Hotel, as well as an anticipated return to Convention Hall’s Beach Bar and other outlets of the partystarting pulsebeat.

That “double life” of the Anglophile aficionado of classic Brit bands like The Who and The Kinks, and the expert purveyor of R&B/dancefloor favorites, is reconciled to some extent by Hale’s ongoing involvement with another well-established endeavor: the electronica group Crocodile Shop, a dormant-not-dead entity (founded in 1987, and also harnessing the talents of Strete) about which the busy music maker says, “our keyboard player (v.Markus) sent me five new tracks last year…we finished one, and I keep having the idea of reviving Croc Shop as a recording project.”

There’s another element still to the     musical makeup of Mr. Mick Hale — a factor little-known to the scene at large, but hardly anything of an embarrassment to the Wanamassa resident — and that’s his 15-year career with the U.S. Postal Service, about which more momentarily.  

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Shore area natives John Caliendo and Sophia Parola are pictured in rehearsal for THE PROMOTION, the play that makes its world premiere in Long Branch this weekend. (photos by Andrea Phox Photography)

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), March 5, 2020

“I tried to take on as many hot-button issues as I could with this play,” confesses playwright Joe Giovannetti. “You could say I put a lot of powder into the powderkeg!”

The play in question is The Promotion, a “comedy about surviving in the dog-eat-dog world of business” that will very shortly become the latest in a long line of shows to make its world premiere at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch. The hot topics include race, gender, traditional social hierarchies, sexual tension, and the relentless reality-show competitiveness of modern life — in other words, just another day at the office break room for some — all of it framed in a way that’s “funnier than not funny…it’s a dark comedy, but the treatment of the content is serious.”

Speaking from his Chicago home, the writer-technician-designer-actor-director and sometime filmmaker insists that, while it’s set inside an insurance sales office, the play is not necessarily based on his own past job experience in a “pretty soft-edged” agency. Rather, it’s inspired by “any place where competition rules, and where people try to hack the system to get an edge…it’s a thing that’s baked into our culture, but it’s super-corrosive to treat every interaction as a competition.”

In the show that goes up in previews beginning tonight, March 5, a pair of co-workers named Trish (Sophia Parola) and Josh (John Caliendo) are insurance agents who exist on more or less equal footing in the company power structure — until an opportunity presents itself that both of them want, but only one of them can have. The subsequent jockeying for favor finds both the black woman and the white man exploring the outer limits of just how far they’d go to claim that sought-after prize.

As one of many NJ Rep offerings developed through the National New Play Network, The Promotion has been workshopped for audiences at DC’s Kennedy Center, as well as in Atlanta and Giovannetti’s home base of Chicago. That said, the official fully staged debut boasts an engagingly local angle in the casting of the leads, both new to the Long Branch stage. The young stage and screen veteran Caliendo is a native of Point Pleasant, while Manalapan-bred Sophia Parola is an alumna of both Monmouth University and Brookdale Community College, where she first caught the acting bug under the direction of the school’s longtime drama prof John Bukovec.

The two lead actors are joined by Chantal Jean-Pierre (as Lois, a senior colleague described by Giovannetti as a “voice of God” and “Greek chorus”), and by Broadway veteran Phillip Clark (as Mr. Buchanan, a businessman whose arrival impacts the office equilibrium from the outside). The cast of fresh faces is under the expert guidance of prolific director Evan Bergman, whose critically acclaimed projects for the Rep company now number upwards of a dozen (we’ve lost count).

While jokingly referring to his first-time alliance with Bergman as a “shotgun marriage,” the playwright credits the time that he spent working closely with his director in Atlanta for helping The Promotion get in shape for its premiere.

“Seeing this play being read for audiences three times in three different cities has been really helpful,” Giovannetti maintains. “I’m a white man who’s written a play with two black woman characters, and I appreciate talking to people about what I might have gotten right, or what might be off base.”

“The actors also bring generationally different perspectives to their characters,” the playwright says of the story in which the authority figures — the ones who wield the ultimate decision on that prize — are never seen. “The play does end in a fairly resolved way…just maybe not the way that you might have expected!”  

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Jim Babjak, Dennis Diken, Marshall Crenshaw, and Mike Mesaros bring the Smithereens songbook to the stage of the Pollak Theatre on March 7.   (photo by Neil Seiffer)

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), February 27, 2020

 The Asbury Park Paramount was packed with people and studded with celebs from all walks of public life this past October 27, as The Smithereens found themselves inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame — an honor that placed the “Garage-rock State” institution not only in the company of music makers from Bruce to Basie, but also among a veritable “honor (pork)roll” of leaders in the fields of science, statecraft, the humanities, and athletic accomplishment. Following an introduction by E Streeter Garry Tallent (who acknowledged becoming aware of the band via TV’s Uncle Floyd Show), the surviving ‘reens paid tribute to Pat DiNizio, the vocalist and principal songwriter who passed away in 2017; thanked a litany of friends, family members, managers, producers, club owners, DJs, rock mags — and, in the case of drummer Dennis Diken, cited a “holy place” known as the record department at Two Guys.

The reference to that long-gone but still-cherished discount retailer was simply one more supremely Jersey moment on the timeline, for an internationally celebrated group whose relationship to their forever-home state can be said to be of the “perfect-together” persuasion. For Diken, guitarist Jim Babjak, and bassist Mike Mesaros (all of whom grew up in Carteret) — as well as for proudly proclaimed “Scotch Plainsman” DiNizio (who wore hometown hats ranging from neighborhood garbageman, to candidate for U.S. Senate), the mutual love affair had a favorite trysting place in and around Asbury Park.

“Asbury, and the Shore have always been special to us…going back to 1980,” says Diken, himself an in-demand player (and occasional WFMU disc jockey) whose skills on the skins have been sought by the likes of Tallent, Ben E. King, and ex-Kink Dave Davies. “Lance Larson let us have the opening slot for his band Lord Gunner, for a couple of months…so there we were, just starting out, and with a residency at The Stone Pony!”

The band would return numerous times to the Pony hitching post, all during a nearly 40-year run that would see them navigate the ups and downs of the record-industry rollercoaster, get into rotation on MTV (as well as “alternative” radio outlets like the late lamented WHTG-FM), and make additional local stops at stages like The Fast Lane, where The Smithereens would first share a bill with their spiritual kin and contemporary, Marshall Crenshaw.

It was at the Wonder Bar that Babjak, Diken and Mesaros would play one of their last gigs with DiNizio in July 2017; the frontman by that point having lost the ability to wield a guitar after a protracted struggle with injury-related health issues. For the singer (whose local connection was such that he would come to be named to the Asbury Angels memorial hall of fame), it was no obstacle to delivering a set of those signature songs — “Blood and Roses,” “Behind the Wall of Sleep,” “Only a Memory,” “In a Lonely Place,” “Blues Before and After” — moody, mature, magnificent songs that staked out the crossroads of alternative/punk energy and the ambitious “teenage symphonies” of such heroes as Brian Wilson and The Beatles. And, because it was a Smithereens set, there were covers of everything from the Fab Four’s “Yesterday” and the 60s staple “Gloria,” to the pre-Elvis chestnut “Milk Cow Blues,” and the classic theme from TV’s “Batman” (this last in tribute to the late Adam West).

“Pat always gave it a thousand percent…he admired, we all admired, those showbiz people who were real troupers,” says Diken — with the legendary expert authority on popular culture adding, “we believe that you perform til you drop…and I always loved Dick Shawn!” (a reference to the 1960s-70s comic actor who literally died on stage).

“As far as being more mature sounding than other bands, I guess it just related back to the fact that we liked to read books, take in movies, and just experience life,” the drummer observes. “We appreciated being able to go to places like Scandinavia, where we played pretty early on, in 1984….and a place like The Stone Pony helped us to step out of our little North Jersey womb.”

Another crucial step outside the cradle came courtesy of the dearly departed Greenwich Village landmark Kenny’s Castaways, where the frequently featured Smithereens became the last band to play in 2012 — and where “we cut our teeth; met people in the industry, and found a spiritual godfather” in the owner, Pat Kenny.

For Di Nizio’s bandmates, then, there was never any question that the road would wind on — and on March 7, that road will lead once more down-the-Shore, when The Smithereens are joined by guest vocalist-guitarist Crenshaw for a Pollak Theatre concert on the Monmouth University campus.         

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Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), February 20, 2020

 “People love the idea of Mardi Gras in Asbury Park,” says Cindy Wolfson Ciullo — and, as the impresaria behind the area’s most “something-for-everyone” observance of Fat Tuesday, the owner of Asbury Park’s Backward Glances has almost singlehandedly spearheaded a hyper-local happening that fits right in with such “seagrass-roots” annual events as the original Zombie Walk, the Asbury Park Promenade of Mermaids (returning on July 11), and September’s AP Porchfest.

This Saturday, February 22, the Asbury Park Mardi Gras celebration returns to the downtown business blocks for a fifth annual slate of activities and entertainments, with the vendor of vintage clothing and nostalgic gifts (located on the lower level of the Shoppes at the Arcade mini-mall, 658 Cookman Avenue) serving as anchor site for the event that began as a promotion for the Downtown Merchants Guild in 2016 — and which survived the disbanding of that organization to take on a vivid life of its own.

As Wolfson Ciullo tells it, “My love of New Orleans inspired me to bring the party to New Jersey…we have many people who attend the (Masquerade Ball) every year, and the daytime events are a great way to show what the downtown has to offer.”

The “Fat Saturday” festivities kick off at noon with the King Cake Baby Hunt, an all-ages scavenger safari inspired by the Mardi Gras tradition of baking baby figurines or other symbolic trinkets into “king” cakes, the Carnival pastries that have historically commemorated the Magi’s presentation of gifts to the baby Jesus.

In this case, the babies are hidden inside various neighboring businesses around the Cookman Avenue corridor — with all who take part in the five-hour hunt invited to stop by Backward Glances to pick up a list of the scavenger sites (there’s no charge to participate in the event).

As Cindy explains, hunters should “visit the shops and find each baby…each one is holding a secret word. Write all the words on your entry blank, then return to the start and get a mini king cake as a reward.” In addition, all scavengers are encouraged to hang on to their lists for dropping off back at the Backward Glances base camp by 5 pm, since “a random entry will be chosen to win great prizes.”

At 2 pm the fun gets down on all fours, as the 2020 edition of the Mardi Paws Pet Parade invites proudly strutting pets and human handlers to dress up in festive regalia for a promenade that proceeds from out front of the Shoppes, continuing along Cookman Avenue, then returning to be judged in the costume contest for which prizes will be awarded in multiple categories.

Pet Parade participants can register in advance for a discounted $5 via, or sign up for a $7 fee on-site by 1 pm Saturday. All registration proceeds will help fund the good works of the Oakhurst-based nonprofit Wag On Inn Rescue, with additional information available by calling Paws Pet Boutique at Shoppes at the Arcade, 732-449-5000.

From there the good ship Mardi Gras finds Happy Hour harbor in a delightfully unusual port of call, as Taka (660 Cookman Avenue at Bond Street) offers revelers a selection of “Mardi Gras inspired cocktails and festive food with a Japanese flair” between the hours of 3 to 7 pm. It’s an aperitif to the evening’s centerpiece and main event, when Scott Stamper’s Main Street mainstay The Saint plays host once again to a musically minded Masquerade Ball.

Headlining the hullabaloo — as they’ve done each year since its inception — are The VooDudes, the Highland Park-based specialists in Big Easy bontemps roullez who are familiar from countless summer-stage appearances in Long Branch, Asbury, Red Bank and other shakin’ Shore points. Fronted for more than 25 years by guitars-and-drums brothers Gary and Dave Ambrosy (as well by vocalist, harmonicat and washboard-vest virtuoso Andy B, pictured), the globe-trotting and glove-tight quintet is charged once more with dialing up the cajun-spice heat on a midwinter’s night, there in downtown AP’s boxcar berthplace of rock and roll.         

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Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), February 13, 2020

 It’s Valentine’s Day, and all around the romantically walkable beaches of our fair Shore, thoughts turn to candy kisses and cardboard Cupids; the sweet swirl of the sauvignon, and the scent of Sunoco station roses; the prix fixe menus, and the pure peer pressure of participating in a “romantic” ritual designed to make the unattached feel like…

Sorry folks, that’s Anti-Valentine’s talk — and that’s the purview of music promoter Megan O’Shea, whose Anti-Valentine’s Day Songwriting Contest hosted its third annual competition this past Wednesday at the Asbury Hotel. But beginning tonight, February 13 — and continuing on through a four-day “Valentine’s Overtime” interlude of concert events and variety vaudevilles — it is all about the Love.

Here on the first V-Day of the Roaring Twenties, what better way to kick off the festivities than with a Valentine’s Day Eve Massacre, set to take place tonight in the basement of downtown Asbury Park’s Bond Street Complex. Going up at 8 pm, the FREE subterranean spelunk showcases the intriguingly moody pop electronica of Blaise, along with Bronco 2, The Skinny Dickies, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, and the nextbigthing known as kqhyt kqhyt.

Meanwhile over at the oceanside Langosta Lounge, a special Thursday night Galentine’s Day free-for-all highlights the new-ish New Attitude, a supergroup of singers (Postmodern Jukebox vocalist Brielle Von Hugel, Virginia Cavaliere of Six Appeal, and Shore stage sensation Bre Cade) who team up to channel “badass lady icons” like Chaka, Aretha, Whitney, and Adele with full band in tow.

Valentine’s night itself finds impresario, humanitarian, restaurateur, entrepreneur and eternal entertainer Tim McLoone assembling his band The Shirleys for a specially themed show at Tim’s eponymous Supper Club on the Asbury boards — and February 14 wouldn’t be complete without the contribution of the aptly appellation’d DJ Tyler Valentine, commandeering Asbury Lanes for an “Emo vs. R&B” dancefloor showdown that’s FREE of charge.

Frequenters of the Jenn Hampton-era Lanes know Angie Pontani as the undisputed superstar of the region’s New Burlesque scene, with the Jersey-born mistress of classic striptease/ bump ‘n grind dance emerging as impresaria of her own touring Burlesque-A-Pades performance troupe. More than just a leering cousin to old-time vaudeville (or a slightly less pierced version of hipster sideshow revivalism), the burlesque/boy-lesque dancers, comics and specialty performers of Angie’s company are on display Saturiday night, February 15, on the big stage of House of Independents, when Angie joins The Maine Attraction, Ben Franklin, emcee Murray Hill and other guests for a Burlesque-A-Pades in Loveland encore event.

When we last interviewed Southside Johnny Lyon, it was in his now-traditional role as master of ceremony for Asbury Park’s Independence Day interlude — a role that the Jukes generalissimo balances each year with his “Mr. New Year’s Eve” gig at Red Bank’s Count Basie stage. On Saturday night, Johnny returns once more to his Stone Pony spawning grounds for the “third time’s a charm” in another calendar-guy context: as blues-belting Cupid for a special Valentine’s weekend show. Meanwhile back at Mr. McLoone’s, Asbury’s own songbook sensation Chris Pinnella is joined by a 12 piece orchestra, performing “re-imagined versions of songs by The Beatles, Jeff Buckley, The Who, The Righteous Brothers, Elvis, Billy Joel, Elton John and more.”  

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