He’s the SHAKE of Asbury: Stray Cat sultan of slapback Lee Rocker headlines Saturday night’s flagship show in the Shake, Rhythm ‘N Roll Fest. Inset: event producer and dancing master Paolo Pasta Lanna.
Another week, another FESTIVAL here in the salty old flagship ZIP of the Upper Wet Side. Seems we no sooner bid adieu to Sand Blast and the Visionary Arts TatFest than the whole population of the town rolls over once more, and a dozen more extended-weekend extravaganzae move in to take their place.
Still to come this year are a Beer Fest, an Oysterfest and a filmfest; a Blues Fest, the Clearwater Fest and the much-anticipated ATP America presents I’ll Be Your Mirror fest in the fall (to say nothing of the fest-ering wounds of the next Zombie Walk). This weekend — a weekend that begins with an earlybird special on Wednesday, August 10 — the city that Rocks Around the Calendar is the setting for a little escapade called the Shake Rhythm n’ Roll Music Festival.
The brainchild of veteran dance pro and NYC-based event producer Paolo Pasta Lanna, the Shake shivaree is all about the sounds that coalesced into rock and roll between the 1920s and the 1950s — pedal-steel Hawaiian luau and old-timey washboard rags; jitterbug jump and Burly-Q bump ‘n grind; clear-channel TexMex border crossings and that fabulous halfbreed bastard lovechild called rockabilly. This along with the dance crazes that helped to fast-track the evolution of American teen culture like some kind of crazy in-crowd code.
What the man whose middle name is PASTA understands is that the marriage of music and movement is a thing that shouldn’t be annulled — the sonic styles and the dance steps feed into and off each other in a swingin’ symbiosis that simply ups the ante on the fun factor; nevermind how “historically significant” it all is.
When the ShakeFest comes to town with a full sked of dance camps, ballroom (and barroom) concerts, car shows, and beach/ boardwalk/ patio parties, it’ll attract some platinum-plated talent (Lee Rocker of the Stray Cats); stars of Broadway (Eddie Clendening of Million Dollar Quartet) and RealiTV (Matthew Piazzi of America’s Got Talent); regional royalty (The Blue Vipers of Brooklyn, Gashouse Gorillas); even the first-time-ever, World Debut appearance of one of the biggest names in music history. Wait, what?
One of the most hallowed names in rock and roll is reborn, and Asbury’s got ’em: Bill Haley Jr. makes his WORLD DEBUT (with The Satellites) at the Berkeley Hotel’s Kingsley Ballroom, during this week’s Shake, Rhythm ‘N Roll Festival.
Yes Virginia, there really IS a Bill Haley Jr. — one of “at least eight children” of the oft-married cowboy/ jive/ swing bandleader and guitarist who’s credited with creating a generation of juvenile delinquents despite sporting a plaid blazer, a bowtie and a spit-curl through which you could drive a 1951 Kaiser Henry J.
Incredible as it may seem, the junior Haley (don’t lump him in with any of those guys who occasionally come out of the woodwork claiming to be the Lindbergh Baby) has only very recently begun to capitalize upon the musical legacy of his proto-rock pioneer daddy-o, having seemingly been content in the past to make his way as a weekend-warrior barband musician and professional publisher of regional business magazines. When he and his matching-jackets combo The Satellites (formerly The Comets, and we’re sure there’s a perfectly dull legal story in there somewhere) take the floor of the Kingsley Ballroom at the Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel on Saturday night, they’ll be tearing it up to the tune of the songs made famous by Big Bill — “Rock Around the Clock” for damn sure, and hopefully such jocular jumpers as “See You Later Alligator,” “Crazy Man Crazy” and the atom-age bachelor-pad foxtrot fantasy “Thirteen Women.”
That Saturday Rock ‘n Roll Rewind Dance Party Showdown (satisfyingly scaled back from its originally announced venue of the Paramount Theatre) is co-headlined by a veteran whose rockabilly/swing-shift timecard was actually stamped in the long-ago decade of the 1980s — Mr. Rocker, whose acrobatic prowess on the King Double Bass standup (or stand-on, sit-upon, slide-under and slap-silly) harkens back to the pre-amplified era when a bass man was the manic, clownaround visual focus of a band’s stage show.
Rocker is expected to perform a slew of Stray Cats hits (and yeah, singing the vocal leads associated with Brian Setzer) with a quartet of likeminded individuals, on a Ballroom bill that further features the streetcorner serenading of Matthew Piazzi & The Debonairs, and the kind of dance-floor dynamics that rooms like the Kingsley were made for.
The Showdown is but the centerpiece of a five-day musical menu that kicks off with a set by young rockabilly cat Clendening (who played Elvis on the Great White Way in MDQ) and his Blue Ribbon Boys, who light the fuse on Asbury’s weekly Wednesday fireworks with a weather-permitting wingding on the outdoor pavilion of the circuit landmark Wonder Bar (the action moves inside in case of coiff-killing showers).
Thursday night brings a Hawaiian Hula Beach Party that promises beachside DJ dancing, live music (by vintage poi-boys Tiki Daddy and Buddy Holly-grams Rave On) at The Beach Bar, and — maybe just this once — an almost certain chance of getting lei’d.
Friday’s Jitterbug Jamboree at the Berkeley is juiced by the big V-12 output and smooth handling of Big Joe Maher and The Dynaflows — and jizzed with a Blues & Burlesque Late Nite Afterparty at Asbury Lanes, featuring blues DJ Heather Samuels and the va-va-voomacious vaudeville of the World Famous Pontani Sisters. Then on Saturday evening, Susquehanna Industrial Tool & Die Co. (aka the SIT & DIE boys) sound a crazed keynote to the big hotel hullabaloo, with a free 5pm set on the panoramic porch that is the ocean-overhang Beach Bar.
The year-round seaside staycation that is the Langosta Lounge rocks it inside-out on Sunday, with the “classic glittering sound” of Lapis Luna at 1pm and the way-retro sounds of The Blue Vipers of Brooklyn out on the herringboned hardwoods of the Asbury boards. Those who don’t feel like shaking it to Bob Dylan at Convention Hall can take it back to the Berkeley for a 7-11pm Farewell Dance Party toplined by The Boilermaker Jazz Band — or stop by Der Vunderbar to interact with the band of whom we’ve said, “For a bunch of apes fronted by a (Rick) Fink, the Gas House Gorillas are pretty trustworthy when it comes to bringing their musical hot menu to any venue, be it a sawdust-floored saloon or one of the swanky weddings that these mugs work on a regular basis.”
Tiki Daddy (left) and Susquehanna Industrial Tool & Die (right) fire all retro rockets as the Shake, Rhythm ‘N Roll Fest punches a hole into the space/time continuum.
With Paolo Pasta Lanna (and choreographer/ music director Lala Ghahreman) taking the lead, you’d best believe that the dance component gets equal heft with the tunes — and the New York-based graphic designer turned terpsichoreal tutor (“I’ve been creative all my life”) has stepped up with a slick slate of Dance Camp classes (centered around host venue The Berkeley), demos and all-invited dance parties on polished floors, treated boards, concrete walkways and shifting sands. A detailed schedule breakdown of music and motion can be found here.
“I’ve always been a great lover of jazz, swing, jump blues,” says Lanna, whose career as promoter started with smaller-scale dance events in and around NYC. “This event is a way to explore the music I love, through the world of dance.”
As to the question of why Asbury Park, the West Coast native found out about — and fell in love with — the City Where Music Lives when he took part in some workshops at Red Bank’s Count Basie Theatre, and came across a story about AP in a local magazine. A fact-finding mission to the boardwalk convinced him that the city’s ever-quirky mix of crowds, scenes and venues made it the perfect spot for a budding celebration of musical miscellany — and the fact that Asbury’s Tom Gilmour was known quasi-officially as the town’s “Commissioner of Good Times” would appear to have sealed the deal.
“I’d like to grow this event into something on a larger scale,” says Lanna, referencing similar happenings in Europe and elsewhere that draw thousands of fans of vintage American music. “I’m hoping to be able to do things in the future at venues like the Carousel House, the Casino, Convention Hall and downtown locations — I’m looking to influence businesses in Asbury Park toward some alternative visions for these buildings.”
Tickets for individual shows in the Shake Rhythm ‘n Roll Music Festival are available separately from Brown Paper Tickets (check here for details), with special Music Package options for multiple nights, and info on Dance Camp deals right here.