Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, August 16 2018
It was a well-known left-handed guitarist (Jimi Hendrix) who famously said, “You’ll never hear surf music again.” It was another, brilliant if not-quite-so-famous southpaw (Allenhurst native John McBain, of Monster Magnet and Wellwater Conspiracy) who countered with, “Jazz ain’t the only American art form…(surf) was a musical apex for this once great nation.” And of course, it was a legendary leftie Fender-bender and surfer by the name of Dick Dale who best captured the thunder and lightning of the wild ride with the majestic “Miserlou,” first in 1962 and again in the opening moments of Pulp Fiction.
Although that 1994 Tarantino film helped re-ignite an interest in Surf Rock that continues unabated to this day — and that’s spread like California wildfire from subtropical South America, to sub-zero Scandinavia — the subgenre has historically been thought of as a left-coast thing; a phenomenon that couldn’t compete for precious Atlantic waterfront real estate with the sandy soul of Carolina beach music, Miami dance rhythms, or the SOAPy swells of the Asbury sound. But here in 2018, a married couple of enterprising, entrepreneurial impresarios from Monmouth County have successfully wed the epic thrill of surf music with the amped-up excitement of the Jersey Shore’s one true music city — and when the Asbury Park Surf Music Festival paddles out for its fifth annual edition this weekend, it’ll be an extended-play affair that can legitimately claim to be the largest such salt-water soiree, not just on the east coast, but in the entire surfin’ USA.
Just to be clear, we’re not dealing here with the collegiate gleeclub harmonies and county-fair nostalgia of The Beach Boys (the 2018 edition of which, by some serendipitous coincidence, will be playing Ocean Grove’s Great Auditorium this Saturday night) — or the mellower strummings of latter-day singing surfers like Donavon Frankenreiter (who, also coincidentally, just made an encore pilgrimage to the Pony) — but rather the breakneck-paced, dripping-wet-with-reverb, mostly instrumental sounds originally championed by Surf Guitar King Dale (who, not at all concidentally, returns to the Wonder Bar this Friday night). Transcending the hangups of language; occupying a musical crossroads that connects with everything from space-age easy listening and Middle Eastern wedding music, to speedcore punk and dance-craze R&B, Surf Rock is actually a big tent (or big beach umbrella?) that makes for a perfect match with the kitschy-kool tiki bars, Hawaiian shirts, colorful cocktails, and top-down/ happy-go-lucky lifestyle choices of summer.
For Vincent Minervino and Magdalena O’Connell, however, the passion for surf music is More Than Just a Summer Love — it’s a year-round endeavor centered around the Freehold-based couple’s Hi-Tide Recordings and its mini-empire of digital/vinyl releases, concert promotions (not just in AP, but all over the region), graphically groovy merch, and an increasingly busy coast-to-coast performing presence for Vincent and his band The Black Flamingos (the drummer also keeps his guitar-playing hand in as a member of the more vocally oriented Brigantines). The folks who’ve furthermore brought you the Big Slick Pomade line of hair products also manage in their “spare time” to spin some of their favorite records every now and then, at venues that include The Asbury Hotel, and Convention Hall’s indoor/outdoor rec room Anchor’s Bend.
It’s the beachtop bandstand of the Bend that once more plays host to the core Surf Music Festival on Saturday; a multi-band blitz that runs “rain or shine” (the action moves inside Convention Hall in case of mellow-harshing monsoon) beginning at noon — and that represents a global wave washing the shores of Italy (Surfer Joe) and France (Les Agamemnonz), to Jersey and, naturally, California, whose amazing precision-surf drill team known as Satan’s Pilgrims headlines the night’s card for its first right-coast gig in a dozen years.
There’s a whole lot more where that came from, both before and after Saturday’s fillet of fun — and it actually/ unofficially starts tonight, August 16, with a free set by AP’s own Lost Culture up the road apiece at the Seafarer Bar in Highlands. The evening of August 17 finds Hi Tide’s Aloha Friday series continuing at The Asbury Hotel, where DJ Devil Bat (aka Black Flamingos guitarist Robbie Butkowski) works the spiral scratch at the rooftop Salvation lounge. It’s just a short paddle down Fifth Avenue to the Wonder Bar, where King Dick Dale holds court in an event which — while it’s not an official component of the APSMF (promoter Tony Pallagrosi of UMT Concerts has booked him into various Shore venues for years) — serves as keynote benediction and foundational feature to the weekend-long wingding. As apt to regale his audience with an extended monologue on his latest ride through the pipeline of the American healthcare system (or to whip out his trumpet for a rousing workout on “When the Saints Come Marching In”) as he is to fireball nonstop through his formidable folio of speed-demon surf instrumentals and beach-party stompers, the 81-year old Jedi master appears with opening act The Volcanics in the 7:30 pm show, for which tickets ($37.50 advance; $40 d.o.s.) can be reserved at wonderbarasburypark.com. From there, it’s back to The Asbury, where the hotel’s Soundbooth Lounge hosts a Dick Dale Afterparty that features Ninth Wave and DJ C Cow from 11 pm.
Convention Hall gets into the act for the duration of Saturday’s main event, with a slew of sidebar happenings that number among them a Surf Guitar Symposium with Lorenzo “Surfer Joe” Valdambrini, a Cocktail Symposium conducted by Velveteen Lounge Kitsch-en, a classic car show, a Twist tournament, and a vendor bazaar inside the Grand Arcade. A late-shift Saturday After Party stars those groovie ghoulies The Coffin Daggers, with tunes by DJ Jukebox Jodi and a demonstration of golden-age Go Go dancing by Ana Copacabana.
Sunday, August 19 offers up a little hair o’ the dog with an all-ages Tiki Brunch at Anchor’s Bend, presided over by Hi-Tide recording artists Slowey and the Boats (latest release: a cover of Broadway legend Frank Loesser’s “Slow Boat to China”) from 10 am. An all-age Hangover Pool Party at The Asbury offers free live music from noon, courtesy of California’s Surfrajettes and frequent festival flyers The Primitive Finks — and at dusk, the action adjourns to the hotel’s Baronet screening space, for a free rooftop showing of the 1963 Frankie Avalon-Annette Funicello cinematic milestone Beach Party. The summer sun sets on SurfFest 2018 at 550 Cookman Avenue’s Little Buddy Hideaway, where a Last Call valedictory finds “DJ Hi-Tide” seeing things off in signature style from 9 pm.
Tickets for Saturday’s main-event Asbury Park Surf Music Festival are $22 in advance at apsurfmusicfest.com, or $25 at the Anchor’s Bend door. Stay at home surfers can follow the festivities on all major social media platforms (check here for full schedule details) — and long after the last slowboat pulls away from shore, the Hi-Tide happenings continue throughout the year — including a September 7 show at the Anchor’s Bend starring Spanish surf band Los Tiki Phantoms with Lost Culture.
Beach photo credit: George Kopp
Satan’s Pilgrims photo credit: David Barajas
The Surfrajettes photo credit: Courtney Reader