Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, September 6 2018

It seems no one got the memo; the one that explains exactly how a Jersey Shore town is expected to conduct itself in the “off” season. Yet even now, as several of our sister Shore communities all but roll up the sidewalks and boardwalks, the city of Asbury Park dials it up to 11 with a September slate that climaxes in the weekend-long music/ art/ surf soiree that is the inaugural Sea.Hear.Now Festival — and that doesn’t even make its first concession to a more autumnal vibe until early October’s Zombie Walk.

In other words, it’s still not a fashion faux pas to wear LIFE after Labor Day — and this weekend, the centerpiece pearl of local life will once again be the Asbury Park Oysterfest, the yearly presentation of the city Chamber of Commerce that pitches its tents for three days (Friday, September 7 through Sunday, September 9) in Bradley Park, across Ocean Avenue from Convention Hall.

This is the second annual stand beneath the stern and stony gaze of Founder Bradley’s statue, for the event that worked its way northward from its previous berths in the downtown business district and the Carousel parking area. It’s a logical progression as well, for a happening that’s evolved from a food-festival-plus-music-and-other-stuff, to an extended-weekend celebration of cuisine, craft, culture, and the community at large.

None of which is to suggest that we’ve forgotten all about the oyster, the briny bivalve that’s a fabled food-of-love aphrodisiac to many (and maybe a must-to-avoid mollusk for some). But whether you shuck ‘em or shun ‘em, the oyster and its fellow shellfish will be represented within the festival grounds by an array of food trucks and tented stands purveying a strolling smorgasbord of “festival fare” and edible eclecticism. Indeed, the festival could very well be themed around some very interesting things that one could do with a potato, or the always-fascinating frontiers of Things That Taste Amazing When You Deep-Fry Them.

Festivalgoers who are of legal drinking age can select from a menu of hyper-local hoppy brews by Asbury Park Brewery, inside the Asbury Park Beer Tent. Bluepoint Brewing Company will return as well to the event, which also boasts a vendor’s alley spotlighting locally made goods, fun activities for the kids, and informational booths operated by a variety of city-based nonprofits.

With the move to Bradley Park, the musical menu has assumed an even greater role in the three-day weekend — and with so many of the scene’s stylistic flavors represented on the open-air festival stage, the 2018 event doesn’t skimp on the music-city recipe. Friday evening keynotes with a 5 pm performance by the students of the Lakehouse Academy, followed at 7:15 by SOAP stalwart (and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, as the Springsteen band’s foundational drummer) Vini “Mad Dog” Lopez, and an 8:45 nitecap by the darkly psychedelic alterna-pop  of Asbury’s own The Cold Seas.

Friday, by the way, is an “Asbury Park Open House” night featuring free admission to the festival grounds for all — while Saturday and Sunday find a portion of the modest $3 entry fee dedicated to the social services programs of the Community Affairs and Resource Center ( Saturday’s eight hour slate of programming includes a 5 pm set by PRIDE: Misfit Johnny Plays the music of U2, as well as an 8 pm turn by the seven-piece, full-tilt funksoul showband Waiting On Mongo. Sunday’s wrap-day schedule is bookended with an 11 am performance by AP High School faculty member and jazz flautist Karen Lee, and a 4:30 pm closer starring the fantastic funk/soul unit Des and the Swagmatics. Take it to The Coaster’s Live Music listings for a full day-by-day schedule breakdown — and take it to the nearby Wonder Bar at the close of the Saturday’s Oysterfestivities, where an After Party commences under the bespectacled eyes of those most pocket-protected of party-starting institutions, The Nerds.

Several city blocks inland from the waterfront, on a downtown stretch in front of the venerable Bond Street Bar, the Bond Street Block Party represents something of a hidden-in-plain-sight pearl of the city’s cultural calendar, when it convenes its fourth annual edition this Saturday, September 8.

Spanning the hours of 2 and 10 pm — and with an announced rain date of September 22 — the block of Bond Street between Cookman and Mattison Avenues will be closed to vehicular traffic, as the Bond Street Complex crew commandeers the street and sidewalk with food grills, tables, and an outdoor stage designed to showcase some of the savviest and sassiest musical acts from the fertile fields of the greater Asbury Park bandscape. Far from being an “exclusive” intrusion into the rhythms of neighborhood life, the event is “all welcome, and totally family friendly…we want to be good neighbors, and we’re looking to get as many families as we can,” in the words of entertainment director Rosario Zarcaro.

That family vibe finds its truest and hardest-rocking expression in one of the event’s keynote combos, the multi-generational powerpunkpop quartet The Rock N’ Roll Hi-Fives. Parents Joe Centeno (guitar) and Gloree (bass) share the festival stage with their younger bandmates, drummer Evren and lead singer (plus theramin player) Eilee — both of whom also happen to be their kids. The recording artists on the locally based Little Dickman label are followed on the day’s program with another group that rates a good-housekeeping seal of approval: Dentist, the surf-kissed slampop trio co-fronted by partners in music and life Emily and Justin Bornemann, with ace drummer Matt Hockenjos. Just back from a coast-to-coast tour in support of their recent release Night Swimming, the band keeps the momentum going through an afternoon and evening that sees the Block Party returns of several neighborhood favorites — including Gay Guy/ Straight Guy, the guitar-drums duo that’s appeared at every annual edition of the event.

Boasting several former members of Monster Magnet (and Asbury’s own Neil “DJ Foggy Notion” O’Brien on drums), the Red Bank-based Ribeye Brothers bring their signature style of “detached garage” rock back to the block — while The Von Mons, Sweet Joey’s Thing of Beauty (both Asbury Park), and The Tide Bends (Neptune) set the stage for outta-town friends Marvelous Liars (New London, CT). After the 10 pm outdoor-music ordinance comes down, the action adjourns indoors to the Bond Street Basement Bar, where Toms River’s Swamp City Rockers rock the rec room in a late-nite Block Party After Party.

While Zarcaro maintains that the September event is a “nicely contained and manageable” affair — one that really couldn’t extend its present parameters much beyond the possibility of opening an hour earlier — Complex owner Pat Fasano has endeavored to expand and export the Bond Street vibe to Asbury Park’s salty seaside sister Atlantic City, where the Cajun BBQ/ live music venue Bourre is set to open on New York Avenue this Tuesday, September 11. It will be followed imminently with the opening of a satellite Bond Street Bar location adjacent to AC’s Stockton College campus — and with Zarcaro handling the bookings for all of the various Complex properties, the Asbury music community has staked a claim to a new and “potentially super exciting” marketplace for its principal export of good times.

The same spirit that makes for a boffo Block Party also governs the Complex crew’s activities in the greater world beyond Bond Street, with Rosario explaining that “it’s about being inclusive…making everyone feel welcome, building a relationship with the community, and creating a space where everyone can enjoy themselves.”

For more information on entertainment bookings at the various Complex properties, contact