Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, September 20 2018
Never underestimate the prominence of the PORCH in the evolution of American music. Long before an enraptured young Elvis learned the secrets of the old bluesmen on the wooden steps of Tupelo, MS, the front and back porches of this great land were the laboratory, the rehearsal studio, and the fantasy concert hall where generations of blue-note benders, country pickers and rocking-chair crooners worked out their magic to an audience that often consisted of a sleepy old hound-dog and a couple of chickens.
Even today, there’s something unique about a porch-bound jam; a thing that works at an altogether different pace than a suburban garage rave-up, or a friendly-competition freestyle on a city streetcorner. It’s a two-way form of communication too; one that draws inspiration from the passing parade, even as it draws in an audience of stop-look-and-listeners from all over. With that in mind — and with the additional knowledge that Asbury Park is home to a whole lot of pretty impressive porches — a group of musically minded neighbors have assembled a recent addition to the town’s action-packed cultural calendar; a little thing called PORCHFEST.
Call it an “anti-festival” if you will; a city-spanning music event that swaps the big outdoor stages and scale of happenings like Bamboozle or All Tomorrow’s Parties — plus Sea.Hear.Now, the inaugural edition of which goes up next weekend here in Asbury Park — for a stay-at-home vibe, and a street-level view of some purely homegrown talent.
That said, the second annual Asbury Park Porchfest stoops to conquer…by connecting the myriad music makers of our own big (front) yard with a passing parade of casual, committed, even delightfully accidental listeners. Going on this Saturday, September 22 from 1 to 5 pm (with an official kickoff set for 12 pm at Booskerdoo, inside the Shops at Sunset on 1321-A Memorial Drive), the event spotlights more than 70 bands and solo performers in a walkable itinerary that showcases 18 of the city’s grandest and most inviting porches — a matchup of venue and vaudeville that, in the words of festival founder Jordan Modell, “fits in perfectly with the spirit of Asbury Park.”
A co-chair of the Asbury Park Homeowners Association, the nonprofit entity that organizes and produces the relatively laid-back late-summer event, Modell was previously involved with the Porchfest project hosted in the Boston neighborhood of Jamaica Plain; a successful offering that presented its fifth annual edition this past July.
Like that Beantown brouhaha (and any of the dozens of sister Porchfests that have sprouted up from coast to coast), the local event owes its inspiration to an idea that took root in the collegey community of Ithaca, NY back in 2007. Asbury Park — with its bumper crop of musical talent, its reputation as a magnet for arts-minded endeavors and the artists who create them, and its side streets packed with beautiful old Shore “cottages” — was simply made to order for a happening that Modell calls “a truly amazing mix of music, culture, and history.”
“We’ve got almost double the number of bands this year than we did in 2017,” adds Modell. “We’ve also added porches — and we’ve made a real effort to include a lot more locations on the west side, a part of town that a lot of visitors to Asbury Park have never really been familiar with.”
As the festival founder explains, the organizing committee “got an overwhelming response” from musicians and homeowners who wanted to be part of the 2018 event — and while the roster of participating properties has grown beyond the membership of the Homeowners Association (including two local lodgings — the Hotel Tides and the Asbury Park Inn — among the list of private homes), “we’d love to be able to get up to 20 or 21 different locations on board in the future…that way, everyone who wants to play would be able to play.”
With three to four featured acts at each of the 18 sites, the Porchfest programming is an eclectic affair that takes in sounds ranging from acoustic Americana and classic singer-songwriter revivalism, to electrified alterna-rock and big brassy showband funk. Modell credits Dave Vargo (who’s among the performers slated to play at 515 Third Avenue) as “the man who brought the music,” and the all-volunteer team of organizational aces is further fortified by the contributions of Stefan Aschan, Bonnie Barrett, Beth Lambdin, Kate Lydon, and Lisa Ranno.
A quick scan of the “tentative” schedule reveals a number of performers whose foundations on the Asbury scene go back nearly as far as some of those amazing porches — including Chris Brown (119 Fifth Avenue, 1 pm), Carl Chesna (408 Seventh Avenue, 1 pm), Colton Kayser (1119 Fifth Avenue, 3 pm), Jonathan Tea, the host of the monthly “Spilling the Tea” songwriter showcase at Clancy’s (1011 Fourth Avenue, 4 pm), Gorilla Bob (1402 Grand Avenue, 1 pm), and Red Bank’s unofficial musical mayor Chuck Lambert (1011 Fourth Avenue, 1 pm).
Stepping out solo from their regular band gigs are Ryan Gregg of Shady Street Show Band (404 Asbury Avenue, 1 pm) and Jimmy Farkas of Des and the Swagmatics (507 Eighth Avenue, 3 pm) — while Bobby Mahoney is joined by his full roster of The Seventh Sons (515 Third Avenue, 3 pm), and the next generation of Asbury area singer-songwriters are further represented by Brother Andrew (408 Seventh Avenue, 4 pm), Pamela Flores (908 Cookman Avenue, 2 pm), and Emily Grove (404 Asbury Avenue, 2 pm).
Plugged in for the occasion are frequent rock-club fixtures The Vansaders (905 Sunset Avenue, 4 pm) and a too-rare appearance by the “dirty Jersey transgenerated full frontal power rock fury” of Geena and Dragster (507 Eighth Avenue, 4 pm) — while Dark City Strings (404 Asbury Avenue, 3 pm) and the full-lineup funk/rock jams of Waiting On Mongo (1119 Fifth Avenue, 3 pm) and Secret Sound ((1308 Fifth Avenue, 2 pm) are fully present and accounted for.
“It’s a really great lineup; we’ve got at least ten bands with a national profile, and most of the acts have a solid connection to the Asbury Park area,” says Modell. Also along for the ride are a couple of bands hailing from northern New Jersey — including the very aptly named Porchistas from Montclair, who take it to the porch of 301 Eighth Avenue at 4 pm.
There’s more, much more, where that came from — and you’ll find a detailed breakdown of the schedule at each of the participating locations, along with a downloadable porch map and links to the various artist websites, at apporchfest.org.
As a way of “fostering community spirit,” proceeds from the 2018 Asbury Park Porchfest — collected from ad sponsorships, t-shirt sales, and donation jars stationed at each of the locations — will be dedicated to the hard-working city-based nonprofit Interfaith Neighbors, as well as the Public Arts Commission of Asbury Park (the initiative whose Wooden Walls mural project has been coordinated by Jenn Hampton of Parlor Gallery), in partnership with the long-running collective ArtsCAP. Take it to apporchfest.org for a list of sponsors, as well as to order t-shirts — and make a note of the scheduled rain date on Sunday, September 23.