Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, September 27 2018
If you somehow thought that the season of the top-down, open-air entertainment event ended when the calendar flipped to Fall…if you assumed that the era of sprawling music festivals was a thing of the past here in a bustling, busy, ever-evolving Asbury Park…and if you’re adamant that parents and teens would NEVER share a minivan ride to the same destination concert attraction, then “See here now, buddy” — a certain Music, Art and Surf Festival is primed to prove you wrong on all counts.
Going up this Saturday and Sunday on three outdoor stages (two by the sea; one beneath the watchful gaze of the Founder’s statue in Bradley Park), as well as the northern stretch of Asbury Park’s boardwalk and the September swells of the Atlantic Ocean, the inaugural Sea.Hear.Now Festival aims to summon a level of excitement that evokes the WNEW beach concerts of decades past, or the Warped Tours and the Bamboozles of more recent memory — in a way that’s a lot more in sync with the community, a lick less crazy/crowded, and in the words of co-producer Danny Clinch, “a little more family.”
“Family” in this case is an acknowledgment of the generation that grew up on those legendary festivals, and a nod to the fact that many of these young old-timers are still dedicated concertgoers, even as the next generation stakes out some sonic turf of its own. With an eclectic bill headlined by pro surfer turned soft rocker Jack Johnson, and emo-ey California alt-rockers Incubus, it’s a rain-or-shine affair that spotlights a sampling of some of the Asbury area’s standout performers (including Neptune City-to-Nashville native Nicole Atkins), alongside veterans like Blondie (still a great live act, thanks to the core of Debbie Harry, Chris Stein and super drummer Clem Burke) and Social Distortion — and, as Clinch touts it, such hyper-currently hot bands as Highly Suspect and The Menzingers.
For Clinch — the photographer, artist and blues harpist whose images of Bruce Springsteen, Tupac and other music legends have shown a deeply rooted affinity for the American creative spirit — the ambitious event represents an increased commitment to Asbury Park that exploded in recent seasons with the opening of his Transparent Gallery; the exhibit space (and merch/music shop, and intimate venue for small-room concerts, book signings, lectures, or what-have-you) that beckons from the Kingsley Street side of the Asbury Hotel.
It’s also a major expansion of the Sea.Hear.Now brand for Danny and his local producing partner Tim Donnelly, whose previous presentations in Asbury Park included a smaller-scale surf-centric event in 2011, as well as a 2012 followup that took place a week before an even bigger event named Sandy (the pair also produced a post-Sandy “On the Beach” benefit at the Paramount, headlined by My Morning Jacket). For this weekend’s festivities, Clinch and Donnelly joined forces with C3 Presents, the Texas-based nationwide promoter whose major endeavors have included the Austin City Limits Festival and Lollapalooza.
“We’ve made a lot of friends in the industry, and we got to the point where we thought that we could produce something really special for Asbury Park,” says Clinch. “The city really embraced it, too…we’re coming in with a specifically curated rock and roll event that’s a good manageable size, and we’ve worked very well together with Mayor Moor and his crew.”
The producer will also be spending his anything-but-tranquilizing weekend getting into the act via his membership in the Tangiers Blues Band, the combo with whom Springsteen sat in during the high-profile relaunch of Asbury Lanes this past June. The band sounds the bluesy keynote on the Bradley Park stage with a 2:15 pm set on Saturday, and sticks around later that night to join the world famous Preservation Hall Jazz Band for an 11 pm afterparty set at the Stone Pony (there’s also a Saturday afterparty at the Wonder Bar, headlined by Sunday performers Twin Peaks).
Regarding the very late-season scheduling of the festival, Clinch explains that “September is notoriously good for surfing here on the Jersey Shore” — and indeed, the surf component of the weekend is scheduled to draw some top-shelf talent from up and down the East Coast and beyond, to the waters between the two beach stages. A series of “Expression Sessions” will spotlight the skills of Lavallette-based Sam Hammer, Asbury area native Tom Ihnken (pictured), Long Branch’s Mike Gleason, plus welcome out-of-towners that include female tournament champ Quincy Davis from Long Island, and Californians Autumn Hays, Colin Moran and Nathan Strom.
There’s a third component to the Sea.Hear.Now concept, and the visual art works created by many of the featured musicians — including Jack Johnson, Nicole Atkins, Incubus vocalist Brandon Boyd, Blondie co-founder Chris Stein, and Ian O’Neill of Deertick — will be on display at a special satellite location of Transparent Gallery at Bradley Park. And, unlike a lot of other large-scale events, ticketholders will be able to exit and re-enter the festival grounds for the duration of the weekend.
Local residents should know that from 9 am on September 28, to 9 am on October 2 — basically, the two full days of the festival, plus a day of setup and breakdown at either end — Ocean Avenue will be closed between Fourth Avenue and Deal Lake Drive, with simultaneous closings at Kingsley Street (Fourth to Sunset Avenue) and the easternmost blocks of Fifth, Sunset, Sixth and Seventh Avenues. The Grand Arcade of Convention Hall will be closed to the general public on September 29 and 30; the northern stretch of boardwalk from Convention Hall to Eighth Avenue will be closed Friday through Sunday, and the fisherman’s parking lot at the north end of town will be closed between now and Wednesday, October 3.
While acknowledging that the closings can engender grumbles from city residents who miss their morning jog or stroll on the boards, Clinch points out that a portion of each ticket sales from this fast-selling attraction will be dedicated to the city’s festival-related expenses (the city is also being compensated for loss of parking meter revenue on the affected blocks), and that festival personnel will be assisting with daily cleanup endeavors both during and after the event. Such nonprofit organizations as the Surfrider Foundation, Save Barnegat Bay, and the disabled veteran’s charity Operation Beachhead will be benefiting from proceeds as well.
“The people at C3 have been doing this a long time, and they understand about giving back to the community,” adds Clinch. “We wouldn’t put on a show like this without figuring in a way to give back…and we’re encouraging everyone who comes in for the festival to check out the downtown businesses; explore the city and discover all the great things that are going on around Asbury Park.”
Check the Live Music listings in this week’s Coaster for a breakdown of featured acts on each of the festival stages —and go to seahearnowfestival.com for complete details, tickets and more.