Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, October 11 2018
With the townies, the tourists, and the Twitterverse still buzzing about Sea.Hear.Now — the manageably major music/ art/ surf event that attracted gorgeous weather, well-behaved crowds, and high-profile jam-mates to a very late-season Asbury Park waterfront a couple of weekends back — one could be forgiven for feeling “all festival’d out” for the time being. But if you’re among those still searching for the heart of the scene — here at a time when boardwalk concessions start to close (and parking spots start opening up) — believe what those guys in that band said, when they proclaimed that “it’s just gone underground.”
This Saturday afternoon, October 13, marks the 12th edition of the twice-yearly Asbury Underground Art and Music Crawl, and if you’re only just learning about it now, that’s because this celebration of the energy and spirit of the city’s creative community is often encountered in the most delightfully unexpected of places — places like the retail shops, eateries, salons, bakeries, gyms, repurposed lots, and even office spaces of Asbury Park’s Cookman Avenue corridor and business blocks beyond.
Founded by Patrick Schiavino — artist, gallery owner, curator, promoter, entrepreneur, vanguard Asbury Park developer, and unabashed lifelong fan of sight and sound and spoken word — the event seems a fair alternative, and a far cry, from the grand scale, sprawling ambitions and headline-making headliners of the big festivals. It’s strictly-storefront downtown instead of high-profile waterfront; hyper-local instead of bi-coastally national; as compact in both space and time as it is expansive in its vision of community and culture. And, rather than inviting celeb surfers to ride the Atlantic waves, the Crawl offers sidewalk-surfers a smorgasbord that encompasses more venues — and many more purveyors of music, poetry, prose, visual art and standup comedy — than in years previous.
Speaking at Art629, his Cookman Avenue gallery space that does duty as Asbury Underground’s headquarters, Schiavino explains that “last year we had 26 different venues on board, and this year we’re up to 32, with over 100 performers…we probably had to turn away 30 to 40 other acts.”
“All told, we’ve got more than 200 participants…musicians, comedians, writers and poets…and even more if you count the artists who have their work in our art show, in the Bond Street Basement.”
Although at first glance the schedule of performers assembled by Schiavino and his production staff seems complex (see the attached graphics on this article for the detailed rundown), the idea behind Asbury Underground is beautiful in its simplicity: “People move around, see a whole lot of great talented performers, and check out our downtown businesses.”
To that end, Crawl attendees select from a matchup menu of musicmakers and makeshift stages between the hours of 1 and 6 pm, with a choice of two or three acts performing mini-sets (15 to 20 minutes) at various venues on Cookman, Bangs Avenue, Bond Street and Lake Avenue. It’s a boulevardier’s buffet offering entertainments that can range from veteran Shore scene stalwarts like Billy Hector, Kevin John Allen and Colton Kayser, to next-gen singer-songwriters like Sal Boyd, Quincy Mumford, Avery Mandeville and Taylor Tote. There are performers who are entirely at home in an intimate acoustic setting (Emily Grove, Porter and Sayles, Pam Flores), and those who usually ply their trade in more plugged-in contexts (The Brixton Riot, Geena and Dragster) — and these pop-up pop concerts commandeer settings that can include art galleries (Art629, Collective Art Tank, Parlor Gallery, Palette), eateries (At the Table, America’s Cup, Café Volan, Lola’s, MOGO), bakeries (Confections of a Rock Star, Red Rose), salons (Talking Heads, Hot Mess), as well as retailers of clothing, records, ideas, and more.
At the same time, an action-packed All Day Event Schedule will unfold across five neighborhood locations — including Fitness Lifestyles on Cookman, where a street view Surfrider Stage spotlights an eclectic bill that spans Shore veterans Arlan Feiles and Kenny “Stringbean” Sorensen, to homegrown hip-hop/ pop exponent Drew the Recluse (whose Black Suburbia Fridays at the AP Music Foundation are a monthly must). Over at the Brickwall’s Little Buddy Hideaway annex, comedy curator Jess Alaimo (of the weekly open mic standup series at Anchors Bend) assembles an AU Comedy Club program of ha-ha hopefuls, while Words! Bookstore hosts a 1:30-3 pm Underground Poets program that’s presented by Chelsea Palermo and Chris Rockwell. Then at 3:30, Rockwell and Palermo join AP Poet Laureate Gregory Schwartz plus published poet/ academics Laura McCullough and Dan Weeks for a Poetry & Jazz session that takes place at a newly added west-of-Main location, High Voltage Café at 203 Springwood Avenue.
The afternoon also offers what looks to be the final opportunity to enjoy one of the Cookman corridor’s most offbeat gems — The gARTen, the recycled-art oasis curated and largely created by musician, producer, author, visionary and legendary local Joe Harvard. Located between Parlor Gallery and Cookman Creamery, America’s First Outdoor, Black Light Trash Art Gallery will host Harvard in performance with Doctor Danger & Friends and with Dub Proof, as well as sets by Geena, Keith Monacchio and more — a valedictory vaudeville for a colorfully trashy treasure which, in its dedication to the ideals of reinvention, salvation, and FUN, so embodies the best of the city’s irrepressible spirit.
According to Schiavino — whose history in the area’s music business includes booking acts for such well-remembered Jersey nightspots as The Fountain Casino and Club Bene, onetime co-ownership of the Asbury circuit landmark Wonder Bar, and a long stint as manager of local TV and nightclub legend Uncle Floyd Vivino — “the event draws a whole different audience than the one that comes to town to go to the bars…a very attentive music crowd.” That said, Underground crawlers are welcome to belly up to the bar at Johnny Mac’s House of Spirits, for an early evening Official AU After Party that spotlights live music by Asbury’s Levy + The Oaks and North Jersey indies The Vaughns.
“The bars and the restaurants do great during these events,” says Schiavino, citing the support of the downtown business community and “a strong sponsor base” (including waterfront developer iStar among many others) that “keeps us going, helps me pay my staff, and makes it so that we don’t need to charge anybody.”
“As a creative person, you know that this event is something that can be greater still,” adds the art aficionado whose gallery played host to a major retrospective by iconic rock photographer Bob Gruen in 2015. “We created this monster that needs to be fed each year, and there’s a tremendous opportunity to grow this into something truly phenomenal.”
Already in the talking stages are plans to join forces with other galleries, the Chamber of Commerce, and arts-minded businesses for a monthly First Thursday event — in addition to a possible partnership with Monmouth University, and other concepts designed to help Asbury Underground “expand into a year-round project…it’s a passion, it’s a love, but we also have a brand name, as an alternative source of entertainment.”
Check asburyunderground.com for updated schedule info and a comprehensive map of all host venue locations — and check back again in January 2019, when Asbury Underground presents another in a series of winter-weekend Art and Music Crawls, concurrent with (and for the benefit of) the Light of Day Foundation and its annual slate of concert events.