‘TUCCI’S BAND OF LOVE, IN THE NAME OF PRIDE

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), May 30, 2019

As Christine Martucci maintains, “the gay community sees beauty in everything…because we have to! You want your world to be filled with love, and I like to be the cup that’s half full at all times.”

A member in excellent standing of that unofficial society of Honorary Shore Rockers — those performers whose fervent local fanbases and frequent-flyer forays to coastal NJ have secured their place in the area’s pantheon — the Tacoma, WA-born singer/ songwriter/ guitarist has staked her claim as a bandleader whose classic-rock swagger and whiskey-belt vocals lend punch to original compositions that often speak of complex and conflicted emotions; of that sense of isolation that sometimes aches its way into even our most raucous tribal rituals.

It’s a “velvet glove inside an iron fist” approach that’s in evidence on signatures like the lonely plaint ”Is Anybody Out There?,” or the returning veteran’s lament “Home Don’t Feel Like Home” — and while the singer allows that “not a lot of cerebral energy goes into too many standard rock songs,” she herself hails from “that school where you write what you know.”

What she’s known, in a life that took her from the Pacific Northwest to New Jersey’s Hunterdon County (and from a bleak moment in which she contemplated closing the book on her own story, to the realization that, as she previously stated, “the repressed, angry, scared Christine died that day”) is that the power of community goes a long way toward illuminating those dark corners of the soul — and that when it comes to stoking that sense of community, few if any things can beat a supercharged rock show inside a packed nightclub.

There was a time when Christine Martucci spent the better part of a decade as an enlistee in the U.S. Army, a significant life experience (during an era that pre-dated “don’t ask, don’t tell”) that saw her rise to the rank of Sergeant, while acquiring an affinity for her fellow folks in uniform that’s manifested itself in her song lyrics, interviews, and regular charitable endeavors. There would also come a time when “Tucci” would find that community within the big, messy, extended family of musicians who worked the stages of New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey (she cites a fellow Honorary Shorecat, John Eddie, as the peer who “got me my start in Asbury Park”) — particularly in the famous seaside city where music has danced cheek-to-cheek with its social history, and where the LGBTQ community can rightly be credited with a lead role in its remarkable resurrection.

About a month ago, Christine Martucci took the stage of Asbury Park’s Wonder Bar in an intimate, solo “Pride in Performance” piece as part of the 2019 Music and Film Fest. This Saturday, she and her full-tilt combo The Band of Love return once more to that Circuit-side landmark, for a set that serves as a kick-ass keynote to this coming weekend’s Jersey Pride Festival. Here in the fiftieth anniversary year of the pivotal Stonewall uprising, it’s an occasion that marks a Martucci milestone in its own right — a tenth annual Pride Show for which the headliner has taken an active stance; securing the opening acts (cover-tune specialists The Eclipse Band, R&B singer-songwriter Stephanie Chin, and Asbury returnees Chix Appeal), and choosing the designated charity for this edition’s fundraising component (the NJ chapter of Happy Trails Animal Rescue).

That take-charge attitude is well in keeping with the “Real Christine” who emerged from those days and nights of self-doubt, to face the challenges of life as an out gay person with a fine-tuned confidence and positivity. It’s a quality that’s in evidence on exuberant originals like the “Parkway Southbound” paean “Jersey Style,” as well as on crowd-pleasing covers like the Stones standard “Honky Tonk Women” (or “Head Held High,” a contribution to a Velvet Underground tribute album that we’d love to hear her perform live; hint hint).

As a solid songsmith in her own right, Martucci (who announces that the June 1 gig will mark her first public performance of “Remedy” by the Black Crowes) has a feel for covers upon which she can put her own sonic stamp, be it the unjustly neglected Faces tune “Stay With Me,” or anything from the canonical catalog of Janis Joplin.

In fact, the Wonder Bar show represents a last (for now) and best chance to catch Tucci and company in full-fledged glory, before the singer hits the road with Glen Burtnik to perform as Janis in the 2019 Summer of Love Tour, the revue that makes its only NJ whistlestop at the Hard Rock Atlantic City on August 24.

“Glen really helped catapult me onto the scene,” she says of the Summer impresario. “People here don’t hold you back, or see you as a competitor.”

Noting that “I love the Summer of Love show, because all I have to worry about is to show up and sing,” Martucci is using that not-at-all-”down” time as an opportunity to continue writing, and to fine-tune a couple of ambitious projects — one of which is a fifth album of original songs, a set that finds the singer reunited with producer Anthony Krizan, himself a co-writer (with Cheryl Da Veiga) of “Home Don’t Feel Like Home.”

“I’ve got some songs that I’ve written but never released; ballads that would work well with a pretty voice like Eryn Shewell’s,” she says in reference to the torchy vocalist who performs these days under her married name of Eryn O’Ree, or simply Eryn. “But I’m going back to my rock and roll roots with the new album…with songs that are more suited to my smokin’, drinkin’, partyin’ voice.”

Then there’s her planned one woman show; an autobiographical mix of story and song tentatively titled My Life as a New Soul. Described as “part comedy, part real life” (with the acknowledgment that the two conceptsare hardly mutually exclusive), it’s a work in progress that’s “gonna be colorful, and awesome…we’re going on a trip, me and the audience.”

“When you’re a new soul, like me, everything is NEW to you again,” she explains. “One way to put it is, you go into a new soul’s house, right? And you know those tags that you see on furniture and mattresses…’Do Not Remove Under Penalty of Law?’…well, in a new soul’s house they are all there; still attached!”

As Martucci tells it, the two concurrent projects are vying neck-and-neck for her attentions these days, with the latter part of 2019 and early 2020 shaping up to be a launch point for that New Soul performance piece, or an itinerary for promoting that new album. In either case, expect Christine Martucci to return once more to the Shore music scene that has been “such a part of my life…it’s so cool that I can count on Asbury Park to support all that I’m doing.”

“I tell the bar owners, we’re a team…I’m gonna get ‘em rowdy, you get ‘em drunk, and at the end of the night you get paid more,” she says with a laugh. “But the payoff for me is that people come to my shows and leave feeling better about themselves, and about the world.”

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The Saturday night Wonder Bar event — and its now-traditional Sunday night bookend show featuring the band Kathouse — are part ‘n parcel of an Asbury Park weekend that’s centered around the 28th annual Jersey Pride Festival in Bradley Park and the accompanying AP Pride march. The hi-energy procession makes its way to the park, where between the hours of noon to 7 pm, the statue of Founder Bradley stands watch over a serious celebration that boasts a full slate of live music, a food court, craft and merch vendors, kids’ activities, and informational displays from an array of nonprofit community organizations. The festival stage — always a great showcase for both locally based and internationally renowned acts — is headlined this year by (pictured above) original disco-era diva France Joli (“Come to Me,” “Gonna Get Over You”) and the band BETTY, with comedian/ activist and emcee Sandra Valls introducing soul singer Dezi 5, electro-pop artist JLine, the Green Planet Band, and Virago, with that always-amazing world-music duo (who also appear at the Asbury Hotel on Friday night) augmented for the occasion by the horn section from the Motor City Revue (check the social media postings of the Jersey Gay Pride Festival for updated schedule info).

A new and novel addition to the weekend’s festivities — and a slate of activities that spans the whole three-day interlude — is Paranormal Pride, a multi-faceted event hosted by Paranormal Books and Curiosities proprietor Kathy Kelly (fresh off her recent success with the annual Jersey Devil Festival) with Adam Berry of the Travel Channel’s Kindred Spirits. With the venerable Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel as home base, the program boasts what promises to be the first-ever ghost investigation of that landmark building, along with lectures, gallery readings (with famed psychic medium Chip Coffey), and a Drag Brunch featuring special guest Pissi Myles. Participation is limited, so visit paranormalpride.com for updated info on available tickets.

There’s plenty more of interest to attendees going on around town throughout the weekend, from tea dances and poolside parties at the city’s waterfront hotels, a Friday night Pride Prom event at Asbury Festhalle presided over by the beyond-busy DJ Tyler Valentine (who also works a same-day Super Tea at the Asbury, and a Saturday night WERK dance party at House of Independents), an ABBA/ 70s dancefest at House of Indies, and a Drag Queen Storytime session at the Asbury with Miss Savannah Georgia. Check the music listings in this week’s print editions of The Coaster and The Link for the full rundown.

And in Long Branch, where city officials recently designated June as Pride Month, New Jersey Repertory Company’s West End Arts Center is the nexus for a slate of events that kicks off with Our Way: The Art of Life, Love, and Inclusion, a visual art group show that opens with a 12-4 pm reception inside the gallery space of the reborn primary school building at 132 West End Avenue (corner of Sairs Ave.).

The exhibition curated by Mare Akana remains on display Saturday and Sunday afternoons through June 9, while the Arts Center plays host on Friday, June 7 to a 5 pm screening of the Robin Kampf documentary Love Wins, with a post-film panel featuring the film’s subjects and director.

At 7 pm on that same Friday night, West End Arts goes live with Revenge of the Gays: A Night of LGBTQ+ Comedy hosted by Jess Alaimo (left), who in addition to being a seriously organizational powerhouse behind the Asbury Park Women’s Convention (and numerous other community endeavors), is also the ringmaster of the weekly So You Want to Be a Comedian open mics at the Anchor’s Bend. Admission to both of those Friday evening events is free of charge, although reservations are recommended at 732-229-3166 or njrep@njrep.org.