THE TIDE IS HI, AND THE TIME FOR TIKI SOUNDS IS NIGH

L-R; The 5-6-7-8s bring the Woo-Hoo sings…Eddie Angel spreads his wings (in The Neanderthals, plus his Guitar Project),…and Deke Dickerson puts some torchy twang on the strings, as the re-imagined HI-TIDE SUMMER HOLIDAY brings the coast’s biggest celebration of surf/ tiki/ retro culture back to Asbury Park on August 16-18.

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), August 1, 2019

When the stars aligned, and all the elements were in place — as they were on a memorable afternoon and evening in August of 2017 — few summertime events made better use of their seaside setting than the Asbury Park Surf Music Festival. Parked on the Anchor’s Bend bar’s beachtop bandstand just off the good ship Convention Hall; the Atlantic waves at its back and the panoramic scene alight with passing ships, planes, drones and various heavenly bodies, the East Coast’s largest ever such gathering was a cool communal cocktail with a vibe that was both ambitiously international in scope, and as intimate as the most relaxing lantern-lit patio party.

Even when the elements didn’t completely get their act together — as in 2018, when excessive heat and threatened storms forced an indoor relocation to the ConHall floor — the AP Surf Music Fest still stood tall as the region’s only event of its kind; a celebration of a burgeoning worldwide instrumental music scene (and of the retro-rocketing “tiki” culture that tags along for the ride) that proved the Jersey Shore could compete with the likes of this week’s Tiki Oasis confab in San Diego. And, perhaps most impressive of all, the whole thing was the briny brainchild of two young visionaries named Magdalena O’Connell and Vincent Minervino.

For its sixth annual edition, the Festival returns under a new name — The Hi-Tide Summer Holiday, a nod both to the Hi-Tide Recordings mini-empire founded by the Freehold-based couple, as well as to the thematic expansions and logistical changes in store for the slate of happenings that kicks off with an afternoon Meet-Up at the Bend next Friday, August 16.

Speaking between turntable spins at The Wonder Bar — where he, Magdalena and colleague “DJ Devil Bat” preside over a deck-top Tiki Tuesdays series in August — “DJ Hi-Tide” allows that “we picked up a few learns from last year…one of them is the fact that you plan all year round, but you never control the weather!”

“Another factor is that the boardwalk and the beach have gotten really popular in recent years,” Minervino continues, adding that “it’s understandable why they wouldn’t want to block out an area of the beach for a ticketed event.”
With the additional caveat that the old festival format “was just a very long day…for us, the bands, and the audience,” Vinnie Minnie ‘n Mags re-imagined the old family recipe as a weekend-long affair “broken up into smaller events, spread out over a couple of evenings,” and centered largely around the various concert stages, rooftop spaces, lobby-level lounges and poolside patios of the Asbury Hotel and Asbury Lanes complex. Also on tap are late-nite record hops, scholarly seminars, and mixology demos at such “satellite” locales as Anchor’s Bend and downtown’s Little Buddy Hideaway — and while surf in all its reverb-drenched glory remains the active ingredient in the potent cocktail (thanks to the participation of 30-year veterans The Insect Surfers, SoCal’s Jason Lee & the R.I.P.tides, and Impala out of Memphis), the menu also boasts the retro-rootsrock ravings of Missouri’s Deke Dickerson and Canada’s Bloodshot Bill; the lilting luau tones of Philly’s Slowey & the Boats; the rockabilly exotica of California’s Hula Girls, and not one but two great all-female bands from Japan: The 5-6-7-8’s (famed for their appearance in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol. 1) and Lulufin the Woo Hoo.

“By expanding beyond just strictly surf, we’re tapping into a wider fanbase,” explains Magdalena, who devotes herself full-time these days to the management of the couple’s fast-growing record label (in addition to their previously established Big Slick Pomade line of hair products). “It’s gonna be quirky and fun.”

Vincent Minervino and Magdalena O’Connell, visionary architects of the Hi-Tide Recordings empire.

As O’Connell observes of Asbury Lanes, the reborn tenpins taproom at whose previous incarnation the Surf Festival began in 2014, “We’re excited to come ‘home’ to the venue that we started at” — and perhaps most representative of the event’s “back to the future” attitude is the return participation of Eddie Angel, the guitar ace whose long tenure as one of the masked men in the seminal modern surf combo Los Straitjackets is side-gigged with “unmasked” projects like rockabilly unit The Planet Rockers, and the Atom Age retro-rockers The Neanderthals. The Hi-Tide comes in twice for the Nashville-based Angel, who fronts his Neanderthals at Friday’s Asbury Lanes show (Minervino, who drums as a member of the band The Black Flamingos, sits in on the skins for this set), while August 17 finds him presiding over Eddie Angel’s Guitar Party, as backed by Hi-Tide friends and artists The Primitive Finks.

Also serving as a signifier of the inexorable march of time and tide is the fact this will be the first festival to have taken place since the passing earlier this year of Dick Dale, the iconic “King of the Surf Guitar” whose annual returns to the Wonder Bar (promoted by Tony Pallagrosi) had come to serve as a cred-conferring companion to the weekend main events — and, as Magdalena remembers him, “the anchor…it’s devastating to think that he won’t be a part of this event going forward.”

But go forward they will, beginning with that Friday afternoon Meet-Up and closing it all out on Sunday, August 18 with a special edition of the Hi-Tide team’s monthly “Last Call” event (this one featuring live tunes by The Surfrajettes) at Little Buddy, the tropic-island-nest themed annex to Cookman Avenue’s Brickwall Tavern — a “time to decompress” and a fitting valedictory to a busy interlude that also offers up a couple of Happy Hour sessions at The Asbury’s Salvation Lounge, “Midnight Swell” sets at the hotel’s Soundbooth space, lectures on the Surf Music Revival and “Retro Roadmap New Jersey”at Danny Clinch’s Transparent Gallery, a pair of afternoon Pool Parties at the hotel, a “Guitars and Grog” symposium (and a “Modern Tki” mixology session co-presented by Asbury Park Distilling) at Little Buddy, plus vendors, a promised Twist Contest, and more. Check the website at hitidesummerholiday.com for the deep-dish schedule details.

As Vincent sees it, the rebranded festival has “turned into a showcase of our Hi-Tide artists and friends…we now have 25 artists on our roster, and we did 12 vinyl releases this summer alone!”

“We learned a lot of things from the pomade business…I enjoy the business aspect. I get artistic fulfillment from making music, and I get fulfillment from bringing things to market.”

With Vincent’s added qualifier that “rarely have fantastic musicianship and great business sense gone together,” Magdalena observes that Hi-Tide Recordings was born out of the desire to put out a vinyl release by The Black Flamingos, during a time when “no one was interested in taking on new surf bands.” Signing up the aforementioned Slowey & the Boats as their first outside act, Minervino and O’Connell found themselves tasked with making a fully finished product from “a bunch of tracks,” coordinating the mastering and packaging, and allowing Magdalena to arrive at the realization that “sequencing an album is one of my favorite things to do.”

From there, the fledgling label took on the distribution for a 3-song EP by the Toronto-based Surfrajettes, while “the next release was much more of a partnership” — which led in turn to the husband/wife team’s becoming involved with the Canadian combo to the extent of having booked all of the dates for the band’s first-ever West Coast tour.

“It’s fun to be involved with a record from the very beginning; coordinating the design and everything else,” says O’Connell. “We have a nice team of people that we can rely on to handle the mastering, the artwork…a lot of trusted relationships that we’ve worked to build up over the past few years.”

“We scan the world,” adds the label president (whose home/office is, by her admission, furnished largely in boxes of records these days). “We’ve helped bring Surfer Joe from Italy to Whitechapel Projects in Long Branch, and Messer Chups from Russia to Asbury Park..we’ve worked with bands from Canada (Men in Gray Suits), Spain (Los Tiki Phantoms), Argentina (Los Freneticos, coming to the Seafarer in Highlands on August 25), France (Les Agamemnonz)…if you’re a great band, we already know about you!”

“Surf is unique in its universal appeal,” observes Minervino in contemplating the international appeal of a project that receives at least a couple of submissions from hopeful label artists daily. “If you don’t speak a particular language, there’s a barrier…but the popularity of instrumental music cuts through all of that.”

As Magdalena sums up, “We’re pretty comfortable with where we are…it blows our mind every time an order comes in.” To which her husband adds, “It’s at the point now where we constantly think “how can we get our bands out there…how can make more friends?”

Following the big Hi-Tide Summer Holiday weekend, Tiki Tuesdays (with Minervino alternating with his Flamingos bandmate Robbie “DJ Devil Bat” Butkowski) is slated to continue at the Wonder Bar at least through the post-Labor Day “Local Summer” interlude.

September finds DJ Hi-Tide undertaking his first turntable tour of the West Coast; an excursion that brings the Hi-Tide vibe to such “original tiki destinations” as the LA landmark The Tonga Hut. And after that? Well, as Vincent correctly points out, “Surf translates well to Halloween,” a time of year that finds the Flamingos opening for Oleg Gitarkin and Zombierella (the Boris and Natasha of edgy, experimental Eastern European surf-rock) and their must-see Messer Chups at the Wonder Bar on October 24. A slightly after-the-fact Hi Tide Halloween follows on November 1 with Los Straitjackets and The Coffin Daggers — and, given that bands ranging from The Ventures to the Straitjackets have issued their own surfin’-Santa takes on the holiday-season songbook, it’s safe to stay tuned, surf fans.