ASBURY UNDERGROUND RISES AGAIN, IN A CRAWL TO DUTY

Mark “Xylophone of Wrench” Davis returns to Joe Harvard’s gARTen — where he plied his unique musical trade in October 2018 — when the semi-annual sonic smorgasbord known as ASBURY UNDERGROUND comes back to the bistros, boutiques, and boulevards of downtown AP on October 19.

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), October 17, 2019

 It’s a FESTIVAL for sure, here in a seaside destination that’s just signed up for a third go-round of Sea.Hear.Now in 2020. Only this is one that elevates the storefront over the waterfront; the beloved “townies” over the international touring acts — and where the only surfing to be done is in catching the wave of a city’s creative community, within the most delightfully unexpected settings.

This Saturday afternoon, October 19, marks the plucky 13th edition of the Asbury Underground Art and Music Crawl, a strolling/ rolling smorgasbord that commandeers a collection of offbeat venues for a happening that, like the recent Porchfest of a few weeks back, puts the “underground” in street-level sight — placing the fertile scene’s big heart front and center for all to see. The brainchild of Patrick Schiavino — artist, gallery owner, curator, promoter, vanguard Asbury Park developer, and big-time music fan — the Crawl works its way up and down the Cookman Avenue corridor (plus points on Bond Street, Bangs Ave, Lake/ Springwood and Main Street) between the hours of 1 and 6 pm.

Speaking at art629, his Cookman Avenue gallery space that does duty as Asbury Underground’s headquarters, Schiavino explains that “come September, things tend to get very quiet downtown during the week…it’s like someone let the air out of the balloon…and my neighbors here in the business district love that I’m doing something that brings people to town in the daytime.”

With a music business resume that includes stints as booker for such fabled Jersey nightspots as The Fountain Casino and Club Bene, and as a co-owner of the Circuit landmark Wonder Bar (to say nothing of his years as manager of TV/ nightclub icon Uncle Floyd Vivino), Schiavino could maybe afford to rest on the laurels of that well-earned cred — but for him, the event represents “an opportunity for performers to connect with new audiences — younger kids, older people, anyone who doesn’t go out to bars at night.”

Also blinking out into the daylight sun are performers that span the generations and the genres, encompassing longtime local faves (Stringbean, Kevin John Allen) and next-gen breakouts (Taylor Tote, Quincy Mumford, Pamela Flores), plus purveyors of punk, powerpop, Americana, torchy jazz, and the classically inspired compositions of David Ross Lawn. With a number of new additions on board for this year’s tour (inlcuding Amici, Locals ArtSpace, Proven Poké, Sami’s, Wacky Tobacky), the pop-up pop concerts transform the town’s galleries, eateries, salons, and retail spaces into places where one can almost literally stumble over The Next Big Thing.

“It gets a little bigger each year, and it could possibly be even bigger by about a third, if we had the extra manpower…and if there were such a thing as more hours in the day,” says Pat with a laugh. “As it is, we really can’t fit more people on our schedule in a single day, without doing an injustice to those that are playing.”

It’s a Herculean task behind the scenes, as undertaken by Pat’s music organizers, Dark City Entertainment’s Christine Feola and Shore scene veteran Rick Barry. Considerations include maintaining an eclectic shuffle mix; taking stock of who’s going to be on the road at the time (frequent-flyer performers Emily Grove and Dentist are thus missing in action this year), and making sure that musicians who draw an overlapping crowd are scheduled in such a way that fans can catch as many of their favorites as possible. 

Speaking of missing in action, this Saturday’s event marks the first without the participation of Joe Harvard, the musician/ producer/ artist/ author/ master raconteur whose death from cancer earlier this year left a tremendous void within the city’s creative community. A legend within both Asbury-centric circles and his native East Boston, Joe is perhaps most widely remembered as creator and curator of The gARTen, the outdoor oasis of recycled, Black Light Trash Art (all of it sculpted from consumer-product containers and other discards of modern life) that formerly commandeered the vacant lot between Parlor Gallery and Cookman Creamery.

The space known as “Joe’s gARTen” lives again for an afternoon this Saturday, with a schedule of friends that range from the wise words and salt-air music of George Wirth, to the crackin’-good rock chiropractics of Dr. Geena, longtime Joe cohorts Dub Proof, and the junkyard jams of the magnificently mad professor known as Xylophone of Wrench.

At the same time, art629 Gallery will offer attendees a first look at the new installation Glow For Joe, a retrospective celebration of the late artist’s life and legacy that opens officially on November 2 with a public-welcome reception — and that’s designed to help fund a newly established foundation whose goals include the dedication of a memorial plaque in Joe’s honor, assisting Joe’s partner Mallory Massara with lingering medical bills, and (in conjunction with Brookdale Community College) a scholarship in Joe’s name.

Among the other locations hosting “All Day” schedules of acts is the 614 Cookman site recently vacated by Firness Lifestyles, where (thanks to the donation of a day’s use by the Sackman Group) a “Surfrider Stage” spotlights a slate that includes The Vansaders, Foes of Fern, and Keith McCarthy of The Sunday Blues.

Those dedicated crawlers who are gleeffully unafraid of a little Underground overload are invited to the official After Party, upsized this year to Cookman Ave’s all-purpose auditorium House of Independents, where Julian Fulton, Rachel Ana Dobken, and the Shady Street Show Band show their hand from 6:15 pm onward.

All well and fine of course, but beyond the branding, there’s still more to the Art and Music Crawl than just art and music — and that energy comes from the combined Word Power of poetry, comedy, and out-loud prose. It’s an aspect of the event that’s evolved and expanded to encompass three “all-day” features, highlighted by a “Literally Underground” Comedy Show in the Basement Bar of the Capitoline/ Bond Street Complex. Jess Alaimo — ringmistress of the weekly open mics at Anchor’s Bend, among many other reflections in the public eye — hosts and wrangles a three-hour thrill-ride that boasts several veterans of regularly featured laff-fests at The Saint and Long Branch’s Brighton Bar (such as Angelo Gingerelli, emcee of that West End institution’s Monday night manias).

The poets have two chances to shine, thanks to a couplet of happenings (organized by Chelsea Palermo and Chris Rockwell) at words! bookstore, and at High Voltage Cafe near the corner of Springwood and Main (this one a Poetry and Jazz Jam in which favorite Shore-based scribes like Gregory Schwartz, Laura McCullough and Dan Weeks perform their work to the accompaniment of live musicians).

As Schiavino sees it, “It really is a win-win all around…the downtown businesses all benefit, especially the restaurants and bars.” By his estimation, if each of the roughly 150 performers involved in this year’s festival draw 10 to 20 people apiece, “then those people stick around to catch another act, and pop in to another local business for a bite or a drink or to do a little shopping.”

Factor in the support of the downtown business community, plus a devoted base of sponsors (a list that includes The Coaster newspaper), and you’ve got a self-sustaining momentum that “keeps us going, helps me pay my staff, and makes it so that we don’t need to charge anybody.”

In addition to all that, the Asbury Underground brand is engaged in another Pat-pet project — that of bringing bands from this neck of the Shore to regular gigs in Atlantic City, “hopefully by next year.”

“There’s a lot of synergy between Asbury Park and AC…they’re kind of sister cities,” observes the AU impresario, whose promotion of last weekend’s Yas Queen! tribute show brought Asbury’s Anthony “Remember Jones” D’Amato and his big band to the Sound Waves stage of the Hard Rock Hotel Casino. “Performers like Glen Burtnik and Remember Jones are so versatile, so good at putting on a show of any size…it’s the perfect market for them.”

That said, the gallery owner and developer professes that his continued adventures in music promotion represent “a lot of work, a lot of stress, a lot of hours…but somehow it doesn’t feel like work, so I give it more each time. Like I needed more to do?”

Check out the posted schedules for details on the match-ups of venues and featured vaudeville in this Saturday’s soiree. Check in at asburyunderground.com for a comprehensive map of all the host venue locations — and watch this space for more on the Glow For Joe exhibit, opening Saturday, November 2 at Art629. Asbury Underground returns in January 2020 with 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.