WHOLE LOD OF LOVE, AT 20th ANNUAL WINTERFEST IN ASBURY

It’s still just scratching the surface…but some of the faces of this weekend’s 20th anniversary Light of Day Winterfest schedule include (top row) Marc Ribler, Sandy Mack, Deseree Spinks, Marc Muller, Jarod Clemons, Sara Aniano (New Narratives), Bobby Mahoney, Quincy Mumford, Stella Mrowicki, Pat Guadagno; (2nd row) Lisa Bouchelle, Taylor Tote, Cranston Dean, Billy Hector, Christine Martucci, Rachel Ana Dobken, Tara Dente, Avery Mandeville, Stringbean, Dr. Geena; (3rd row) David Ross Lawn, Bob Egan, John Easdale (Dramarama), Richard Barone, Jo Wymer, Poppa John Bug, Mary McCrink, Joe D’Urso; (4th row, hidden) We’re Ghosts Now, Shady Street Show Band; (5th row) James Dalton, JT Bowen, Stormin’ Norman Seldin, Chuck Lambert, Jo Bonanno, Billy Walton, Keith Roth, Emily Bornemann (Dentist), Paul Whistler, Reagan Richards (Williams Honor); (6th/ bottom row) Anthony “Remember Jones” D’Amato, Glen Burtnik (The Weeklings), John Eddie, Joe Rapolla, Anthony Krizan, Joe Grushecky, Vini Lopez, Jeffrey Gaines, James Maddock, Willie Nile.

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), January 16, 2020

It’s a milestone menu of musical movings and shakings that was appetized by several local and regional events in the past week — one that lays out its spectacularly sprawling spread over the next four days; a benefit banquet that involves some 34 separate sites, dozens of distinct events, and enough performers to populate one little but LOUD, gloriously music-mad city.

Where to even begin to get a handle on Light of Day Winterfest, the fully soundtracked fundraising vehicle whose landmark 20th annual edition achieves climax this mid-January weekend? For perspective’s sake, it might behoove us to start at the very beginning — in this case the original Downtown Cafe in Red Bank; scene in November 1998 of a tune-filled 40th birthday party thrown by Bob Benjamin. Having received a diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease two years earlier, the music promo/ management pro asked his guests to forego the birthday presents in favor of donating toward Parkinson’s research — and it was there that Jean Mikle found herself on the ground floor of a thing that the Asbury Park Press journalist and Bruce Springsteen specialist says “has grown beyond anyone’s imagination…something that’s had such a positive impact on the community.”

The thing is the Light of Day Foundation, of which Mikle serves as president, and whose other board members include co-founder and premier promoter Tony Pallagrosi, as well as veteran music makers Joe D’Urso, Joe Grushecky and Rob Dye. As a year-round nonprofit endeavor with an international footprint, “LOD” has raised millions toward the goal of a cure for Parkinson’s — in addition to Joan Dancy & PALS, the ALS-focused charity founded by the late Terry McGovern — although the casual observer might be forgiven for first thinking of the organization as the planners and purveyors of a most auspicious party.

An ever-evolving affair that’s expanded its reach to several continents, major North American cities, and various satellite events throughout the calendar year, Winterfest commandeers the stages, storefronts and saloons of Asbury Park (as well as one sympathetic site in next-door Ocean Grove) in a manner that’s guaranteed to disturb the long winter’s nap of most other “off season” Shore locales. It’s a phenomenon that manifests as a natural outgrowth of the event’s symbiotic relationship with the city, where it first established base camp at the Stone Pony in 2000 — and to which it returned in 2008, after several years at surrogate homes in Sayreville and Sea Bright. By that time, Asbury Park had re-asserted itself as a music city that competed head-on with places many times its size — a “spiritual home” that finds Mikle “just amazed by the diversity and the depth of talent we have here.”

That deep bench will be on full active roster between tonight, January 16 and Sunday, January 19; represented by multiple generations of homegrown heroes, honorary local legends, and transplants to our music-friendly Shore. As Mikle (who recently accompanied D’Urso on the Fests’s European jaunt for the ninth time) explains it, “the fact that we have access to so many different musicians on this scene…and our out-of-town friends look forward to coming back each year…means we grow bigger each time out.”

Naturally, a big draw (and a focal point for some tantalizing will-he-or-won’t-he buzz) is the potential participation of Benjamin’s long-time friend Springsteen — whose soundtrack song “Just Around the Corner to the Light of Day” directly inspired the organization’s name, and whose frequent presence has made him de facto ringmaster for the majority of those all-star Bob’s Birthday concerts. 

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TELL TCHAIKOVSKY THE NEWS: THIS NUTCRACKER ROCKS

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), December 19, 2019

 “Tell Tchaikovsky the news,” sang the late great Chuck Berry in “Roll Over Beethoven” — and if the 19th century Russian master didn’t get the memo the first time, he might be interested to know that, here at the tail end of 2019, one of his most enduring concert classics has been given a holiday makeover complete with a transporting to an enchanted land known as the Jersey Shore, and a compositional assist from members of the Garden State rock band The Gaslight Anthem. Because of course it has!

Going up for six performances this weekend at the Axelrod Performing Arts Center in the Deal Park section of Ocean Township, The Nutcracker ROCKS represents a delightfully unexpected collaboration between   the APAC’s in-house professional dance company The Axelrod Contemporary Ballet Theater [AXCBT], and a team of Jersey-based creative partners highlighted by two core components of the New Brunswick-spawned Anthem: bassist Alex Levine and guitarist Alex Rosamilia.

As director and choreographer Gabriel Chajnik explains, “this is our first full season of ballets here at the Axelrod…and we wanted to finish the year with a work that adds something of the musical tradition in our area.” Recognizing The Nutcracker as “the ballet that most kids and families are exposed to first,” the founder of the AXCBT (who performed in the 1892 classic during his days at the National Academy in his native Argentina — and who, as a student at NYC’s Juilliard School, thrilled to multiple stagings of George Balanchine’s landmark production) set out to create something that “would appeal to the classicists…and to the Jersey Shore rock and rollers.”

Indeed, the producers aren’t trying to “gaslight” their audience when they pitch this intriguing project as a work that’s “destined to become a Jersey Shore staple for many holidays to come“ — a thing designed not so much to set P.I. Tchaikovsky spinning in his grave, as to get the old boy humming like a dynamo in sync with its fuel-injected energy.

Riffing on the original source stories by E.T.A. Hoffman and Alexandre Dumas — and the ballet’s familiar plotline of young Clara and her Christmastime voyage through magical realms of mouse armies, sugarplum fairies, and an enchanted nutcracker soldier — The Nutcracker ROCKS boasts a new book by Red Bank Regional High School drama teacher Reuben Jackson (entirely coincidentally, Chajnik’s old Juilliard roommate), a traditional score (recorded by maestro Jason Tramm and the 40 piece MidAtlantic Symphony Orchestra at Ocean Grove’s Great Auditorium this past October), dozens of young student dancers, acrobatic performers from Howell High School, “rats instead of mice; rockers instead of soldiers” — along with “hip-hop elements” and a layered rock component (including two all-new songs) custom-crafted for the occasion by the two Alexes and their partner in X Squared Productions, Wes Klienknecht.

As for exactly how the ballet master (who became a full time resident of Ocean Grove when given the opportunity to establish the AXCBT) connected with the veterans of the band best known for the album The ‘59 Sound, it’s as simple as the fact that “Alex Levine was my barber!”  

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A (MULTI)CULTURED PEARL, REVEALED IN LONG BRANCH

Above and below: 10PRL owners Kira Sanchez and April Centrone are pictured inside the Cyclorama construction that’s a centerpiece of the all-new, multi-purpose arts facility in Long Branch, set to debut with a New Year’s Eve intro party. Photos by Allison Kolarik

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), December 12, 2019

 The first thing you notice, upon ascending the stairs to its second-floor perch within a busy but largely beneath-the-radar neighborhood of Long Branch, is its immensity — an immensity grounded in its 6,500 square feet of splendid sprawl, its 14-foot high ceilings, and its numerous nooks of real-world real estate. It’s also a quality that transcends physical dimensions; that looks beyond the sturdy brick walls toward whole other realms of possibility and promise and pure potential.

It’s maybe only then that you happen to take in the cyclorama that commands the entire southwest corner of the space. For those who don’t have one at home, a “cyclorama” in this case is neither an amusement park midway ride, nor one of those spinner things in which astronaut trainees experience multiple G forces. Rather it’s an “840 square foot, fully immersive, gentle curve of white wall” that represents, in the words of April Centrone, “a canvas, for anything you can imagine.”

A Harlem-born, Shore-based musician, educator, therapist, photographer, and citizen of the world, Centrone is spending much of this holiday-season interlude prepping for the imminent public debut of a project that, in its own relatively quiet way, is as ambitious as anything on the rise within this fast-changing city by the sea.

Located just off Broadway’s midtown main drag at the onetime site of Pearl Street Gym, the place known as 10PRL (pronounce it as “Ten Pearl,” and you’ve all the GPS directions you need) is the brainchild of Centrone and Kira Sanchez — partners in life, marriage, music, art, entrepreneurship, and now a venture that is as proudly “Woman Owned” and “Queer Owned” as it is “super inclusive.”

“This is an idea that’s actually more than a decade in the making,” explains Centrone, herself familiar to fervent followers of the Shore soundscape as a unique maker of music, both as a drummer/ percussionist (for singer-songwriter James Dalton and others) and a front-and-center performer who was seen recently during November’s slate of “Tallie Fest” showcases in Asbury Park.

Regionally, the Point Pleasant native (who’s been raising a gloriously rhythmic ruckus since the age of 9) continues to commandeer the drummer’s seat with the Brooklyn-based band Jane — and is best known as the middle eastern music expert who founded the New York Arabic Orchestra in 2007 (an organization that also boasts the contributions of Venezuelan-born bassist Sanchez).

“I’ve played and taught in a lot of venues, from squats in Europe to major theaters and festivals,” explains the specialist in the stringed instrument known as the oud — a voyager whose Masters degree in psychology has seen her combine music and therapy disciplines in her work with at-risk teens on the home front, as well as (at the invitation of the UN and various American embassies) youthful refugees around the globe. “And what struck me in my travels was when we’d be welcomed into a space that was completely run by artists.”

The germ of what would eventually be realized as 10PRL was also inspired by the thought that, as tech-sector entities encroach upon available urban loft spaces and rehabilitated commercial properties — thereby driving up rents to the point where “artists are frozen out of the places they helped bring back to life” — it becomes more crucial than ever to stake out a space in which all members of the area’s creative class can converge; a hive of activity where “the connection is in supporting the community,” and where the momentum is generated by “the original forms of therapy: music and art!”

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DECEMBER IN MUSIC-MAD ASBURY PARK IS A SONIC SAMPLER!

Performers appearing in holiday-themed concerts this month include top row, L-R: New Narratives (Asbury Lanes, Dec. 6), Rachel Ana Dobken (Stone Pony, Dec. 6), Brian Kirk (Stone Pony, Dec. 7), Rev. Horton Heat (Asbury Lanes, Dec. 7), Jody Joseph (Stone Pony, Dec. 8), Layonne Holmes (Paramount Theatre, Dec. 8; McLoone’s Supper Club, Dec. 20); bottom row L-R: Jo Wymer (The Saint, Dec. 15), Chris Pinnella (McLoone’s, Dec. 15 & 21), La Bamba (Stone Pony, Dec. 20), John Eddie (Wonder Bar, Dec. 21), P-Dub (Langosta Lounge, Dec. 22), Happy Fits (House of Independents, Dec. 20 & 21)

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), December 5, 2019

 While it’s maybe a tad too early to anoint Asbury Park as a regional Capital of Christmas, try telling that to any of the multitudes who lined up outside Convention Hall this past Saturday, when some of the scene’s favorite makers of locally sourced, certified organic music (highlighted by Remember Jones, following up a big Back to Black Friday gig at the Pony) flipped the switch on another souped-up Santa sleighload of seasonal sounds, here in this historic city of summers.

Of course, nobody hits the latter-day circuit here in this music-mad town expecting such a thing as a Silent Night — and the holiday interlude is no exception, as the season’s traditional hymns, choral cantatas and orchestral chestnuts are given a Santa-run for their money by a set of signature sounds that boast a decidedly more jingle-bell raucous bent. It’s an eclectic advent-calendar countdown that begins in earnest this weekend — and, as becomes abundantly clear, doesn’t necessarily let up when the tree hits the beach dunes or curb.

THE BIG ONE

Back for a second annual go-round as The Hottest Ticket in Town, the all-Shore/ all-star jinglejam known as A Very Asbury Holiday Show commandeers the Paramount Theatre proscenium on Sunday, December 8 for a 2019 sequel to last year’s sold-out inaugrual edition. Produced by those most proactive preservers and promoters of the city’s principal export — that is, The Asbury Park Music Foundation — the early evening extravaganza convenes another jukebox Justice League of performers whose Asbury roots run deep. It’s a multi-generational mashup that boats some of the living-legend linchpins of the SOAP scene (JT Bowen, Billy Hector, Layonne Holmes, Lance Larson, Lisa Lowell), next-wave singer/ songsmiths (Emily Grove, Anthony Krizan, Williams Honor), and some of the true master entertainers of the Shore clubscape (Pat Guadagno, Jillian Rhys McCoy, Pat Roddy, Deseree Spinks, Eddie Testa).

All this, plus a special set by the “Grooveangelicyulegasmicfunknsoulicious” force that is Everett Bradley’s Holidelic; the debut of the new song “Gonna Be Christmas” by The Weeklings, members of 60s heavyweights Vanilla Fudge and The Rascals; a big house band (led by music director Tony Perruso) boasting veterans of such acts as the Jukes, Joe Jackson and Patti Smith; plus returning co-hosts Lee Mrowicki and WABC-TV newscaster Michelle Charlesworth (joined by 107.1 The Boss deejay Michele Amabile Angermiller) handling the play-by-play. It’s dedicated to the memory of Asbury scene stalwart Kerry Layton, with proceeds going to benefit the community programs of the APMF, Mercy Center, Jewish Family and Children’s Services, and Boys & Girls Clubs of Monmouth County (there’s also an invitation to donate new unwrapped items to the Asbury Park Toy Drive). Info on available tickets can be had at asburyparkmusiclives.org.

SPECIAL SOMETHINGS

The December yesterdays when the likes of Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Andy Williams, and The King Family aired their annual Christmas TV specials have a modern-day corollary in Asbury town, with the ever-expanding selection of special live sets hosted by performers from within and without the local scene. First out of the box (and returning to the Stoney stage on Friday, December 6) is Quincy Mumford, who joins his band The Reason Why for a 2019 Holiday Show that further features Mike Pinto and another of QM’s contemporaries among the exciting new generation of Asbury-based solo artists, Rachel Ana Dobken. Another one-to-watch act on the present Shorescape, the duo New Narratives, is among the performers helping to raise donations for the AP Toy Drive effort during a Friday evening multi-band bill at Asbury Lanes — while over at Little Buddy Hideaway (that tropic-island-nest annex to downtown AP’s Brickwall), another best-kept-secret set aims to keep the beachy vibe alive, with a tinsel-garland twang. Hosted by the folks who bring you the annual surf/ tiki/ cocktail fest Hi-Tide Weekend — Magdalena O’Connell and Vincent Minervino— Friday’s Hi-Tide Holiday session offers chestnuts from DJ Hi-Tide’s private stash of swingin’ sides, plus live and languorous sounds by Philly’s foremost purveyors of party music with a Hawaiian punch, Slowey & the Boats.

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ASBURY’S GOT TALLIE (AND LOTS OF TALENTED WOMEN) DURING 3-DAY FEST

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), November 21, 2019. Tallie design by Eric Schiabor

Tallie? Tallie Who? According to producing partners Brittney Dixon and Bob Makin, she’s the “overlooked girlfriend” of Tillie, the iconic figure whose toothy Cheshire-cat grin has graced many a souvenir and signifier of Asbury Park. She’s also someone whose name means princess in Gaelic, and from Friday, November 22 through Sunday, November 24, she’ll serve as spirit guide namesake for a three-day/ three venue happening designed to “shine a light on 22 female and female-fronted music acts, as a means to raise funds for two impactful women-operated Asbury-based charities” — an ambitious project called Tallie Fest.

Taking place on the stages of Marilyn Schlossbach’s Langosta Lounge and Asbury Park Yacht Club on the famous boardwalk, as well as Scott Stamper’s Main Street mainstay The Saint, the inaugural Tallie Fest celebrates “the many talented women based in Asbury and throughout New Jersey,” even as it raises funds and awareness for Food For Thought, the nonprofit initiative through which Chef Marilyn’s flagship restaurant feeds the homeless and hungry with free holiday dinners (on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter), in addition to operating a food truck that employs inner-city youth. The slate of shows also aims to benefit the Asbury Park Women’s Convention, the annual empowerment event (and its related year-round activities) that occurs during the Women’s History Month of March.

As the onetime manager of the landmark New Brunswick nightclub Court Tavern, and the promotional powerhouse behind the Brittney On Fire music showcase events (seen regularly over the past few years at venues like The Asbury Hotel’s Soundbooth Lounge), Dixon has indisputably ranked among the most influential women on the Garden State’s burgeoning music scene — although, as she readily observes, this highly anticipated “female powered” festival was originally the brainchild of Makin, the Dean of NJ Rock Journalists, and the veteran event organizer whose Makin Waves programs have raised beaucoup bucks for many a worthy cause.

“Tallie Fest was actually all Bob’s idea…I ran into him at a show at a local cafe, and he brought it up to me and I told him I loved the idea,” she says. “This is the first time we’ve ever officially done an event together, and I’m really thrilled with what we’ve created.“

“There have always been fantastic women doing their thing in the scene, and I’ve worked with a bunch of them from the get-go,” Dixon observes. “But it does seem that in recent years, bands with females or female fronts are taken a bit more seriously…it’s still not where it needs to be, but hopefully the scene can keep improving.”

Tallie floats her first notes over the chilly Atlantic with a pair of concurrent-but-connected concerts on Friday night, at the Schlossbach group’s sister saloons on the boardwalk. Langosta Lounge offers up an eclectic bill of locally based music makers, beginning at 9:30 with an unusual and exotic twist: the Middle Eastern percussion and instrumentation of music educator (and co-founder of the NY Arabic Orchestra) April Centrone. She’s followed by a young mainstay of the Shore scene, pop vocalist/ songwriter and bandleader Taylor Tote, with a closing set by Leah Voysey (from Brooklyn via Joisey).

Meanwhile, the Yacht Club features Pony-pedigreed singer and songwriter Stella Mrowicki, launching a Friday triple bill that further features Mamadrama (“a mom-only Jersey Shore band spicing rock and punk covers with inspired originals”), and Ella Ross, teamed here with a genuine Asbury original, Blaise. Both shows (as well as the two Saturday night events) are free of charge, but half of the entertainment budget will be donated to Food for Thought, which also will benefit from a 50/50 raffle, a silent auction (for color prints of co-sponsor Eric Schiabor’s Tallie poster), and a food drive through which attendees are encouraged to bring canned, nonperishable items to the show.

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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. 

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SCARY SKETCHES, FROM THE UNDERGROUND

Models Kevin Tallon, Nicole Howard, and Saraphina Curry are pictured in a scene from Dr. Sketchy Asbury Park’s GRIMM FAIRY TALES event in October 2018. Photos by CJ Mars

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), October 10, 2019

 It’s a truism that applies to any musician, comedian, deejay, trivia quizzard, bingo master, psychic medium, or variety entertainer who ever forged a mutually beneficial relationship with a restaurant or bar: if you want to have a steady gig, you’ve gotta draw.

Hidden beneath the bustling sidewalks of Asbury Park’s Cookman Avenue corridor, a passionate posse of offbeat art lovers has taken that bit of accepted wisdom to literal, face-value heart — by offering local denizens a genuinely one-of-a-kind diversion; one that speaks in equal measure to expressing one’s soulful self, while indulging in a healthy bit of masquerade and make-believe.

Presented year-round, on the third Wednesday evening of each month, the communal drawing sessions of Dr. Sketchy’s Asbury Park invite participants of all ages and skillsets to “draw together” in a relaxed and yet wildly vivid setting, equipped with live figure models who are spectacularly outfitted according to each session’s designated theme.

It all happens, colorfully and often oh-so-quietly, in the lower-level Basement Bar of the Bond Street Complex, that interconnected colony of rendez-vous accessible via the Bond Street Bar, Capitoline (Cookman Ave.), or Loteria (Mattison Ave.). With sessions starting at 6:30 pm (and lasting approximately three hours, including breaks), the events are neither sober instructional classes nor merlot-marinated Paint ‘N Sips, but a place where — in the words of Carly-Jean Booker — “some super crazy talented people can work alongside people who just want to work on their skills, with a little friendly competition, but no critiquing and no pressure.”

 As the leader and public face of the Asbury Park group’s Team Sketchy, the arts aficionado who goes by the name CJ Mars maintains a “passion project” that’s loosely but officially affiliated with the original Dr. Sketchy events — the popular sessions that began in NYC, and subsequently spread to major cities across the U.S. and several other foreign shores. Call her “Doctor” if you must (in a way that suggests a Dr. Who-like regeneration process that ensures the long-term survival of the Sketchy franchise) — but as CJ sees it, she and her Team mates Tracy Coon, Celia Connaire, and Amanda Mercadante are not only offering their fellow New Jerseyans entree to a genuine international phenomenon (the Asbury chapter is currently the only regularly operating one in the Garden State), but carrying on in the spirit of the local chapter’s founder, Tim Lucas.

Organizing Sketchy sessions in the earlier years of the decade at various venues like the Jenn Hampton-era Asbury Lanes, Lucas made a late-innings convert in Carly-Jean, who “started attending in March 2015, and began to go almost religiously, it affected me so much.”

“I have a BFA in graphic design, and I was always into art, although not really figure drawing,” says the designer in the Ocean County library system. “Knowing people in the Burlesque scene, and getting involved with belly dance, I had friends who got me into some cool things…but I had never seen anything like this. It helped get me out of my shell!”

When Lucas stepped aside from his Doctorly duties, Stephanie Wolter kept the local group going in sessions at the Belmar Arts Council — but a move away from the area left the Shore chapter at sea, until CJ and company stepped in with the determination that “no way are we going to give this up…this has to go on.” And in October 2017 — two years ago this week — Team Sketchy hosted their first event; a Halloween themed offering centered around Witches and Warlocks.

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LIVE THEATER? IT’S NO ZOMBIE ART FORM

Dan Lauria of TV’s WONDER YEARS is among the actors, directors and playwrights taking part in a Theater Brut Festival of Short Plays this weekend in West End…while Ray Dademo and Frank Falisi star as the brothers Mizner, when Ocean Grove’s NENAproductions takes on Stephen Sondheim’s rarely seen ROAD SHOW.

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), October 3, 2019

On a weekend when the Zombie hordes lurch once more along the boards and boulevards of Asbury Park (and the force of nature known as Shatner walks the land, and a couple of veteran Springsteen bandmates play a free concert), a couple of seemingly unrelated happenings serve to remind us that — when it comes to resolutely original, routine-breaking, risk-taking live theater — this place sits squarely within the Land of the Living.

In fact, with more professional and semipro companies active in the area than at any time in recent memory — and several more ambitious fledgling troupes prepping for their turn in the spotlight (Asbury Park Theater, Dromio Theater, and Shore Thing Improv — about which more to come in this space), those who branded the art form a “fabulous invalid” in general, and a walking-dead issue on the local front, have to up and admit that the live local stage is most definitely No Country for Old Zombies.

THE SCENT OF BRUT

The French defined “Art Brut” (“raw” or “outsider” art) as a creative work that “colors outside the lines” of socially accepted, polite, or even legal norms — and while “Theatre Brut” as practiced by the folks at New Jersey Repertory Company is done entirely according to copyright law, Equity rules, and public permit, the (more or less) annual festival of that name represents an opportunity for the Long Branch-based company to assemble an allstar team of their favorite frequent-flyer guest artists — having fun, and playing fast-and-loose with expectations, in a way that allows actors, directors, and playwrights to invade each others’ wheelhouse.

Going up for four separate sessions between tonight, October 3 and Sunday, October 6, the 2019 Theater Brut Festival of Short Plays presents 16 never before seen works, loosely collected under the assigned theme “Some Like It Hot.”

It’s the eighth such event presented by NJ Rep co-founders SuzAnne and Gabor Barabas, and the third to be hosted inside the West End Arts Center, the reborn and repurposed elementary school building (occupying a whole city block worth of Long Branch’s West End neighborhood) that’s the subject of some truly ambitious plans for future seasons. It’s also the centerpiece of the latest West End Festival of the Arts, a five-day fling that kicked off Wednesday night with an all-star poetry reading hosted by poet/ educator/ editor/ musician Daniel Weeks and his magazine This Broken Shore (there are also concurrent visual art and photo exhibits on display for the duration of the weekend).

As with previous years’ themes (some of which have included “The Seven Deadly Sins,” “The Circus Comes to Town,” and “America’s Pastime”), playwrights are invited to submit scripts that interpret the given title in any number of ways — and, as SuzAnne Barabas explains, the concept of “Hot” has inspired the authors to deal with topics that range from sexual relationships, to climate change — and even “elements from the movie Some Like It Hot, like gangsters and drag!”

And, as is the custom, those playwrights are a diverse lot, ranging from award-winning veterans to newcomers — and even a couple of scribes who are more familiar as faces on our nation’s TV screens.

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