IT’S JUST AROUND THE CORNER: LIGHT OF DAY KEEPS THE AP HOME FIRES LIT

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, January 17 2019

To hear the man tell it, “Longevity is a benchmark of greatness” — and given that the speaker is Tony Pallagrosi, the words are no mere fridge-magnet platitude. After all, this is the veteran music scene mover ‘n shaker whose unimpeachable cred extends from his days as one of the cats in the band (The Shots, The Asbury Jukes), to host of some much-missed Shore nightspots (The FastLane, Xanadu), to co-founder of major concert venues and promotion entities (Starland Ballroom, Concerts East), to manager of The Weeklings — and quite possibly all the way to “the other side,” thanks to Asbury Angels, the musical memorial initiative that he chairs.

Pallagrosi, however, isn’t referring to himself, or to any of those aforementioned feathers in his cap, but to the endeavor that may ultimately stand as his most lasting legacy: Light of Day, the music-driven fundraising vehicle that’s  illuminated some of the darkest winter days and nights in this City of Summers for well nigh two decades.

Co-founded by Pallagrosi with music promo/ management pro Bob Benjamin as an awareness resource for Parkinson’s Disease research — and inspired by Benjamin’s own diagnosis with the disorder — the annual slate of star-studded happenings grew out of a 40th birthday party for Bob at the Stone Pony; taking its name from the Springsteen soundtrack song “Just Around the Corner to the Light of Day” on its way to becoming a sprawling affair that’s spanned several continents, major North American cities and additional satellite events throughout the calendar year.

Of course, along the way Light of Day became indelibly identified with the stamp of Benjamin’s long-time friend Bruce Springsteen — not just via the organization’s name, but in the very real presence of The Boss as an onstage participant and de facto ringmaster for the majority of those all-star Bob’s Birthday concerts. As an undeniable draw (and a focal point for some tantalizing will-he-or-won’t-he buzz each year), the Bard of the boardwalk has generously shared the stage with a core cast of frequent-flyer performers (including Joe Grushecky, Willie Nile, and Steve Forbert), as well as drop-in guest stars that have ranged from Southside Johnny, Darlene Love and Gary US Bonds, to Light of Day movie star (plus high-profile person with Parkinson’s) Michael J. Fox, and  The Sopranos’ Vincent Pastore.

While the nonprofit Light of Day Foundation is a year-round entity upon which the sun never sets, the heart and soul of the positively charged enterprise remains LOD Winterfest, the mid-January jamboree of activity that commandeers the stages, storefronts and saloons of Asbury Park during the post-holiday “off season” interlude when most other Shore towns are deep into a long winter’s nap. Having offered up a couple of preliminary pace-setter events on January 13 (see the feature on Bob Burger in last week’s Coaster), the circus comes to town in full force for a long weekend that begins tonight, January 17, with a choice of tuneful entertainments that includes a “Hall of Fame Jam” featuring veteran Bruce drummer Vini Lopez (Langosta Lounge), a special edition of Sandy Mack’s Wonder Jam at the Wonder Bar, and an official kickoff concert at downtown’s House of Independents that spotlights such next-gen talents as Williams Honor and Anthony “Remember Jones” D’Amato.

“No other town this small has such a vibrant music scene,” says Pallagrosi. “And at the end of the day, I want everyone involved.”

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STRICTLY BALLROOM: KEITH ROTH MARKS AN ELECTRIC ANNIVERSARY

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, December 20 2018

“The thing about those years before the internet, is that it was so much more fun seeking out the info instead of finding it online,” observes Keith Roth of the crucial interlude that straddled the heyday of the arena-rock goliaths, and the rise of the scrappy punk bands who dared to topple the big guys to earth.

“You would read CREEM Magazine, you would see what your classmates and your older brother had in their collection…and every Friday, you went to the local Korvettes store, where they had a punk rock wall in their record department!”

“I grew up in the Bronx…I mean, the first album I bought with my own money was The Dictators Go Girl Crazy,” says the 52-year old resident of Tinton Falls, in reference to the 1975 masterpiece of cheerfully offensive outer-boroughs wrestle-punk slobrock. “And when I moved to New Jersey, I kind of assumed that everybody knew who the MC5 was!”

As it turned out, not everyone in the suburban Jersey milieu could automatically name the band who did “Kick Out the Jams” on demand. And so, the aspiring rock star and record mogul Keith Roth became a man on a self-appointed mission; a calling to elucidate, illuminate and educate his new neighbors as to the rich legacy of rock and roll music’s most frantically fertile period — that beyond-the-Beatles/ way-after-Woodstock moment when classic tour-gods traversed the skies in custom jets and landed luxury automobiles in hotel pools; when the glittering stars of “glam” gleefully pushed at every pop-culture boundary of gender roles and sexual identity; when the music’s gigantic tent simultaneously housed symphonically inclined artistes, meat-and-potatoes traditionalists, and those lords and ladies of mischief who wanted nothing more than to see that big top come crashing down.

The vehicle for Roth’s supercharged passions was The Electric Ballroom, a weekly blast of words and wax that marked its twentieth year on the air (Sunday nights on 95.9 WRAT-FM out of Lake Como) this past October — and that celebrates the milestone with a special Anniversary Party next Sunday, December 30; a ringing out of the fast-fading year that finds its brick-and-mortar Ballroom inside the all-purpose auditorium of downtown Asbury’s House of Independents.

Scheduled to get underway at 7 pm, the multi-band blast is a presentation of Pat Schiavino’s Asbury Underground brand, one that represents an expansion of the twice yearly free festival of storefront music and art (returning in January with an edition keyed to Light of Day 2019, about which more to come in this space) into the realm of special concert events. As such, it’s a showcase for Roth, his own band Frankenstein 3000, and some of his favorite regional or international acts — a chance to take stock, before sprinting ahead to the next waltz on the dance card.

“This event is going to be run pretty tightly and quickly,” observes Roth of the live show; contrasting the onstage action with the Sunday-sauce studio affair that, after all these years, “follows no format…we could have (legendary Dolemite star) Rudy Ray Moore one week, and one of the Sex Pistols the next. It’s whatever’s cool; we don’t bother with playlists…so the format is that there is no format!”

All in a night’s work for an endeavor that represented “a baptism of fire” for its host back in the late 1990s; a project in which “we did everything wrong the first night…and for our first guest, we had a vampire. An actual vampire.”

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IT’S WHAT’S UP FOR WEEK OF DECEMBER 13-19

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, December 13 2018

SOUNDS: Project/Object at The Saint 

Frank Zappa described the grand concept behind his work, as one in which “each project (in whatever realm), or interview connected to it, is part of a larger object, for which there is no ‘technical name’.” In the decades since FZ’s passing, Project/Object staked a claim to being the premier gatekeepers of the Zappa/Mothers legacy, by virtue of the fact that each lineup has spotlighted the skills of Zappa band alumni. These days, singer-saxman-flautist Napoleon Murphy Brock and guitarist Denny Walley are the 1970s/80s-era originals carrying the torch — and when the 2018 edition of P/O arrives at The Saint TONIGHT, December 13, they’ll be channeling the Chunga via a set of concert favorites, many of which (“Village of the Sun,” “Cheepnis”) were vocalized by Brock in their first incarnations. Doors open at 7, with tickets ($20 advance; $25 at the door) at thesaintnj.com.

SOUNDS: Old 97s at the Wonder Bar

Celebrating a silver-jubilee 25th anniversary  — and returning Shoreside in the midst of a special year-end Holiday Party tour — the Texas-based alt-country/ roots-rock/ loud-folk locomotive that is the Old 97s  brings the tinsel and the turned-up-to-11 twang to the Tillie-grin stage of the Wonder Bar TONIGHT, December 13. With doors opening at 7 pm, it’s a wonderland whistlestop in which frontman Rhett Miller is scheduled to deliver a solo acoustic set, and there’s punk-rock prestidigitation byCaseymagic as well. Tickets ($25) at wonderbarasburypark.com.

STAGES: The Hip Hop Nutcracker at the Paramount 

Tell Tchaikovsky the news: The Hip Hop Nutcracker is indeed a thing; a traveling stage spectacle that re-imagines the Russian composer’s classic ballet score “with a distinctly urban twist.” It’s a suite supercharged by Jennifer Weber’s choreography, plus a cast that includes a dozen dynamic dancers, a DJ, a violin soloist — and special guest Kurtis Blow (pictured), the old-school rap trailblazer whose milestone records “The Breaks” and “If I Ruled the World” set the pace for a musical millennium to come (and who, lest we forget, debuted with “Christmas Rappin’”). A production of Newark’s New Jersey Performing Arts Center (and a presentation of NJPAC’s partnership with Madison Marquette in Asbury Park), the show lights up the Paramount proscenium for the first time TONIGHT, December 13, in its third annual tour of regional stages. Take it to Ticketmaster. Com for available seating (priced from $17-$77) to the 7:30 pm event.

SOUNDS: Puddles Pity Party at Asbury Lanes

A favorite out-of-towner visitor on the local scene, thanks to past appearances at House of Indies and elsewhere (and supercharged by widespread exposure on America’s Got Talent, Cartoon Network/Adult Swim, the “immersive theater” project Sleep No More, and the virtual vaudeville of virally viewed video) Puddles the clown brings his romantic baritone, his leaky-glass-empty outlook on life, and his unerring instinct for a compelling cover version of a pop song standard back to Asbury Park, in a two-night stand at Asbury Lanes that continues TONIGHT, December 13.

Big Mike Geier’s king-sized character project is no joke when it comes to his skills as a singer and frontman, and even if Puddles doesn’t exactly brighten one’s holiday season, there’s a good chance that he’ll invest a seasonal standard or two with the stuff that infuses his transcendent take on Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” Tickets ($35) at asburylanes.com. Continue reading

HAVE YOURSELF ASBURY LI’L CHRISTMAS: A GRAB-BAG OF MUSIC ‘N MORE

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, December 6 2018

‘Tis the season when carols of Yuletide fill the chill air; when local houses of worship, halls of learning and points of purchase ring out with traditional hymns, choral cantatas and orchestral chestnuts of well-roasted resonance and enduring appeal. Here in Asbury Park, however, the sounds of the season boast a decidedly more jingle-bell RAUCous bent — coming in from all angles, and continuing well on through the gloriously un-silent nights of the holiday interlude. It’s a souped-up Santa sleighload slate of sonic ‘citement; a multi-genre mashup of merry wassailing  (and maybe a bit of cheerful assailing  of stodgy sensibilities) that fairly glows with civic pride and positive vibes, here in this place Where Music Lives.

It all begins this weekend — with The Big Event (and the hottest ticket in town) being the first-ever edition of A Very Asbury Holiday Show. Hosted at the Paramount Theatre  on Sunday, December 9, and produced (by those most proactive preservers and promoters of the city’s principal export to the world) The Asbury Park Music Foundation, the 7 pm extravaganza assembles a multi-generational mixtape of performers with deep Asbury roots. Featured are some of the living-legend architects of the classic SOAP scene (Bobby Bandiera, JT Bowen, Billy Hector, Lance Larson), next-wave singer/ songwriters (Emily Grove, Taylor Tote, Williams Honor), veteran master entertainers of the Shore clubscape (Jo Bonanno, Layonne Holmes, Brian Kirk, Jillian Rhys McCoy, Pat Roddy, Eddie Testa) and representatives of the dynamic new generation of Asbury-centric show bands (Remember Jones, Desiree Spinks, Waiting On Mongo).

This plus The Weeklings, Danny Clinch and the Tangiers Blues Band (as well as whatever looking-for-a-gig friends might show up), the kids from Lakehouse Music Academy, and some promised appearances by members of 60s heavyweights Vanilla Fudge and The Rascals (schedule subject to change, natch) — all under the direction of bandleader Tony Perruso, and with the helpful services of iconic Pony DJ Lee Mrowicki and guest emcee/ WABC-TV newscaster Michelle Charlesworth to keep track of the players. Proceeds benefit the APMF, 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) — and info on available tickets can be had at asburyparkmusiclives.org. Continue reading

IT’S WHAT’S (ALSO) UP FOR WEEK OF DECEMBER 6-12 (NON-XMAS EDITION)

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, December 6 2018

SOUNDS: Wynonna and the Big Noise at Monmouth U 

It’s a local debut for the platinum-plated country star who made her first big noise as the younger half of the mother-daughter duo The Judds — but when she comes to the Pollak Theatreat Monmouth University on Saturday, December 8, Wynonna showcases her more recent incarnation as the rock-rhythm and blues infused front-woman of The Big Noise, the guitar-driven band that teams her with husband and drummer Cactus Moser. The singer who took such country-pop ballads as “Grandpa (Tell Me ‘Bout the Good Old Days)” to the top of the Billboards had been seriously flirting with a leaner-meaner sound, as far back as her appropriately titled 1997 album The Other Side — and with a set list that ranges from gritty blues-rockers (“Ain’t No Thing,” “You Make My Heart Beat Too Fast,” “Cool Ya”) to trad Americana (“Things That I Lean On,” “Jesus and a Jukebox”) and re-imagined chart-toppers, the Grammy nominee performs with a newfound sense of purpose and extended “family.” Take it to www.monmouth.edu/arts or call the box office at 732-263-6889 for tickets to the 8 pm show ($65-$85). Continue reading

IT’S BEGINNING TO LOOK A LOT LIKE KRAMPUS IN ASBURY PARK

Paranormal Books & Curiosities proprietor (and Krampus AP festival founder) Kathy Kelly takes the situation by the bullhorn, during the line up for last year’s March of the Krampusse. The spirited celebration of the legendary folklore figure returns to Cookman Avenue in the days following the Thanksgiving holiday.  (photo by Michael J. Booth)

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, November 21 2018

He’s generally depicted with horns and fangs and cloven hooves, to say nothing of an epic tongue that could even make Gene Simmons of KISS shut his mouth and slink away. He’s said to arrive rattling chains, bearing a whip of birch branches, and toting a large sack, into which he stuffs naughty children to be spirited away and variously drowned or eaten. He’s often seen in the company of St. Nicholas — although accounts of his sightings pre-date not only the guy who would come to symbolize the modern Christmas holiday, but reportedly even Christianity itself.

He’s Krampus, the scary-looking figure of folklore whose annual appearances at the start of the Yuletide season have been celebrated for centuries throughout Europe — and who, in recent years, has found a fervent and even family-friendly fanbase in and around the Cookman Avenue corridor.

The brainchild of Kathy Kelly — author, historian, businesswoman, ardent traveler, and proprietor of the storefront sanctum Paranormal Books and Curiosities — the slate of activities, entertainments and observances that is Krampus Asbury Park returns for a fourth annual edition on the weekend of November 30 and December 1 (preceded by a special mask-making session on Wednesday, November 28). Centered around the “Paranormal Tower” at 621 Cookman — and also commandeering a slice of screening space at the nearby Showroom cinema, as well as a slab of downtown streetscape — the event is a largely “non-digital, non-commercial, community-minded’ homage to a tradition that, after all, “IS really ancient…the people who know Krampus really know about it.”

But even you’re just now learning about the fanged figure who’s long factored into the traditions of countries that range from Germany and Austria, to northern Italy and the regions of the former USSR, don’t make the mistake of dismissing Krampus as some kind of Bad Santa decoration for archly “alternative” holiday parties. As Kelly sees it, the furry devil is “an early warning system” that exists for the potential benefit of those who have been less than humane to their fellow humans — and who can stand a second chance to mend their wayward ways.

“He’s an agent of retribution…but also a restorer of the natural balance of things,” she adds. “He operates according to a sliding scale, in which there are people who earn a reward at Christmas time, while other people get nothing…and still others get thrown into the sack and eaten!”

While it admittedly sounds a little grim for children raised on sugarplum visions of happy elves, Rudolph and Frosty, the energetic entrepreneur who’s come to be known as “The Krampus Lady” for a rising generation of area young people points out that the whole notion of a judgmental figure who determines whether one has been naughty or nice is “no different than what we grew up hearing about Santa” — and, as many a parent has discovered at the shopping mall, “plenty of kids are already afraid of Santa!”

The truth of the matter is that Krampus Asbury Park has been designed as “a family focused event, where people can bring their children and experience the daytime ‘quiet time’ of downtown Asbury…I’m most proud of how many kids there are at these weekends.”

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AT MONMOUTH U, A FAB FOUR-DAY FORAY INTO A BRIGHT WHITE ALBUM

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, November 8 2018

It’s “the anti-Sgt. Pepper” if you will; an audacious, ambitious, eclectic piece of work that “if you surrender to it…batters you around like a shuttlecock” — and that “looms large as a big, brash, bold statement.”

The words are those of Kenneth Womack, Ph.D — Dean of the Wayne D. McMurray School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Monmouth University; award-winning author and critic; in-demand lecturer, and internationally recognized authority on the history, the lasting legacy, and the cultural influence of a little band called The Beatles. And the not-a-Pepper in question?  That would be the album also called The Beatles — a two-disc touchstone that marks the 50th anniversary of its release here in November 2018, and that remains known — due to obvious optics, and lack of any other formal christening — as The White Album.

Even if you’re not accustomed to big, brash, bold statements that arrive in deceptively plain, blank, “no frills” packaging, there’s no denying that the 1968 double-LP remains the great white elephant in the room for a couple of generations of music fans and cultural observers — an inviting canvas that would come to be embraced by both people-pleasing politicians and murderous Mansonites, and a cheerfully challenging opus that dispensed with the candy-colored psychedelia of 1967; re-establishing the Fab Four as a cohesive band, even as it laid the groundwork for the group’s quickly onrushing End of Days.

Beginning TODAY, November 8, and continuing in an extended weekend of events through Sunday, November 11, Monmouth University hosts The Beatles’ The White Album: An International Symposium — the latest in a successful series of academic conferences sponsored by the Bruce Springsteen Archive and Center for American Music at Monmouth; the resource whose director, Eileen Chapman, is both a longtime figure on the Asbury Park music scene and a current member of the city council.

Although The Beatles never played Asbury Park (they did perform a Philadelphia concert that was produced by Convention Hall event promoter Moe Septee), the music-mad city makes its presence felt here on Thursday’s opening day, with a Rock and Roll Walking Tour of local landmarks conducted by authors and Boss authorities Jean Mikle and Stan Goldstein. It’s an encore presentation of a featured attraction from several of the Springsteen-themed conferences hosted previously at Monmouth (including last spring’s salute to Darkness on the Edge of Town), with tickets ($35; see Monmouth.edu/the-white-album) still available, and the two-hour tour commencing at 1 pm from The Wonder Bar (Ocean and Fifth Avenues).

From there, the action moves to the West Long Branch campus of Monmouth U, where the school’s auditoriums and public spaces host an impressive array of Beatles experts and collaborators, as well as an assembly of Shore-based musicians who are raring to share their own musical perspectives on the album of the hour.

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A HAPPENIN’ HALLO-WEEK, IN AND AROUND ASCARY PARK

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, October 25 2018

Let other towns lay claim to being the area’s capital of Christmas cheer; home to the longest running St. Patrick’s Day celebration; scene of the most star-spangled July Fourth display. With dozens of venues in which to dance the witching hour away — and plenty of world renowned boardwalk and boulevards on which to strut one’s carefully costumed stuff — Asbury Park has a lock on the days and nights leading up to the Eve of All Hallows, making the seaside city that so famously “came back from the dead” the undisputed headquarters of Halloween festivity.

It’s an interlude that sounds an early-October keynote with the Asbury Park Zombie Walk, the annual lurch previewed in these pages a few weeks back. And in between there are events like this past Saturday’s Haunted Carousel Dance Party, the gala-ghoul benefit for local charities from which images can be seen at ahauntedcarousel.com. But from the moment the sun goes down tonight, October 25 — and on through the moment the clock strikes midnight on November 1, the Day of the Dead — both the legendary haunted landmarks and the shiny new haunts of the greater Asbury area are where the sights, the sounds, and the seriously fun cosplay can be found.

CONCERTS

On the Asbury boards, the major concert event in the season of the witch is Convention Hell — and in this year’s edition of the Hall-rocking happening, the venerable venue welcomes the jam-circuit juggernaut Pink Talking Fish, a band that — as the name implies — triangulates a tribute to the collected works of Pink Floyd, Talking Heads, and Phish. On Saturday night, the four-piece group and friends will be saluting Floyd’s epic album Dark Side of the Moon in sound and light — and joining in the spirit of dress-up fun are three local favorites portraying acts who appeared at Convention Hall in summers past: Wild Adriatic (as Led Zeppelin), Waiting For Mongo (as James Brown and his Famous Flames), and The Burns (as Jim Morrison and The Doors). Doors open at 7 pm, with tickets ($20 advance; $25 d.o.s.)  at the box office or via apboardwalk.com.

While the Convention Hell show is open only to concertgoers age 21 and up, fans of all ages can take it over to the headquarters of the Asbury Park Music Foundation (in the Lakehouse complex on Lake Avenue) on Saturday night, where from 7 to 11 pm the annual Diamond Concerts Halloween Show presents a bill headlined by the up-and-coming Brick Township-based band The Ones You Forgot. Continue reading