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.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
SCENES: Circus Night at Johnny Mac’s
The seasonal sideshow may have already slipped into town, but TONIGHT, May 30, Johnny Mac House of Spirits (corner Main and Cookman in AP) makes it official, with a Circus-themed evening that boasts live variety acts (incl. an aerialist, stilt walkers and snake charmer), contests (for hot dog eating champ and Best Dressed Circus Freak), psychic readings, caricatures, a “Little Person Ringmaster,” and soundtrack courtesy Thursday DJ Rob Busch. The fun starts at 9 pm, with free popcorn and cotton candy throughout the night.
SCREENS: The ShowRoom Bradley Beach debuts
Following an extensive renovation by new owners Nancy Sabino and Mike Sodano, the former site of the Beach Cinema (110 Main Street in Bradley Beach) is “ready for its close-up” and scheduled to debut as The ShowRoom Bradley Beach with the Elton John bio-pic Rocketman as its inaugural feature on Friday, May 31. As one of the last remaining downtown movie houses in Monmouth County, the local landmark (which converted from film to a digital projection system in the seasons before its “last picture show” in 2018) promises to retain its community character as an alternative to the mall-based megaplex moviegoing experience, while spotlighting the kind of fare — including foreign features, film-festival favorites, concert broadcasts, documentaries, golden-age Hollywood classics, and off-beat special presentations — that have been a specialty at the flagship Showroom space on Asbury’s Cookman Avenue. Check out ShowRoomCinemas.com, for updated info on the inaugural slate of screenings and special events at Bradley Beach (now boasting more comfortable seating and soon-to-be-added second screen, plus a custom selection of confections and concessions from local vendors) — and check our printed pages each week, for the full rundown of listings at both ShowRoom locations.
STAGES: Ace Young in AIDA at Axelrod PAC
The Elton John-Tim Rice Tony-winning adaptation of the operatic evergreen comes to the stage of Ocean Township’s Axelrod Performing Arts Center, in a new production from producer Andrew De Prisco and returning director/ choreographer Luis Salgado (APAC’s In the Heights, Ragtime). Heading up the cast is American Idol finalist and Broadway veteran Ace Young (pictured), with the Grammy nominee making his area stage debut as Radames, and Anita Welch appearing in the title role of the captured Nubian princess whose love for an Egyptian soldier shatters dynasties and transcends time.
Opening at 8 pm on Friday, May 31, Elton John and Tim Rice’s AIDA offers performances at 2 and 8 pm on June 1, with a 3 pm matinee on June 2, and continues with a total of ten additional shows through June 16. Reserve tickets ($38-$64) at www.axelrodartscenter.com.
SOUNDS: The New Bardots at the Stone Pony
Former ROCKIDS bandmates Gar Francis (The Doughboys) and Wayne Olivieri (Oliver’s Twist) are back together again with a new project: The New Bardots, a quartet that further features fellow Twist veteran Dan Skye on bass, and Johnny Rago on drums. The Stone Pony is the setting for the band’s debut on Friday night, an occasion that also serves as a record release for their full length album French Kisses and its lead single, a cover of the Jerry Lee juggernaut “Great Balls of Fire.” Proceeds from the show benefit the programs of Rockit Academy, with the students of Rockit showcasing their stuff in an opening set, and the Bilsby Brothers Band performing a late-show set following the Bardots. (doors 7 pm; $12/$15
SOUNDS: The Mavericks at the Stone Pony
Working territory that spans everything from bordertown Tex-Mex to Music Row country to the Latin-infused sounds of their native Miami, The Mavericks are as delightfully difficult to corral stylistically, as they are hard to pin down to a single night’s performance. So when Raul Malo and the 2019 lineup of that long-established, reunited band return to Asbury Park on Saturday night, June 1, they’ll be doing the first of two nights at the Stone Pony, with the Gary Douglas Band doing double-duty as openers. (7 pm; $45)
SIGHTS: Art Openings in Asbury Park and Long Branch
Friday, May 31 marks the official Gallery Kick-Off event for AP Modern Gallery, the newest addition to the Cookman Avenue corridor’s visual art venues, located on the upper level of the Shoppes at the Arcade mini-mall between Cookman and Lake Avenues. The paintings of proprietor Norman Perlmutter are spotlighted along with works by Joanne Amantea and Linda Levit, during an opening reception from 5 to 9 pm (call 908-216-5429 for further info)…up at the West End Arts Center…that’s the repurposed and renaissance’d former primary school building at 132 West End Avenue in Long Branch…the coming of Pride Week is celebrated with Our Way: The Art of Life, Love, and Inclusion, a group show (curated by Mare Akana) that opens to the public on Saturday, June 1, with a reception from 12 to 4 pm…
Back in Asbury town, wildlife photography aficionados are given a chance to get “up close and personal” with lensman Eric Sambol and some fascinating friends, when Exhibit No. 9 Gallery (550-102 Cookman Avenue) presents the solo show Engaging Behavior. The exhibition opens with a public-welcome reception on Saturday evening, and the show (which is one of the featured stops in the upcoming Monmouth Arts ArtWalk event detailed below) continues Fridays through Sundays through the month of June…John Vigg’s Collective Art Tank at 529 Bangs Avenue continues its recent string of guest events — and ushers in Pride weekend in “fun and uncensored” style — with SKIN, a group show featuring “expressions of figurative human form” by painters Philip Book, Arthur Fama, and Franklin Stone. The installation opens with a June 1 reception that runs from 6 to 11 pm, and the SKIN’s on view Fridays through Sundays from 2 to 9 pm, through June 25.
SOUNDS: Jarod Clemons, Taylor Davis at Transparent Gallery, The Brighton
The son of the Big Man is currently in the midst of an intensive tour of area venues, joining with singer-songwriter Taylor Davis in a series of intimate shows that find the performers working in both solo and duet contexts. Monday, June 3 finds them dropping in at Danny Clinch’s Transparent Gallery for a pair of performances (6 and 9 pm), followed by encore appearances at Long Branch landmark The Brighton Bar (June 5), and Asbury’s Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel (June 6).
SIGHTS: Monmouth ArtWalk, Asbury Pup Edition
For the latest in their series of ArtWalk events, the folks at Red Bank-based nonprofit Monmouth Arts invite one and all to visit downtown Asbury Park’s Cookman Avenue corridor — and to arrive with some very special members of the household this time. Next Thursday evening, June 6, the call is going out to “bring your pup or pooch…as we gallery hop, enjoy sweet treats, and have some sips together with friends.”
Going on between 6 and 7:30 pm (and departing from a starting location that will be sent to ticket buyers prior to the event), the evening will take in Good Form, the current group show exhibition at Parlor Gallery, as well as Engaging Behavior, the display of wildlife photography now on display at Exhibit No. 9, and a special installation at Art629. Along the way, canine connoisseurs of art will enjoy doggie ice cream samples from Cookman Creamery, doggie treats from Purple Glaze Donuts, and photo ops with their human handlers at the downtown mural sites of the Wooden Walls Project (people-friendly drinks and treats are promised to participants as well).
Tickets ($25 for adult members of Monmouth Arts; $35 for adult non-members; $10 for children) and additional information can be had by calling 732-212-1890 ext. 2.
Take it to the May 30 print editions of The Coaster (Asbury Park) and The Link (Long Branch) for the full roundup/rundown of music listings, including a local debut for Coi Leray at House of Independents… a night of heavy metal pulse and prose presented by Don Jamieson (of VH1’s That Metal Show) at The Brighton Bar in Long Branch… the return of Coheed and Cambria to the AP waterfront, with a June 4 tourstop at the Stoney Summerstage…and the 2019 edition of the original and pedigreed reggae pioneers The Wailers, to the Wednesday –week stage of the Asbury Lanes!