MERMAIDS JUST WANNA HAVE FIN, AT 4th ANNUAL PROMENADE

Scenes from the Asbury Park Promenade of Mermaids include (clockwise from top left): 2017 crowned King Brett Colby of Asbury Park with royal entourage; special “mer-guests” Merman Christian and The Harlem Mermaid; event founder Jenn Mehmaid (at far right) leading the procession; catching rays on a boardwalk bench; the Gypsy Funk Squad in action (photos by Mermaid Studio).

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, June 28 2018

When you’re a kid, mermaids are something beautiful and exotic,” says Jennifer Mehm, the Shore area native whose self-professed inability to outgrow a lifelong fascination with those fabled finny folk of the sea has seen her find her calling as the founder, the face, and the fervent ringmistress of the Asbury Park Promenade of Mermaids, the open-air event that returns to the city’s boardwalk on Saturday afternoon, June 30.

Speaking during a break from her perfectly normal (and not terribly exotic) surface-world career as anexecutive assistant, the Asbury area resident known as “Jenn Mehmaid” explains that “the appeal probably has more to do with not fitting in…a sense of living life between two worlds, a celebration of freedom.”

Scheduled to set sail shortly after 2 p.m., the colorful procession of costumed mermaids and mermen (and pirates, and seahorses, and shellfish, and jellies) takes to dry land for its fourth annual edition, as a celebration both of our city’s seaside heritage and its welcoming spirit of diversity and community. Repositioned this year to the end of June from its previous perch in August, the event is a relatively recent addition to the yearly slate of outdoor concerts, carnivals, parades, foodfests, and fundraisers on and near the Asbury waterfront — although, as Jenn correctly points out, it’s a happening that’s perfectly in sync with the spirit of summers past.

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ASBURY PARK’S GOT PRIDE OF PLACE, THIS WEEKEND

If it’s the first weekend in June — and it most certainly is, ready or not — then it’s time once again for the Jersey Pride Festival, the largest LGBTQ+ community celebration in the Garden State, and an all-welcome Asbury Park tradition that marks its frankly amazing 27thannual edition this Sunday, June 3.

Centered around a vividly vibrant and ever-growing parade — as well as an all-ages festival that brings a celebratory rally, a generations-spanning mix of live music, and a full day of hometown-fair style fun to Bradley Park — the event “allows us to showcase what’s truly special with the New Jersey LGBTQ community,” in the words of Jersey Pride president Laura Pople.

A co-founder of the nonprofit organization, and one of its longest serving volunteer members, Pople is part of a “core leadership” of twenty principals in the committee that assembles the big event on the threshold of summer, each and every year since 1992. She’s joined by an additional ten “junior leaders” and some 40 to 50 volunteers, with an estimated 25 percent hailing from the Asbury Park area.

Looking back on the festival’s origins, it wasn’t difficult for Pople and her fellow organizers to envision Asbury Park as the host city for the statewide event. The seaside resort that was “uniquely Jersey, centrally located, and had a community that was going to work with us” had struggled through decades of decline by the 1990s — but it also had a long history of gay-owned taverns, hotels and restaurants, even as the downtown business base dwindled, and the waterfront stagnated within a tangle of bankruptcies and litigation. By the end of the century, the old town’s gay club scene was largely the thing that had kept the lights on, and the music playing, through so many of the city’s darkest and most deathly quiet days and nights.

That strong connection to the community also spurred a considerable investment in the faded resort’s base of still-grand old homes — and as Asbury Park’s fortunes began to creep forward again in the new millennium, that level of commitment remained a crucial component in the journey from “ghost town” to a place that now regularly rates among the most buzzed-about vacation options in the region (and, in some cases, the world). Many of the old landmark nightspots met the wrecking ball, but the LGBTQ community was here to stay, represented prominently and proudly on the city council, in public service, on the frontlines of social activism, and within a business landscape that has helped redefine how a place of brick-and-mortar can survive and thrive in an age of challenges. A good case can even be made that the Pride Festival and parade, in their colorful and resolutely committed glory, have inspired and influenced attractions that range from the city’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, to the Promenades of Mermaids, Zombie Walks, and numerous open-air celebrations of music culture that have taken their turns in the Asbury Park sun and sea air. Continue reading

IT’S WHAT’S UP FOR WEEK OF MAY 24-30

From moonlighting movie stars to daylighting doctors…honorary Shore rockers to homaging rappers…a dose of The Dude high atop the Asbury, and a dash of striptease down below…there’s definitely something in the air with the coming of Memorial Day Weekend, a ready-or-not rendezvous with destiny that starts here and eeYOW! We’ve got some highlighted recommendations for you…be you tourist, townie, or tardis-tripping time lord…and we’ve got the FULL rundown of music, movie, comedy and special event listings ONLY in the printed pages of greater Asbury Park’s fightin’ weekly, The COASTER!

SOUNDS: Kiefer Sutherland at the Stone Pony

Local audiences have become accustomed to the spectacle of musically curious actors passing this way with projects that have seemed alternately heartfelt (Bacon Brothers, Jeff Daniels) and hardly-so (Russell Crowe, Keanu Reeves). But when Kiefer Sutherland returns to the Stone Pony stage for a Memorial Weekend Friday encore, he’ll roll into town as a pre-seasoned veteran who racked up a lot of life experience by the time he recorded his debut disc, 2016’s Down in a Hole. With a reverent approach to straightforward country/rock; a voice whose lower register edges ever closer to Tom Waits, and a new album apparently being prepped for release, the star of screen and screen has braved enough high-profile stages (including the Grand Ole Opry) and logged enough road miles to have truly earned the designation of Survivor. Available tickets, $27.50 in advance, can be purchased at stoneponyonline.com.

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IT’S WHAT’S UP FOR WEEK OF MAY 17-23

A smorgasbord of savvy speakers get PASSIONate at the Paramount…the sound of Asbury Park gets seriously POLKA-fied at everyone’s favorite Festhalle…a former flavor-du-jour from the major label exurbs finds his INDEPENDENT voice, in a House call to the Cookman corridor…while a PROJECTIONIST pays tribute to a childhood icon, AND a lakeside Asbury landmark. It’s WHAT’S UP for the week ahead, and we’ve got the highlights right here right now…while the printed pages of THE COASTER carry your full rundown of sights, sounds, screens, and scenes!

SCENES: TEDx Asbury Park at the Paramount

“PASSION” is the theme for this year’s TEDx Asbury Park, the sixth annual edition of the happening that commandeers the Paramount Theatre stage on Saturday, May 19 for a day-long menu of dynamic speakers, storytellers, songsmiths and celebs. A hyper-local and independent offshoot of the international TED talks, the event that began life as TEDx Navesink (with early host venues that included Red Bank’s Two River Theater and the Lincroft campus of Brookdale Community College) has found its happiest harbor here in Asbury town, the Shore area’s crossroads for so much of what’s most exciting in art, commerce, and the marketplace of ideas. Far from a snoozefest in a stodgy lecture hall, the TEDx AP program is at its best a confluence of the people, the projects and the progressive thinking that will shape our shoreline in the seasons to come — with maybe just a healthy dose of ego.

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IT’S WHAT’S UP FOR MAY 10-16

The Sainted Zappa’s legacy REVISITated…fast-food culture RECYCLE-arted…punk-rock pappies RESURGENTized…the Stoney’s SummerStage REOPEN-ized…the Golden Gays girls re-BRUNCHIFIED…The Music Man re-YOUTHIFIED…and Asbury VIPs re-ENERGIZED for another spin on the Carousel…it’s WHAT’S UP in and around Asbury town for the week beginning Thursday, May 10, and we’ve got the highlights right HERE, with the FULL layout of music, movies, art, special events and MORE exclusively in the printed pages of THE COASTER weekly!

SIGHTS: RECYCLED at Art629 Gallery

The gallery at 629 Cookman Avenue in Asbury Park hosts a group show featuring new works constructed from  recycled/ repurposed materials. Artists include Lisa Bagwell, whose delectably “disposable,” playful parodies of fast food culture have been seen at area libraries and at the Monmouth Arts “Zero Waste Arts Fest” on Sandy Hook. Also represented: Joe Harvard, crafty curator of Cookman Ave’s own gARTen project (coming soon to an additional west side locale!). Call gallery at 732-859-1458 for exhibit dates and hours. Continue reading

IT’S WHAT’S UP FOR WEEK OF MAY 3 – 9

Big Pussy and li’l doggies at the Wonder Bar…the dogs also serve (and the bands let their flag-wavers flag fly), at a Headliner fundraiser function…magical butterflies and Cirque-Tacular skunks at Monmouth U…the hits of 1918 at Trinity Church, and a Class of ’77 CBGB legend at The Saint. It’s WHAT’S UP in and around Asbury town, for this first breath o’ May…so dig if you will these highlighted recommendations, and find the FULL rundown of music, movies, art, theater and MORE in the printed pages of this week’s COASTER intelligencer!

SOUNDS: The Gangster Squad at the Wonder Bar

It doesn’t get much more classically old-school than this sonic side-gig project from Vincent Pastore, known for all eternity as “Big Pussy” from the landmark HBO series The Sopranos. While Pastore has regularly rolled in to Asbury Park for such events as the annual Light of Day concerts and other big-hearted benefit affairs, his encore appearance TONIGHT, May 3 at The Wonder Bar strikes a bittersweet note, as it represents the farewell show for The Gangster Squad. The veteran thespian (whose screen exposures range from countless roles as mob guys, to memorable stints on Celebrity Fit Club, Celebrity Apprentice, and Celebrity Family Feud) has announced that he’ll be putting the focus on his acting career for the foreseeable future — but his buddies and bandmates aren’t about to let him go quietly, as Thursday’s set promises a Sunday-sauce banquet of vintage oldies, family-affair favorites, and quite possibly a few surprises, courtesy of musically-made guys like Tony “Bocci” Amato, Asbury’s own legendary Lance Larson, and who-knows-who from Pastore’s past. It’s $15 at the famous door (with a portion of proceeds dedicated to Debbie De Lisa’s Asbury Boardwalk Animal Rescue), but don’t be funereal about it — if we’ve all learned one thing about this music game, it’s that just when you think you’re done, they come pulling you back in!

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Asbury Park’s a Candy Store of M&M (Music & Movies) during APMFF

Danny De Vito’s at the center of an Asbury Park Music and Film Festival weekend that also brings to town such luminaries as (clockwise from top left) Sublime with Rome, Michael Front  Wyclef Jean, and John Densmore of The Doors.

Published in The Coaster, April 26 2018

It’s another multi-day convergence of sights/ sounds/ scenemaking in a town that’s never been shy about hosting them — from Lollapalooza, Skate & Surf and ATP, to this fall’s much-anticipated inaugural edition of See.Hear.Now. But if the weekend wingding known as the Asbury Park Music & Film Festival truly distinguishes itself from the pack, it’s in the variety of vaudevilles and venues involved; in the commitment to its concept and mission — and in the fact that it keeps itself equally grounded on the hometown turf, as well as the greater entertainment universe beyond.

Now in its fourth annual edition, the ever-evolving keynote to the pre-summer season commandeers the city’s concert halls, hotels, and Circuit landmark nightspots for an a-la-carte experience that runs between Friday, April 27 and Sunday, April 29. And you’re not imagining things if you recall that the event was originally branded the Music IN Film Festival — a name that ties in to the festival’s founding as one which “explores the role of music in film,” with a core mission “to benefit underserved youth in Asbury Park.”

That mission is accomplished through funding raised for the programs of the Asbury Park Music Foundation, the education-oriented nonprofit that relocated recently to the expanded Lakehouse complex on Lake Avenue. Proceeds from the Music & Film Fest benefit the APMF’s partnerships with such city-based entities as the Boys & Girls Club of Monmouth County and Hope Academy Charter School — a range of activities that introduce kids to a love of music through its playing, its recording, and its rich local legacy.

Established in 2015 by then-APMF executive director (and drummer for the alterna-pop band Dentist) Matt Hockenjos, these days the festival is guided by principals that include Sony Pictures Classics co-president Tom Bernard, Grammy nominated photographer-filmmaker Danny Clinch, and Asbury Park Press publisher Tom Donovan. The board of directors, an august group of music biz pros, filmmakers and philanthropists, boasts such names as the Grammy Museum’s Bob Santelli, Batman franchise producer Michael Uslan, and NJ Devils great Jim Dowd.

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IT’S WHAT’S UP FOR THE WEEK OF APRIL 26 – MAY 2

The big entertainment story in little old Asbury Park this week is the cultural candy store of M&M (Music and Movies) that is the Asbury Park Music and Film Festival…see our feature on the sprawling smorgasbord of entertainment, elsewhere on this space…but one could argue that pretty much ANY day’s a festival of sights and sounds here in Asbury town, and with that in mind we’ve got a quick schedule of APMFF highlights, as well as even MORE recommendations for the inquisitive ear. Check the printed pages of this week’s Coaster weekly for the area’s most comprehensive listings of tunes, flicks, comedy, art and more…and follow us through the virtual VIP entrance…

SOUNDS: (Dweezil) Zappa at the Pony

It’s not an official Music and Film Fest event— but when Dweezil Zappa returns Shoreside TONIGHT on his “Choice Cuts” Tour, he’ll be continuing the reverently crafted curatorship of his late dad Frank’s catalog that he’s honed through recent outings with the “Zappa Plays Zappa” band. Expect a set that draws from all phases of FZ’s patented lumpy gravy, from early Mothers (“Absolutely Free”) to concert staples (“I’m the Slime,” “Peaches en Regalia”) and late career sundries (“Drowning Witch”), all delivered with the technique that the (now middle-aged) prodigy has nurtured since his first guitar sported training wheels — and maybe some of the what-the-hell abandon that Frank Sinatra Jr. displayed when he surrendered to his calling as keeper of the key to his father’s artistic legacy. The Stone Pony’s the scene, with tix ($40) still available at the door, which creaks open at 7 pm. Then mark your Synclavier for Friday, May 11, when The Saint hosts Zappa band veterans Napoleon Murphy Brock and Denny Walley with Project/Object.

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