IT’S “OUTDOOR VOICES, PLEASE,” AS SUMMER CONCERTS KEYNOTE

Jo Bonanno and the Godsons of Soul summon the “Spirit of Asbury Park” in a free July 14 concert on the West End Beach.

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), June 6, 2019

Imagine if you will a summer concert event with your choice of first-come/first-served seating. No shuttle queues, no turnstile patdowns, no confiscated cameras, water bottles, umbrellas or Pringles packs. And best of all, no platinum-club pricing levels or service charges. In the words of Zappa, it’s all Absolutely FREE, so you low-budget Lotharios and daddy-track Don Juans can do your cheap-date thing.

Yes, it’s Free Outdoor Concert Season again — and from Avon on up to Sea Bright, the boardwalks, beaches, and bandshells are getting set to welcome a beach-blanket brigade of neighbors in search of some savvy sounds, ‘neath the setting sun and stars. It’s a musical menu that runs the gamut from operatic arias, big band jazz, and streetcorner soul, to show-band grooves, acoustic Americana, Latin jams, garage rock, hip hop, and all stylistic territory between. And did we mention FREE?

While the late-spring breezes have already been tested by various festival performers (as well as by hardy souls like Stringbean and the Boardwalk Social Club, in session Monday evenings outside Langosta Lounge, and Wednesdays at Anchor’s Bend), the plein-air panorama starts in earnest right here and now — so grab your freshly webbed lawn chairs and broken-in blankets, and enjoy the complimentary sunsets and the prime people-watching opportunities.

ASBURY PARK

With the Atlantic waves and the whole wide-screen sky as the backdrop, few live music settings are as made-to-order as that of Jams on the Sand, the annual series that stakes out the beach-top bandstand, bar and dance floor of Anchor’s Bend off the north side of the good ship Convention Hall. While attendees are encouraged to come on down and enjoy the specialties of the Bend’s kitchen and cocktail crew, all are welcome to take in the show from the boardwalk “mezzanine,”starting on June 20 with midwest funk/rock unit The Main Squeeze — and continuing Thursdays at 5 pm through August 29 with a diverse dance card of Asbury returnees (guitar prodigy Brandon “Taz” Niederauer, July 18; JAZZ is PHSH, August 15) and buzzworthy newcomers (New England jam juggernaut Percy Hill, June 27; “gospel ninja soul” exponent Zach Deputy, July 4). Each date also boasts an After Party set spotlighting some of the Shore’s finest, at the nearby Wonder Bar.

June 20: The Main Squeeze/ Ron Artis II & the Truth. June 27: Percy Hill/ After Funk. July 4: Zach Deputy/ Shady Street Show Band. July 11: Southern Avenue/ Mike Montrey Band. July 18: Brandon “Taz” Niederauer/ Dogs in a Pile. July 25: Chris Jacobs/ Evanoff. Aug. 8: E.N. Young/ The Pembertones. Aug. 15: JAZZ is PHSH/ Funky Dawgz Brass Band. Aug. 22: Mystic Bowie’s Talking Dread/ Secret Sound. Aug. 29: Bella’s Bartok/ Kat Wright.

Just announced — and returning on Wednesday evenings to the “First Avenue Green” across Ocean Avenue from the Stone Pony SummerStage — the Asbury Park LIVE series showcases double (and even triple) bills of some of the area’s best makers of original music. The 6:30 pm events programmed by the nonprofit Asbury Park Music Foundation (and sponsored by MOGO Tacos) float their first note on June 26 with an indie-pop serenade starring Asbury’s own Sonic Blume and frequent AP guests The Vaughns — and the series continues each Wednesday (save 7/17) through August 28, with the spotlight on such local luminaries as Black Suburbia Music Group, Dark City Strings, Pamela Flores, Rachel Ana Dobken, The Vansaders, and Waiting For Mongo, to name but a very few (proceeds benefit the Asbury Park Music Foundation, on whose Facebook page you’ll find complete schedule details).

June 26: Sonic Blume/ The Vaughns. July 3: Dark City Strings/ Jackson Pines. July 10: Waiting On Mongo/ Whodat!. July 24: Black Suburbia Music Group/ Blaise/ Pamela Flores. July 31: Latewaves/ Well Wisher/ Extensions. Aug. 7: The Vansaders/ Tide Bends/ Sunshine Spazz. Aug. 14: Rachel Ana Dobken/ Mercury Brothers. Aug. 21: Vendetta Rose/ Brian Wood & Co. Aug. 28: Connor Bracken & the Mother Leeds Band/ Shoobies.

The APMF is also the driving force behind the returning MUSIC MONDAYS at Springwood Park, the series that brought live music back to the West Side with a mix of legandary veterans (Ray Goodman & Brown; Gary U.S. Bonds) and rising local luminaries. While the 2019 schedule hasn’t been announced as we go to press, mark those calendars for the inaugural event on June 24; with shows continuing each Monday at 7 pm (and a finale starring the Sensational Soul Cruisers on Tuesday, August 27).

If there’s one summer diversion that can trace a direct line back to the old-timey days when the Shore’s first music superstar Arthur Pryor and his famous march orchestra held court on the boardwalk, it’s the Asbury Park Concert Band, the multi-generational institution that returns to the boards (outside Robinson Ale House, at Fifth Avenue) on the evening of Wednesday, July 3 — and then each Thursday thereafter through August 29. Now under the baton of longtime director John Luckenbill, the band plays a schedule of special themed 7 pm concerts, to be announced imminently by the APMF (asburyparkmusiclives.org).

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‘TUCCI’S BAND OF LOVE, IN THE NAME OF PRIDE

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.”

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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 njrep@njrep.org.

IT’S MUCHO MONGO, WITH NO WAITING, THIS MEMORIAL DAY

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), May 23, 2019. Photos by Bob Schultz, Heather Morgan

As music fans, we kind of like to think of our favorite groups as band-mates in the most genuine sense; a bunch of longtime friends, or literal family members, who share a bond (and a crowded van) that no outsider could ever truly comprehend — even when that high-mileage van is traded in for a luxury tour bus, or custom-painted Gulfstream.

If you grew up watching The Beatles in Help! or The Monkees on their old TV show, you might have gotten the mistaken impression that, when the show is over, the band members come home to their own shared quarters; a zany clubhouse situation where pretty much any wacky thing can happen. But no one who’s at all serious about the music business actually lives like that — do they?

Meet Waiting For Mongo, a combo that you’ve likely encountered if you spent any time around the bars, bistros, boardwalks, big-room auditoriums and beachtop stages of our Shore. As purveyors of precision-drillteam funk and jamband jazzoid excursions, the seven-piece lineup boasts not only some lifetime friendships, but two sets of siblings. Citing Asbury Park as a home base — and staking out pockets of fandom from Louisiana to Vermont, via that trusty van (well okay, two vans; “one for the people and one for the gear”), the band has put their own stamp on the scene within a relatively brief bunch of years, although as T,J. McCarthy observes, “it feels like we started this a long time ago…we have a lot of emotion invested in this band…and for the past 2 or 3 years, we’ve all lived in the same house in Farmingdale.”

Speaking on behalf of the his fellow musicians — while being quick to point out that “there’s no main leader here…everybody has their own significant role to play in the band” — the bassist and vocalist explains that “if anything, the house has made us closer…we’re more aware of the personal chemistry, and how it affects the music…we always play our best when we get along great.”

“Then there are times when we were angry with each other, when the dishes weren’t done…typical roommate stuff…and the music came out sour,” he continues. “You don’t want that sort of thing to ruin the music and the fun…but at the end of the day, we are all about each other’s best interest.”

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REG IS MAKIN A GLORIOUS NOISE, AT 4-DAY MUSIC FEST

REG SATANA of Defiance Engine and 19DRT (photo by Judi Hull)

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), May 16, 2019

Although there doesn’t seem to be such a thing as a traditionally recommended gift for a 31st anniversary — most sources have it as somewhere between pearl and coral — that’s hardly any excuse for music fans to skip the momentous milestone occasion unfolding on the famous stage of a landmark rock bar this weekend. In fact, the official designation of the first annual Makin Waves Fest can be regarded as a Year One celebration that merits a gift of paper — namely, the legal-tender currency that allows access to one of the must-see events of the season.

The occasion is the latest birthday for the beloved baby of entertainment journalist Bob Makin — which is to say Makin Waves, the long-running, award-winning music column that appears in The Aquarian Weekly, New Jersey Stage and other Jersey-based outlets. The veteran news reporter has staked out a ringside seat for every significant development on the Shore scene throughout the past few decades; interviewing scores of music makers, promoting live shows, and in the process helping to raise many thousands of dollars for children’s charities, arts education, community food banks, and other non-profit entities.

This time out, the designated beneficiary is one that’s unabashedly close to home, as the inaugural Makin Waves Fest is a “Save the Wave” endeavor designed to help the multi-media venture “sustain itself due to a lack of revenue and funds.” To that end, Makin has partnered with a panorama of co-sponsors (including Wave Resort, BlowUpRadio.com, and Tito’s Vodka, facilitator of featured drink specials for the four-day fest) — in addition to primary host venue The Brighton Bar, the Long Branch-based outpost of the innovative and fiercely indie that carried the torch of original music, when other stages had gone dark, or surrendered to the demands of the cover-band dinosaurs and the disco ball. Under the stewardship of co-owner, public schoolteacher and seasoned punk rocker Greg Macolino, the West End wonder at 121 Brighton Avenue soldiers on into our strange new century; staying connected to its own wall-of-fame legacy, even as it nurtures another new generation of bands, off-beat comics, and other vanguard vaudevillians.

Look closer at Makin’s list of event partners and you’ll notice the banner of “Reg Satana Presents,” a name that denotes the (more or less) official entry into the band booking biz for a figure who is herself no stranger to the Brighton stage: thunderdome drummer, record label exec, pop culture authority and supermom Reg “Satana” Hogan.

“Bob suggested that I help him line up bands for the Saturday show,” explains the scene stalwart whose extensive resume includes stints with fondly recalled bands like Dimebag, Solarized, Freak Theater, and the nationally renowned Daisycutter. “I was happy to do it, since I’ve done some occasional shows at The Saint, and I’m glad to be playing it…twice!”

Reg (whose stage name pays tribute to the late great Tura Satana, one-of-a-kind star of the 1960s cinema classic Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!) appears as a member of two distinct power trios, during the May 18 multi-band blitz that kicks off at 3 pm. The surgically jagged noise-rock incursions of Defiance Engine find the drummer teaming with her husband, bassist-vocalist Jim “Rex” Hogan (with whom she co-founded the now-legendary 1980s/90s label Heat Blast Records), as well as with guitarist Rich Walter. It should be noted that, in addition, to their string-throttling skills, the two guys in the band are ace administrators of a pair of must-view Facebook groups for likeminded fans: Rich as curator of NJ Hardcore Reunion, and Rex as all-seeing watcher over the ever-growing online community known as Noise Rock Now!

The drumminatrix returns to the driver’s seat with the more recently minted 19DRT (a semiprivate-joke reference to a person or thing being so old, that they date back to the year “19-dirt”), in which “I play ‘Sammy’ to my fellow Rat Packers, Frank (Burdynski) and Dean (Monjoy).” Flexing her promoter muscles — and tying in to the day’s theme of bands who boast a connection to the fabled history of the Brighton — Reg also brings aboard the five-piece Full On Empty (featuring Keith Ackerman of The Atomic Bitchwax) and Solace (featuring Tommy Southard and Rob Hultz of the high-profile national recording act Godspeed).

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A SURFING REPORT, FROM AN ARTIST WITH SHOWBIZ IN HER DNA

Playwright and performer Jodi Long brings the showbiz pedigree and the backstory to the stage of New Jersey Repertory Company, with the East Coast premiere of SURFING MY DNA. Photo courtesy of NJ Repertory Co.

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), May 2, 2019

STAGES: SURFING MY DNA at New Jersey Repertory Company

While she wasn’t literally birthed in a dressing room, Jodi Long could qualify as what might have once been called a “trunk baby” — a child born into a hard-touring showbiz family, and seemingly predestined to carry on the family business.

“My parents were entertainers, dating back to before I was born, so I grew up backstage,” explains the stage/screen actress who’s perhaps most familiar as Margaret Cho’s mom on the sitcom All American Girl, and as  Steve Byrne‘s mom on the series Sullivan and Son. “They would pull out a drawer in whatever place they were staying, and that was my crib.”

Prior to making her Broadway debut at age 7 in a show directed by Sidney Lumet, young Jodi hit the road with her folks — Australian-born singer-comedian “Larry” Long and Japanese-American dancer Kimiye “Trudy” Long — as the veteran show people plied their trade at nightclubs ranging from their NYC home base, to the “Chop Suey Circuit” of the Bay Area, with the high point of their decades-spanning career being an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.

The story of the act known as “Larry and Trudy Leung” — and the experiences of the daughter who had a ringside seat to the showbiz life in her pre-school years — forms the basis of Surfing My DNA, the autobiographical theatrical piece that makes its East Coast debut this weekend at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch.  Accompanied onstage by musician Yukio Tsuji, Long returns to the downtown Broadway playhouse (where she appeared last year as part of a stellar ensemble of seasoned character actors in Fern Hill) with a retooled version of a work that she first performed in Los Angeles in 2006.

Using music, humor, and her own considerable toolbox of talents, the playwright-performer tells the tale of a marriage and a vanished lifestyle; bolstered by highs like an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show— and haunted by such experiences as Trudy’s time in a Japanese-American internment camp. Continue reading

COME FOR THE MUSIC, STAY FOR THE FILM, AT APMFF 2019

An era-defining inductee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; a next-generation scion of one of American music’s most awesome bloodlines; a foundational figure from the big musical house that Bruce built — and a producer-director whose most recent project earned the Academy Award for Best Picture. All in a weekend’s work — and maybe all at the next table over, here in an ever-accelerating Asbury Park entertainment scene. But with the arrival of the Asbury Park Music and Film Festival, the celebrity-spotting carries a positively charged connection to the city’s rich cultural legacy, and to the young performers who will carry that torch into the future, and the wide world beyond the boardwalk.

Beginning with a special screening and jam session tonight, April 25 at the Paramount Theatre, and soldiering on through the weekend days and nights ahead, it’s the fifth annual edition of the sprawling event that originated under the auspices of the hard-working Asbury Park Music Foundation — and which serves as a high-profile fundraising vehicle for the nonprofit APMF and its ongoing endeavors in the fields of musical education, historical preservation, and live-concert presentation.

Coordinated in its earliest days by Matt Hockenjos (profiled in this space recently, in his role as drummer for alterna-surfpop band Dentist), the festival is guided these days by principals that include Sony Pictures Classics co-president Tom Bernard, Grammy nominated photographer-filmmaker (plus Sea.Hear.Now Festival founder) 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 radio personality Shelli Sonstein. What hasn’t changed is the core theme of “exploring music in film” — a mission that’s brought the likes of Bruce, Little Steven, Wyclef Jean, Doors drummer John Densmore, and Asbury’s own movie-biz mover ‘n shaker Danny De Vito to the festival’s stages — as well as the call “to benefit underserved youth in Asbury Park,” through organizations like the Boys and Girls Clubs, the “traveling “Beat Bus” program, and the after-school program of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel church.

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BOB EGAN RULES THE NIGHT, WITH THE KEYS TO THE PIANO BAR KINGDOM

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), April 18, 2019. Photos by Tom Joyce, Stephen Brown, G. Bodner, Bob Crist

It’s a format that’s admittedly always seemed a little ripe for ribbing — think of those classic SNL skits with Bill Murray fake-booking his way through his skewed attempts at staying hip and contemporary — but in the ivory-tickling hands of an expert entertainer, nothing really comes close to piano-bar music and its capacity for transforming any space into an intimate gathering of friends. As it just so happens, our neck of the Monmouth County shore is among the most frequently visited ports of call for a master who’s dedicated himself to “breaking the stigma that a piano bar open-mic is nothing but old songs.”

In a textbook case of understatement, Bob Eganp rofesses that  “I know and love thousands of songs…not just the Sinatra era songbook and the Broadway showtunes, but also Adele, Sarah Barreiles, Bruno Mars, Jason Mrraz, Lady Gaga.”

“These artists are really good songwriters…their work tells me that writing is back; melody is back…and even the older crowd loves listening to talented young people singing these songs.”

Speaking from Moonstruck, the lakeside Asbury Park landmark where he maintains a long-running select-Sundays gig, the piano man declares that “my passion is working with singers…all kinds of singers…and my aim is to provide a safe space for them to feel confident.”

That safe space takes the form of Bob Egan’s Open Mic, the traveling showcase in which the entertainer invites people from all around the region — people who “want to sing; who want to work hard and get better,” to “get up there and do what they do.”

Just don’t think of it as karaoke, oke? With Egan as your gracious party host, master of ceremonies, and musical director — and with the proceedings energized more by solid enthusiasm and skills than by liquid courage — the Open Mic nights represent a setting in which “the singers are also part of the audience…it’s a place for them to workshop their material, and to really listento what the other singers are doing; to be the best that they can.”

The nights ahead offer two opportunities to catch Bob Egan and company doing what they do so well, at two of the New Hope, PA-based musician’s regular Shore outposts. Tonight, April 18 finds Egan holding down his weekly Thursday booking at The Rum Runner, the rebuilt/ relaunched flagship of the Tim McLoone fleet in Sea Bright — while the evening of April 22 finds the keyboard man inside The Asbury Hotel’s lobby Soundbooth Lounge, where he holds court on the second, fourth, and occasional fifth Mondays of each month. In between, on April 20, Bob Egan takes part in a special Saturday night event at Tim McLoone’s Supper Club on the Asbury boards — a showcase for a vocalist that Egan proudly proclaims as “one of my singers.”

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THE CATS ARE IN THE HOUSE, DURING 2ND ANNUAL CATSBURY CON

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), April 11, 2019

As manager for Asbury Park’s resident punk rock exponents The Bouncing Souls — and at the area turntables under the alias DJ Values — Dean “DJ” Bornschein“spent most of my twenties not really growing up,” by his own admission; confessing in this space last year that  “I became an adult in my thirties, when I got a cat.”

More than just a passing cat fancy, that sincere interest in the domesticated feline species led Bornschein to establish a home-based, not-for-profit cat rescue service that specialized in matching hard-to-place cats with new forever-homes through social media — and, in 2017, to found New Jersey’s first full-fledged “cat cafe” under the Catsbury Park name.

Located at 708 Cookman Avenue in Asbury Park, and open every day but Tuesday, the storefront adoption center allows visitors to meet and mingle by appointment with an ever-changing collection of resident cats (all oat least one year old, vaccinated, spayed/neutered, and ID-chipped); obtained from the Monmouth County SPCA and other reputable rescue sources. The cafe part allows patrons to enjoy local-vendor desserts, teas or coffees in a sit-down setting, with in-house gift shop “meow-merch” items also going toward the funding of the adoption center.

All very well and fine, and welcome even in the passionately pooch-friendly seaside city that brought you the Doggy Yappy Hour. But with platforms like YouTube, Facebook and Instagram having made international celebrities of various photogenic felines, those once-humble housecats began to transition from hairball-hocking homebodies, to household names in the big world beyond. Hence, the need for Bornschein and his Catsbury crew to organize the Catsbury Park Convention, the inaugural edition of which commandeered Convention Halland the Paramount Theater— an area where not so very long ago a community of feral felines made its home beneath the former Howard Johnson’s — in early April of 2018.

Going up this Saturday and Sunday, April 13 and 14 — and augmented by various ancillary events and afterparties at locations around AP — the second annual Convention promises to bring thousands of cat lovers to town, in addition to nationally noted animal advocates, felinephile entertainers, and of course a furry firmament of stellar celebri-cats.

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