THE BIG GIG GOES UP, AS THE LAKEHOUSE BEAT BUS ROLLS ON

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), February 6, 2020

Photos by Jeff Crespi (Beat Bus photo by Tom Chesek)

 “We are all created creative,” says Ben Marino. “It’s just a matter of pulling that part of ourselves out.”

By that metric, the young veteran drummer might seem to have clued in to one of the most perfect situations in all of “creation” — a job as a music director at Asbury Park’s Lakehouse Music Academy.

It’s there inside the busy complex overlooking Wesley Lake that the Bloomfield, NJ resident helps oversee a slate of instructional programs designed to pull that passionate purveyor of music out from students that range in age from six months, to (currently) 75 years young.

While at first glance the LHMA mission might seem similar to numerous “School of Rock” programs from sea to shining sea, this is Asbury Park — and here in the music-mad little city that makes a gloriously big noise, it’s simply not enough to adhere to a strictly by-the-numbers classic-rock canon. And, while other instructors might prompt their students to essentially play dress-up in the boots of Janis, Jimi or Jim, the Lakehouse team takes a different tack, in which the student performer is encouraged to build something all their own, on the foundations of those innovators from pop history.

In the words of Lakehouse founder/owner (plus in-demand producer, engineer, songwriter and session musician) Jon Leidersdorff (pictured), the curriculum centers around “teaching kids to write and evolve as a creative person…and apply those skillsets you get from being creative.”

Beginning at 5 pm on Friday, February 7 — and continuing through two more music-packed mornings, afternoons and nights — the program and the people who power it take center-lanes stage at Asbury Lanes, as the reborn bowl-a-rama plays host for the second consecutive year to the student showcase event known as The Big Gig.

The culmination of the academy’s Fall 2019 semester, the weekend-long affair is one of three such showcases presented throughout the year; a modern-day vaudeville that brings more than 60 different bands — each representing a specific LHMA class in one of four age categories (Cadet, Get Started, Core, Adult Night Session) — to the stage that’s spotlighted a dazzling array of local, national, and international talent.

Picking up from previous Big Gig weekends at venues like House of Independents and the Wonder Bar, the triple-header event is completely free of charge to attend, and open to all members of the public. In other words, one need not be a family member of a participating student to appreciate the level of talent on display — in fact, it’s not hyperbole to suggest that music fans can expect to get an early look at acts that will soon be graduating to “grownup gigs” on many of the area’s most stellar stages.

“One of our Core program bands, a group called Mannequin Arm, opened for Southside Johnny at the Count Basie Theatre on New Year’s Eve,” says Marino of one the academy’s latest success stories. “They started all the way back in our Lakehouse Littles program, and graduated to other levels.”

Indeed, a glance at the roster of Moto Records, the in-house label operated by Lakehouse, displays several acts that should be familiar to regular followers of the Asbury-centric music scene — acts like Sonic Blume, Ella Ross, and one of the newest breakout performers, Lauren Gill (who will be headlining a Stone Pony matinee show on the afternoon of Sunday, February 16).

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COMIC KINGPINS ACCESS ASBURY’S STAGES, IN A PAIR OF ‘SUPER’ EVENTS

NOTE: The February 5 “Super Belly Laughs” benefit show described in this article has been canceled. No further information is available at this time.

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), January 30, 2020

“We don’t want to be thought of as Hell On Wheels,” says Scott Chesney. “We’re peaceful people!”

That may very well be, but as an Ambassador for the nonprofit Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, the longtime accessibility advocate and disability-issues activist is poised to make a figurative big noise on the boulevards and boardwalks of Asbury Park — as well as a literal big splash on its beaches .

To the Verona, NJ native, who has lived as a paraplegic since suffering a rare paralyzing stroke at the age of 15, it’s all about the assurance that “we’re doing everything in our power to facilitate positive change” — and the vehicle for that change is Access Asbury, a hyper-localized program that gathers its momentum from “all that’s going on in Asbury Park…the renaissance, the resurgence…and what I love most about the place, the open-mindedness.”

This coming Wednesday evening, February 5, that open-minded approach to the very serious work of the Reeve Foundation extends to the main ballroom of the venerable Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel, where “one of the most hilarious evenings ever” assembles a gaggle of Garden State guffaw generators in an event that could ONLY be called Super Belly Laughs for Access Asbury.

Kicking off with a 6 pm cocktail reception — and dedicated to helping local businesses make themselves more accessible to people with mobility issues — the event is one of two “Super” comedy shows going on within city limits in the next 7 days; an interlude that just happens to boast the single biggest attraction of the traditional TV year.

First up, on Super Bowl Sunday itself, the second annual edition of the Super Duper Bowl Comedy Show hits the House of Independents for a real-time take on the gridiron action that’s more colorful commentary than plain-speak play by play.

Headlined by latter-day legendary local Kurt Braunohler — the Neptune native turned nationally celebrated standup, festival fave, writer, and game show emcee — the program is the brainchild of Shore-based comic Taylor Allen and Steve Arena, hosts of the comedy-sports podcast Callin’ the Shots. It’s a format that riffs on the game (displayed on the big screen of the all-purpose auditorium) as it unfolds, with each quarter bringing out a different team of podcast pros (including Braunohler, himself host of the Nerdist offering The K Ohle), and a “halftime show” that features the band The Karl Malones performing covers of tunes by Super Bowl LIV entertainers Shakira and Jennifer Lopez.

“It’s completely random and totally entertaining,” observes Ming Chen, the store clerk (at Kevin Smith’s Jay & Silent Bob’s Secret Stash in Red Bank) turned co-star of the AMC TV series Comic Book Men, and (with fellow series vet Mike Zapcic) a podcasting proponent whose award-winning adventures in the field have seen the pair establish their own Eatontown-based “PodcaStudios” under the name A Shared Universe — an enterprise that has also staked out a “pop-up” location on the Asbury Park boardwalk for the winter.

“It’s just a great event for the casual football fan who just wants to have fun…maybe even good for people who are indifferent to football,” adds the pod-producer and personality who joins Mike on a Super Duper bill that further features Angelo Gingerelli (host of the weekly Monday comedy night at Long Branch’s Brighton Bar), Ariel Leaty, Ryan Barry, Gordon Baker Bone, Kate Nichols, Simmons & Moore, and Warm Things. Tickets ($12 in advance) can be obtained from houseofindependents.com, or at Cookman Ave neighbor Rebel Supply Co.     Continue reading

WAG GATHER TOGETHER, FOR A HECTIC HOLIDAY SCHEDULE

L-R: Brian Ostering, Alicia Van Sant, and Don Lee of THE WAG take it outside, in any kind of weather.

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), November 27, 2019

You’ve probably spotted them, on the stages and under the ceilings of some favorite watering holes within the local music ecosystem: The Stone Pony; The Saint; The Wonder Bar. But chances are much more likely that you’ve encountered The Wag out of doors, in the wild, within a natural habitat that extends from pretty much every area park, plaza, and Porchfest, to the docks, gazebos, and grassy knolls of our municipal marinas, public libraries, baseball diamonds, and even the odd zoo.

With the weather turns warmer, the Shore-based purveyors of radiantly sunny power pop can be counted upon to take it outside; dashing out the door like a pet that’s been cooped up all winter, and getting downright ubiquitous with gigs that include such longstanding commitments as the Monmouth County SPCA’s Dog Walk and Pet Fair at Brookdale Community College (where the band has entertained since the springtime event’s inception), and the many manifestations of the NJ Friends of Clearwater Festival (where Wag bassist-vocalist and songwriter Brian Ostering assumed the role of music director for the eco-friendly fest that’s drawn the participation of wand’ring troubadors named Springsteen and Seeger).

That said, the fall-back season of dwindling daylights is hardly one of hibernation for the Middletown Township combo, established more than 20 years ago by Ostering and his vocalist/ multi-instrumentalist wife, Alicia Van Sant. Newly decked out in their winter coats, the core couple and their bandmates (guitarist/vocalist Don Lee; drummer/ guitarist/ vocalist Joshua Van Ness) prepare to prosecute a cold weather schedule that begins in earnest this weekend — or, as Ostering puts it, “once Thanksgiving hits, it’s nothing but holidays for The Wag!”

Shoreside, the band returns to one of its favorite summer-season sites — Riley Park on Main Street in Bradley Beach — to warm the cockles at the borough’s annual tree lighting ceremony, going on this Sunday, December the First. The Wag (whose catalog of seven indie recordings includes an EP of self-penned Christmas tunes) is scheduled to perform a set of seasonal signatures and original spins during the family-friendly festivities that begin at 4 pm — and which further promise appearances by opera singer Olivia Youngman, the terpsichorean talents of Robin McGill School of Dance and The Dancer’s Workshop, plus Frozen’s Princess Elsa and of course The Big Red Guy himself, arriving in style via fire truck.

For the Wagsters, it’s just part of a very busy interlude that keynotes on the evening of Black Friday up in Red Bank, where the band continues a recently minted tradition of warming up the crowd for the big Town Lighting show by Tim McLoone and the freight-train force of positive vibes known as Holiday Express. The post-Thanksgiving/ pre-Christmas activity climaxes on Saturday, December 30, with a first-annual hometown extravaganza dedicated to the benefit of the MCSPCA.

Going up at 7 pm inside the Middletown Arts Center (the reborn and rebranded warehouse building located just steps from NJ Transit’s North Jersey Coast Line train platform), The Wag’s Christmas Spectacular is being pitched as a step beyond just a holiday concert event — something that’s “more of a variety show, with Santa and dancers (including Jamie Marie Hannigan, featured in the band’s award winning video for their song “She’s a Devil”), and comedy sketches starring the band members.”

“My wife thinks I’m crazy, spending my time on things like painting an 8-foot tall cat snowman,” laughs Osterling, who notes that all profits from the show will be donated to the Monmouth County SPCA’s shelter facility in Eatontown. “But we really want this to become an annual thing…and we’re determined to bring back the concept of the Christmas special!”

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A JOE GLOWS IN ASBURY (AND THE HARVARD BEATS GO ON)

The life and luminous legacy of the late JOE HARVARD — one-of-a-kid maker of music, savior of “trash,” and bringer of positive radiation — is celebrated with a new trash-art installation (and a special black-light opening reception) at Asbury Park’s art629 Gallery. (Joe photo by Kristen Driscoll)

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), October 31, 2019

 In Asbury Park — a place where a few too many landmark structures have met the wrecking ball — lovers of the local landscape can attest that the loss of a favorite haunt or hang can feel like losing a longtime friend. On the flipside of that thought are the people whose passing feels like the removal of a beloved building or public space; a loss that gets one pondering how that missing puzzle-piece could have continued to contribute to local life, or served to inspire those who will come to stake out their own experiences and visions for this city.

Joseph Incagnoli Jr. — better known as Joe Harvard — was just such a figure on the scene; one whose madcap energy (and seemingly undimmable enthusiasm in the midst of often monumental adversity) served to embody the very scrap and spirit of a certain little city by the sea. A genuine legend in his native East Boston (where he co-founded Fort Apache recording studios, and had a hand in the creation of some significant records by The Pixies, Radiohead, Hole, and many others), Joe would find his way to a raggedy-but-re-emerging Asbury Park around the turn of the new millennium — and, before his death from cancer in the early spring of this year, would tickle the fancies and touch the lives of people from all all corners of town.

A songwriter, guitarist, sound collagist, event promoter, painter, published author, community volunteer, cool dad, and actual ivy-league Harvard Man, Joe was furthermore a master raconteur and storyteller-slam champion — although the stories he told were anything but tall tales, as witness the outlandish but entirely true story of how this guy very nearly became a member of the ruling family of Pakistan. Regardless of how you might have made his acquaintance — as the gadget-laden “One Banned Man” busker on the boardwalk; as ringmaster of a series of “Long Weekend” open mics at venues around town; as a softball teammate; as a worker with local kids or homeless adults; as a rescuer of animals; as a member of combos with names like Dub Proof, the Cockwalkers, or the Velvet Underground tribute “Velveeta;” as an advocate for diversity, inclusivity and acceptance in this weirdly welcoming city — Joe was somehow many Joes, seemingly existing everywhere at once.

That said, Joe Harvard left his biggest impression with the widest cross-section of humanity, via the signature endeavor known as The gARTen — “the world’s first all-trash, open-air, walk-through, black-light, glow-in-the-dark art gallery,” and a project via which Joe (ably abetted by partner Mallory Massara and other gleefully hoodwinked volunteers) collected, curated, and created a vividly colorful something from “invisible” plastic nothing; transforming a drably vacant patch of downtown business-district real estate (between Parlor Gallery and Cookman Creamery) into a sur-real estate that served as zany Zen contemplation garden by day, and luminous destination attraction by night.

Puttering like a farmer in his fertile fields of reclaimed household detritus and rebirthed containers of laundry detergent, Joe played host to a passing parade that featured curious passersby, musical performers, and his longtime friend, underground rock/ folk icon Jonathan Richman. And it was a philosophical Joe who would be charged with the task of breaking down the gARTen (and a short lived sister location on the west side of town) at the end of 2018, shortly before receiving a Stage 4 cancer diagnosis. For the irrepressible creative spirit, those last months were ultimately another chapter in a decades-long campaign to seize life and passion and compassion and curiosity and good cheer, from the same devils that tend to trip up so many of us less alive souls.

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DIG IN TO THOSE IN-DIG-ENOUS SOUNDS THAT ABOUND ALL AROUND

L-R; Karl Denson (August 23), Billy Hector (August 24), JT Bowen (August 24) and The Sensational Soul Cruisers (August 25 PLUS August 27) are among the foundational sounds to be found in days to come, here within NJ’s capital community for live music.

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), August 22, 2019

 It’s known as “indigenous music” in certain scholarly and appreciative circles — and, while it doesn’t connote the sort of sounds that might have been in the air before the first settles arrived on this shore, it’s all about the Jazz and the Blues (and, by extension, pretty much everything else) that form the backstory of America. Here in NJ’s capital community for live music, the place where the sand meets the surf has also historically been a place where diverse groups of people meet up; in ways that have spanned the spectrum from tinderbox-tense to terrifically tuneful.

With arguably more original music organizations working this patch of sandy soil than ever before, more places to put ‘em in — and a heightened sense of the Shore scene’s past, present, and future — it’s no accident that numerous nonprofit entities have stepped up with a shared mission to both preserve the best of the past, and to promote the now and next generation of players. Orgs like the Asbury Park Music Foundation, the nascent African American Music Project, the Red Bank-based Jazz Arts Project, and the Lakehouse Academy continue to make their presence felt in a myriad of ways — but for sheer continuity and consistency of cause, they’ve all got to tip their hat to the 30-plus years’ mission of the Jersey Shore Jazz and Blues Foundation.

“It’s a passion with me…I do it to support live music,” says Tom Baldino, a retired banker who first joined the all-volunteer JSJBF “around the turn of the century…that sounds like a long time ago!” — and who has served as the organization’s president for the past seven years.

“I go back a few years myself…the first show I ever saw was Jackie Wilson at Convention Hall, in 1959,” adds the graduate of Asbury Park High School (and veteran of numerous teen-years jobs on the boardwalk). “I was supposed to be at the movies that night…but I ditched the Mayfair to attend that show, and I’m glad I did.”

While the lifelong music fan remembers the Asbury of the late 1950s and 1960s as “a magical time to be there…I even got to sneak into the old Orchid Lounge once or twice,” his focus remains very much rooted in the here and now — with a particular emphasis on the annual Jersey Shore Jazz and Blues Festival, the 2019 edition of which goes up this Saturday, August 24 on the Great Lawn area of the Long Branch boardwalk.

Running between 1 and 9 pm — and followed immediately thereafter by a display of fireworks — the one-day event assembles an eclectic collection of pure jazz, R&B, electric blues and bluesrock artists from across the region for the ninth year on the LB waterfront (following a single year’s stand at Monmouth Park). It’s a more concentrated successor to the weekend-long festivals that were once hosted at Red Bank’s Marine Park — large-scale affairs that, while regularly boasting some pretty awesome national/ international names, often had to take a seat as Mother Nature blew the meanest solos (folks still whisper of that fateful and fogged-out night when an allstar band of festival refugees, including Levon Helm, David Johansen, and Howlin’ Wolf guitarist Hubert Sumlin, commandeered the now-defunct Olde Union House restaurant for an impromptu jam that made Shore music history before getting shut down by the fire department after just two songs).

By contrast, “we’ve been really lucky with the weather since we moved to Long Branch…and the people of the city have been really supportive of us, beginning with Barry Stein, as well as the police, Public Works…and I’ve got to give a shout out to Mayor Pallone and his staff, who’ve been so accommodating, and who have allowed us to continue our mission.”

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THE TIDE IS HI, AND THE TIME FOR TIKI SOUNDS IS NIGH

L-R; The 5-6-7-8s bring the Woo-Hoo sings…Eddie Angel spreads his wings (in The Neanderthals, plus his Guitar Project),…and Deke Dickerson puts some torchy twang on the strings, as the re-imagined HI-TIDE SUMMER HOLIDAY brings the coast’s biggest celebration of surf/ tiki/ retro culture back to Asbury Park on August 16-18.

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), August 1, 2019

When the stars aligned, and all the elements were in place — as they were on a memorable afternoon and evening in August of 2017 — few summertime events made better use of their seaside setting than the Asbury Park Surf Music Festival. Parked on the Anchor’s Bend bar’s beachtop bandstand just off the good ship Convention Hall; the Atlantic waves at its back and the panoramic scene alight with passing ships, planes, drones and various heavenly bodies, the East Coast’s largest ever such gathering was a cool communal cocktail with a vibe that was both ambitiously international in scope, and as intimate as the most relaxing lantern-lit patio party.

Even when the elements didn’t completely get their act together — as in 2018, when excessive heat and threatened storms forced an indoor relocation to the ConHall floor — the AP Surf Music Fest still stood tall as the region’s only event of its kind; a celebration of a burgeoning worldwide instrumental music scene (and of the retro-rocketing “tiki” culture that tags along for the ride) that proved the Jersey Shore could compete with the likes of this week’s Tiki Oasis confab in San Diego. And, perhaps most impressive of all, the whole thing was the briny brainchild of two young visionaries named Magdalena O’Connell and Vincent Minervino.

For its sixth annual edition, the Festival returns under a new name — The Hi-Tide Summer Holiday, a nod both to the Hi-Tide Recordings mini-empire founded by the Freehold-based couple, as well as to the thematic expansions and logistical changes in store for the slate of happenings that kicks off with an afternoon Meet-Up at the Bend next Friday, August 16.

Speaking between turntable spins at The Wonder Bar — where he, Magdalena and colleague “DJ Devil Bat” preside over a deck-top Tiki Tuesdays series in August — “DJ Hi-Tide” allows that “we picked up a few learns from last year…one of them is the fact that you plan all year round, but you never control the weather!”

“Another factor is that the boardwalk and the beach have gotten really popular in recent years,” Minervino continues, adding that “it’s understandable why they wouldn’t want to block out an area of the beach for a ticketed event.”
With the additional caveat that the old festival format “was just a very long day…for us, the bands, and the audience,” Vinnie Minnie ‘n Mags re-imagined the old family recipe as a weekend-long affair “broken up into smaller events, spread out over a couple of evenings,” and centered largely around the various concert stages, rooftop spaces, lobby-level lounges and poolside patios of the Asbury Hotel and Asbury Lanes complex. Also on tap are late-nite record hops, scholarly seminars, and mixology demos at such “satellite” locales as Anchor’s Bend and downtown’s Little Buddy Hideaway — and while surf in all its reverb-drenched glory remains the active ingredient in the potent cocktail (thanks to the participation of 30-year veterans The Insect Surfers, SoCal’s Jason Lee & the R.I.P.tides, and Impala out of Memphis), the menu also boasts the retro-rootsrock ravings of Missouri’s Deke Dickerson and Canada’s Bloodshot Bill; the lilting luau tones of Philly’s Slowey & the Boats; the rockabilly exotica of California’s Hula Girls, and not one but two great all-female bands from Japan: The 5-6-7-8’s (famed for their appearance in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol. 1) and Lulufin the Woo Hoo.

“By expanding beyond just strictly surf, we’re tapping into a wider fanbase,” explains Magdalena, who devotes herself full-time these days to the management of the couple’s fast-growing record label (in addition to their previously established Big Slick Pomade line of hair products). “It’s gonna be quirky and fun.”

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THE ASBURY PARK THEATER CO. SALLY’S FORTH

TV legend Sally Struthers is the special guest host — and Broadway actress-singer Carter Calvert headlines the eve’s featured musical talent — whn the new Asbury Park Theater Company makes its bow with a Friday fundraiser at The Asbury Hotel.

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), August 1, 2019

As the iconic hard-hatted Construction Worker character of The Village People — a role that he’s performed countless times in the latter-day edition of that disco-era institution — William Whitefield can be said to truly know what it takes to put on a show; both the choreographed spectacle that plays out to the crowd, as well as the brick ‘n mortar, hammers ‘n nails, elbow-grease reality required to present and sustain the whole grand illuson.

These days, the longtime resident of Asbury Park is trying on another hat — that of producing artistic director for the Asbury Park Theater Company, an ambitious new entity that makes its public bow this Friday, August 2, with a special fundraiser show at The Asbury Hotel.

As the veteran actor, singer, producer, director, composer and arts administrator tells it, “people come here for the culture, but an established theater has been a missing piece…we aim to create a professional theater company for this community, for Asbury Park.”

To make that happen, the Construction Worker teamed up with the Cop — Robert Angelini, the retired law enforcement professional turned multi-tasking player on the area’s stage scene. Angelini served as a founding board member (and artistic director in its later seasons) of ReVision Theater, the professional company that once upon a time staged some memorable entertainments at various bars, bingo halls, basilica, and boardwalk landmarks in the earlier years of the century.

“Both Bob and I are actors and directors, and we have an understanding of what it takes to put on a show,” says Whitefiled, whose tenure as executive director of the Algonquin Arts Theatre saw him play an instrumental role in the establishment of that Manasquan mainstay’s popular Broadway Series of self-produced musicals. “We really wanted to do something here in Asbury Park, and we believe that we’ve got a grip on what’s good for the city.”

With a handful of other professional stage concerns operating in nearby locales like Red Bank, Long Branch and Ocean Township — and with another fledgling troupe of pros (Boardwalk Theater) having announced plans to bring an original musical on the life of Rosa Parks to Asbury Park at some point in 2020 — the APTCo principals look to stake out a distinct streetcorner in which, as Whitefield says, “the idea is to do cutting-edge stuff…we’re not looking to do family theater.”

“We want to keep it edgy, keep it rock and roll, along the lines of what ReVision used to do,” says Angelini. “In addition, we’d want to do small cast plays; the sort of current things that other companies don’t touch.”

Having been formally founded mere weeks ago — and having just been accredited as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization — APTCo is hardly positioned to announce an inaugural slate of productions. But, ready or not, the company prepares to make its first big splash with Friday night’s event, a benefit concert (presented under the semi-Sondheimy title A Little Musical Night) that’s headlined by some familiar favorites from Algonquin seasons past.

Of course, most immediately familiar is the event’s host, Sally Struthers. The Emmy and Golden Globe winning actress who gained fame as Gloria on the groundbreaking sitcom All in the Family (and the character’s self-titled spinoff) previously worked with Whitefield and his Manasquan team on hit stagings of Always, Patsy Cline — and the event inside The Asbury’s ballroom space reunites her with her co-star in that two-woman show, Broadway veteran and frequent Algonquin guest artist Carter Calvert.

“When we found out that Sally was going to be in the area, and that we had the opportunity to snag her for the evening, we said that’s it; we’re going to jumpstart this thing,” Whitefield explains. “We’re getting ready to jump into the deep end.”     Continue reading

EASDALE AND CO. RETURN WITH LESS DRAMA, MORE ‘RAMA

John Easdale (second from left) leads the re-energized lineup of Jersey-bred modern rock favorites DRAMARAMA back to the Shore circuit on August 1st. (photo by Amy Martin Friedman)

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), July 25, 2019

As John Easdale recalled it a few years back, “they showed up at my front door one day, when I’m not wearing a shirt…and they worked to make it happen.”

“They” were the folks from a new VH-1 TV series entitled Bands Reunited — and the thing they were looking to make happen, even as Easdale stood there looking more like something out of an episode of COPS — was the reunion, by popular demand, of a little project known as Dramarama.

“It was remarkably flattering that they would even think of us that way,” said the singer, songwriter and forever frontman of the bi-coastally based band that made its reputation in the “modern rock” glory days of The Green Parrot rock club and WHTG-FM — and which returns Shoreside once more next Thursday, August the First.

”It felt like I won some sort of prize; the Publishers Clearing House.”

As it turned out, the cable series spotlight was exactly the thing that the members of Dramarama needed to heal from an early 1990s break-up; to cement their standing as a favorite of fanbases on both the Atlantic and Pacific (plus, for whatever reason, a fairly fervent following in France) — and to enter the new century as an institution that materializes regularly, like some kind of alterna-rock Avengers, whenever and wherever the situation demands the band’s signature mix of supercharged powerpop and sardonic social commentary.

Born and bred on the mean streets of Wayne, NJ; relocated to Southern California (when legendary KROQ deejay Rodney Bingenheimer’s stamp of approval granted them godhood within the greater LA region), the five-man Dramarama returns to Asbury Park’s Wonder Bar with three charter members intact (Easdale, plus guitarists Mark Englert and Peter Wood), an all-new album in the pipeline (their first since 2005’s Everybody Dies) — and a hard-earned cred that’s seen them record and perform with former Rolling Stone Mick Taylor, Blondie drummer Clem Burke, and iconic session man Jim Keltner (they also count Ellen De Generes among their biggest fans, even appearing on her show as her “birthday present” several years back).

With doors opening at 7:30 pm, it’s a Very Special Episode in the club’s summertime-Thursday series of After Party events, keyed to the open-air Jams on the Sand concerts on the beachtop bandstand outside the nearby Anchor’s Bend bar. It’s also the first local appearance of 2019 for the perennial Shore faves, who were forced to cancel a scheduled January appearance when Easdale was diagnosed with melanoma just days before the band’s customary contribution to the annual Light of Day festival.

Speaking from his home in Whittier, CA (historic spawning/stomping grounds of Richard M. Nixon), the singer assures his public that the health scare “was just that, a scare…they took a chunk out of my arm, and now everything is fine.”

“In the months since then, I’ve realized that I didn’t need to react as much as I did,” Easdale insists. “I went and looked at WebMD, and read about how it’s the deadliest form of skin cancer, and how it killed Danny Federici…I was just isolating myself within my fear at the time.”

“ I feel bad about missing that show,” says the artist whose extracurricular solo projects have also taken him to such area stages as the Stone Pony, the old Donovan’s Reef in Sea Bright, and Joey Harrison’s Surf Club in Ortley Beach. “We’ve been doing Light of Day each year, along with another show in late summer, and we’re definitely gonna try and make it back next time out.” Continue reading