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

CFL’S SUMMER STAND IS A CABARET LICENSE TO THRILL

Felix Truex does it up GRAND, in a Wednesday night STAND that heralds the continuation of a beautiful relationship between Tim McLoone’s Supper Club, and the nonprofit Cabaret For Life. (photos courtesy Tara Feeley)

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

While he acknowledges the fact that “Asbury Park has been coming back in the most amazing ways,” Andrew De Prisco emphasizes that for many of the city’s neediest inhabitants, the story remains much the same as it’s been for more than a quarter of a century. And when the need continues, The Show Must Go On — in the form of Cabaret For Life, Inc.

Established in the fall of 1995 by De Prisco, his artistic producing partner Fred Mayo, and John and Carole Hessel of Bradley Beach, the Ocean Grove-based nonprofit has kept the focus on “raising funds for service organizations that help people coping with life-threatening diseases, especially HIV/AIDS and cancer, through the production of musical theater.”

Any doubts as to the verifiable healing powers of a well-turned showtune should immediately take a back seat to the evidence of Cabaret For Life’s successful mission; particularly its track record of having raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for charities that range from such nationally known entities as the American Cancer Society and St. Jude Children’s Hospital, to Monmouth County-based nonprofits Ronald McDonald House of Long Branch, Mary’s Place by the Sea, K. Hovnanian Children’s Hospital, the Ashley Lauren Foundation, the VNA Health Center, and The Center in Asbury Park’s Center House facility.

Speaking during a rehearsal for the upcoming De Prisco-produced staging of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Ocean Township’s Axelrod Performing Arts Center — about which more in a moment — the org’s co-founder notes that The Center has been the principal beneficiary of his group’s endeavors from the start, with the Cabaret crew raising an average of $10,000 per year for the Rev. Robert “Father Bob” Kaeding and his volunteer service organization for those living with HIV/AIDS. It’s an affiliation that dates back even before the official inception of Cabaret For Life, when Andrew and company staged their upbeat entertainments at Father Bob’s former post, the Church of St. Anselm in Tinton Falls — and as the new century enters its third decade, Cabaret For Life remains steadfastly committed to a community leader who “does a great deal of outreach…the people who live at Center House have a real need of their services, and when it comes to Father Bob we love to lift him up; to give a voice to his work.”

Following a “pretty peripatetic” interlude in which the Cabaret troupe did their thing at venues that included The Old Mill in Spring Lake, McLoone’s Rum Runner in Sea Bright, and Jumping Brook Country Club in Neptune, De Prisco landed at what would become Cabaret For Life’s regular home stage, when the company presented its first summer season of shows at Tim McLoone’s Supper Club in 2009.

“McLoone’s helped us re-invent ourselves for our second chapter,” the producer says of the elegant upstairs space located within the space-age “doo wop” saucer that once housed the late George Panas’s stalwart Howard Johnson’s during some of Asbury Park’s most challenging times. “It seemed the ideal place to create real cabaret…and for the first time, we were able to do single-person shows.”

A summertime staple that’s now in its 11th Supper Club season, the 2019 Cabaret For Life slate got underway on June 27 with The Dolly Parton Songbook, a tribute set that dedicated a full 100 percent of proceeds to local charities. As De Prisco tells it, the show’s success “speaks to the unique way that we operate, where our annual membership people help us to cover all of the expenses involved with putting on a show…and help us in turn to give all to charity.”

The summer schedule resumes once more this coming Wednesday, July 17, when Cabaret For Life welcomes back a performing partner who’s been with them from the get-go — singer, musician, and all-around entertainer Felix Truex — for the first of two one-man extravaganzas entitled Ain’t It Grand! Drawing from his prodigious mental songbook of Broadway, jazz, pop and rock standards, Truex performs a 7 pm solo set for which admission (a $35 donation) can be reserved at timmcloonessupperclub.com.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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