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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FEAR-FREE DENTISTRY, AS A FAVE BAND MAKES AN ASBURY HOMECOMING

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), April 4, 2019

Their music has been summarized, analyzed, and characterized as “dreamy,” “sun-dappled,” “saccharine,” “seductive,” “indie-pop jangle,” “retro-pop smooth,” “California surf-rock,” and (this, our favorite from the Aquarian’s John Pfeiffer) “beach-breaking Fujiwaras that roll from choppy, pop punk kick outs to hot-dogging groundswells of millennialism angst.”

The only thing that we have to add to the growing body of words devoted to Dentist is that, while Dentist hits all the right notes regarding the crucial D.I.Y. work ethic of the indie rock arena, the Shore-based trio is not so much a “garage” band as it is carport: airier, breezier, open to the light. A state of mind and an attitude that’s less about dark, cluttered corners and grease-stained workbenches and outdated calendars; more about sleek modern lines and high visibility — plus the wherewithal to just drop everything, get in the car, and take to the beckoning road.

When they’re out there on that road — which they are a very good deal of the time — the team of Emily Bornemann (lead vocals, bass),  Justin Bornemann (guitars), and Matt Hockenjos (drums) has assumed the role of roving ambassadors for their home base of Asbury Park; a function they’ve fulfilled to a greater extent than any other combo on the contemporary scene, and a real ear-opener for audiences to whom their stripped-down songcraft is a delightfully surprising alternative to the traditional notion of the E Street/Jukes big-band Template of Soul.

“We definitely always tell them we’re from Asbury Park,” says Hockenjos, himself a city resident whose prior involvement with the Asbury Park Music Foundation — for whom he played a pivotal role in the establishment of the Asbury Park Music and Film Festival — found the nonprofit organization expanding its educational and outreach activities within the community at large (and in a big world beyond that stood to benefit from being educated on the diverse array of sounds emanating from that music-mad city by the sea).

In a land where even a rave review on NPR stated that “they’re from Asbury Park New Jersey, and I don’t even hold that against them,” the members of Dentist have their work cut out for them, in terms of dispelling outmoded preconceptions about Jersey music, female-fronted acts, and the proper way to prosecute a rock-group career amid the shifting quicksands of the millennial music biz. But for the Bradley Beach-based Bornemanns and Mr. Matt, the band has been Priority One within the past few years; an interlude that has seen Dentist release its second and third acclaimed albums, produce numerous videos for songs like “Meet You There (in Delaware),” “Awful,” and “The Latter,” make several wide-ranging tours across the North American continent, and become a regular presence at the annual Austin, TX-based South by Southwest (SXSW) Festival.

Having been named by Mercury News as one of the Top Ten Bands at SXSW in 2018, Dentist returned this past March to Austin for a third time — their first as an “official” act within a scene in which, according to Justin, “there’s a ton of UN-official shows going on all over the place…the festival’s getting better at allowing that sort of thing.” The madcap month also featured gigs in Pittsburgh, Cincinnatti, Fort Worth, Lawrence (their second time around in that University of Kansas host city), Denver, and Boise.

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GARDEN STATE SONGWRITERS MAKE THE SCENE, FOR YOUR NJ-MENT

L-R: Dean Friedman, James Dalton, and Nikki Briar Shore up their local base of support, in three separate events going on Friday, March 29.

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link News (Long Branch, NJ) March 28, 2019

SOUNDS: Dean Friedman at McLoone’s Supper Club 

He stood out from the pack of earnest 1970s singer-songwriter types by staking a sonic streetcorner all his own; a place where it was perfectly permissible to name-check fast food franchises, New Jersey shopping malls, New York television stations, and such august institutions as the Saddle River Little League. His wryly  good-humored takes on contemporary life would occasionally land Dean Friedman in the midst of controversy — and that same sense of humor has always served as a “critical survival tool” to the Paramus native whose lone foray into the US Top 40 (“Ariel”) was a reference-packed romance that turned a chance meeting with a peasant-bloused, vegetarian Jewish girl (“I said Hi/ She said  Yeah, I guess I am”) at Paramus Park into the retro-catchiest pop song of 1977.

“I always had an affinity for those kind of details,” observes the composer whose descriptions of dates with the titular Ariel included onion rings at Dairy Queen, a band gig at the American Legion hall, Annette Funicello movies on TV, and a fundraiser for radio station WBAI. “They help to conjure up that time and place.”

Having performed occasionally in Asbury Park since those days — beginning with a  high profile 1977 opening set for Southside Johnny and the Jukes — Friedman makes an encore appearance at McLoone’s Supper Club this Friday night, March 29, with a set of “story songs” drawn from a 40 year recording career. Scheduled for 8 pm, the show that finds Friedman performing solo on guitar and keyboards is described as  “a deep dive” into a catalog that spans eight studio albums and more than 300 released tunes; an “atypical set list” about which the songsmith says “I figured it’s stime to give some of those overlooked songs a chance to shine…but no worries, I’ll always play the fan favorites.” Continue reading

GARDEN STATE FILMFEST CULTIVATES SOME JERSEY TOMATOES

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park NJ) and The Link News (Long Branch NJ), March 21, 2019

“It’s an honor. An honor!

The preceding represents the entire transcript of a speech delivered by Christopher Lloyd, as he quickly accepted an award from the producers of the 2018 Garden State Film Festival— and just as quickly made his way out the door of the festival’s host venue, the onetime Neptune High School building reborn in recent years as the Jersey Shore Arts Center.

A vividly familiar presence in big-budget Hollywood properties like the Back to the Future franchise, The Addams Family, Star Trek III and Roger Rabbit — and a serial Emmy winner for his work in Taxi and other projects — the veteran character man was briefly present in Ocean Grove to promote his participation in an indie thriller being screened that evening, and to help welcome the festival as it went “back to the future,” in a return to the community that it called home for the first 11 years of its existence.

Founded in 2003 by Diane Raver and the late Robert Pastorelli (an Emmy nominee as Eldin on the original Murphy Brown), the GSFF spent four years in Atlantic City before relocating once more to a fast-morphing Asbury Park and neighboring precincts. By that time, the city had spawned several all-new entertainment venues (including the  expanded ShowRoom arthouse cinema); welcomed aboard a slew of new concert series and special events — and given birth to a high-energy, high-profile Music and Film Festival whose upcoming schedule in April 2019 boasts appearances by, among others, writer-producer-director Peter Farrelly (fresh off his  double Oscar win for Green Book).

But while Raver’s festival has welcomed such well known guests as Glenn Close, Ed Asner, Batman producer Michael Uslan, That 70s Show actor Kurtwood Smith, On the Waterfront screenwriter Budd Schulberg and half the cast of The Sopranos beneath its tent in past editions, its roots remain grounded in the still-fertile soil of the independent filmmaking movement — with a particular emphasis on the plump and flavorful “tomatoes” cultivated by the creative community of the Garden State.

And when the 17th annual GSFF presents its smorgasbord of international fare beginning this coming Wednesday, March 27, the guest list will carry a pronounced Jersey accent, with special recognitions given to a set of screen performers with deep local connections — and a keynote event that once again explores our seemingly bottomless fascination with the legacy of HBO’s Sopranos series.

Screening at 7 pm Wednesday, and hosted at the JS Arts Center, My Dinner With Alan finds writers Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz — longtime television correspondents for the Star-Ledger, and authors of the book The Soprano Sessions— discussing the lasting impact of David Chase’s groundbreaking, Jersey-centric project (among various other topics) inside Holsten’s, the Bloomfield restaurant that served as the setting for the show’s still-controversial finale.

Sepinwall and Seitz are scheduled to be present for a post-screening panel discussion with director Kristen Fraga, joined for the occasion by a trio of Sopranos actors: Artie Pasquale, Federico Castelluccio, and Dan Grimaldi (famous for playing both Parisi twins, and familiar to followers of Long Branch’s New Jersey Repertory Company for his roles in Mercy and The Jag). While it’s included in the festival’s weekend pass option, the event (which features a book signing pre-order option for $25) also offers a $15 individual ticket at brownpapertickets.com/event/4094178.

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THE PARADE’S GONE BY…BUT IT’S A NEW GREEN DEAL FOR ST. PAT’S

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), March 14, 2019

So the local St. Patrick’s Day parades  — both the long-established  ballyhoo in Belmar, and the more recently minted shamrock shake in Asbury Park — have bleated their last bagpipe note; honked their last  hook ‘n ladder horn; swept up their last tossed bag of Skittles, Nerf torpedo, or busted balloon animal as they’ve moved on down the avenue.

Here in that strange interlude when our daylight-savings adjusted eyes spring-ahead to visions of the impending summer  — but when we’re still dealing with the occasional fall-back of  late winter weather — it’s easy to find ourselves in a holding pattern of sorts. With the season of outdoor concerts and beachfront festivals just out of sight, and with early spring attractions like the AP Music and Film Fest yet to commence, we look for a hook to hang our revelry upon in the meantime — something like, say, the actual Day of Saint Patrick, an extended observance that casts a warm green glow over the finer establisments of our fair Shore all this weekend (and then some).

Whether your preference is a publick house that’s been part of the local landscape for a generation — or a  stripmall tavern that’s been embraced like a fond family heirloom — you’ll find that the festive weekend seldom announces itself with a whisper. Keynoting it all with a robust blast of the bagpipes is Kelly’s Tavern at 43 Route 35 in Neptune City, where the pipes sound beginning at the noon hour on Friday, March 15. With two sessions of live bagpiping on Friday and Saturday (12-2 pm; 5-8 pm) — and a St. Pat’s Sunday that begins in reveille-wth-revelry fashion at 7 am — the neighborhood landmark keeps the momentum going on March 17 with DJ tunes from 4 pm, and a broadcast by radio station 107.1 The Boss that goes live at 11 am.

Over at Kelly’s sister establishment Clancy’s Tavern in Neptune — just a few staggered steps from Asbury city limits, and right across Main Street from the threshold of Ocean Grove — DJ Dave spins “Irish Drinking Music” from 4 pm as a Saturday “St. Patrick’s Eve Pre-Game,” while the live bagpipers play for two sessions (12-2 pm; 4-6 pm) on Sunday, with DJ Tony seeing the night through to 10 pm.

While the victuals vibe has run more  toward vacation cuisine (or an eclectic American experience that’s reflected in the musical menu), Marilyn Schlossbach’s Asbury boardwalk flagship Langosta Lounge continues a newly minty tradition here on the big green weekend, with a Friday/ Saturday double-dose of dexterity from two exemplars of the Shore scene’s blues-rock royalty: harpist Sandy Mack (performing on March 15 as “Sandy O’Mack and His McJamily”) and guitarmeister Billy Hector (supercharging Saturday night as “Billy O’Hector’s Electric Explosion”). Regardless of their bona fides as true sons of the Emerald Isle, these two veteran survivors and signifiers of the Jersey Shore Bar Wars remain consistent crowd pleasers and top-draw attractions at venues up and down the oceanside clubscape. Catch Mr. Mack in his regular Sunday role as patriarch to the extended Jamily on March 17, inside the lobby Soundbooth Lounge at The Asbury Hotel— and check out our archived interviews with Sandy and Billy on our blog site, upperWETside.wordpress.com.

Speaking of Shore blues-rock royalty, couples don’t come much more regalthan the powerhouse partnership of Matt and Eryn O’Ree, the union of two headline-worthy talents that’s served to double the audience’s pleasure and fun on stages that have ranged from theater-scale settings to the most intimate corners of the club scene. On Saturday night, Rooney’s Restaurant on the Long Branch waterfront is the setting as Eryn is joined by some tantalizingly teasered Friends for some sets of her glamorously smoky, torchy vocal signatures. Then on Tuesday, March 19 — in an event that serves to unofficially extend the weekend-long spirit of Irish music heritage into the foothills of the working week — Bon Jovi tour veteran Matt “O’Ree-appears” with his full Band at Asbury Park’s Wonder Bar, as special guests for a Band of Friends salute to the late great Irish-born multi-instrumentalist blues master Rory Gallagher. Catch Matt, Eryn and company when they return to the Wonder Bar stage on May 1st — and connect to our archived interview with Matt O’Ree on upperWETside.wordpress.com.

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CONSIDER THE SOURCE: NJ REP PREMIERE IS RIPPED FROM (AND RIPS) THE NEWS

L-R: Conan McCarty, Andrew Rein, and Eleanor Handley co-star in THE SOURCE, the new play by Jack Canfora that enters its world premiere engagement this weekend at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch. Photos by SuzAnne Barabas

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link News (Long Branch, NJ) March 7, 2019

“SAFE” — it’s a word that somehow applies itself very well to New Jersey Repertory Company, nearly every bit as much as it doesn’t.

After all, as the area’s sole theatrical troupe dedicated exclusively to the promotion of new and original works for the stage, the Long Branch-based professional playhouse has seldom played it safe in its choice of edgy and unorthodox scripts — taking things far afield of the family musicals, drawing-room mysteries, and Neil Simon sitcoms that once comprised what we thought of as “local Shore theater.” In the process, founders SuzAnne and Gabor Barabas have continued to cheerfully challenge their faithful audiences with deeply adult themes, complex characters, you-can’t-DO-that-on-stage tech work, language as salty as the briny Atlantic surf, and the occasional flash of full frontal.

When Jack Canfora refers to New Jersey Repertory as “safe,” he’s talking about a creative concern that’s offered snug harbor to the Huntington, NY-based playwright and his body of work throughout the years — a place of “insightful, talented artists who are all working toward the same goal…they’ve been very supportive and tremendously generous to me, and whatever my career is, I owe it to them.”

It was NJ Rep that first committed to a full staging of a script by the young writer, actor and musician from Long Island, with a production of the drama Poetic License that almost didn’t make curtain when the lead actor had to bow out at the eleventh hour. The show would actually go on to an Off Broadway run in NYC — as would Jericho,another Canfora work that faced its first sudience in Long Branch — and in between those two scripts, NJ Rep would premiere Place Setting, a cocktail-saturated suburban storm that counted Jack Canfora himself among its ensemble cast.

In addition to establishing a fruitful working relationship with “Gabe and SuzAnne,” the Jack-of-many-trades found a likeminded creative collaborator in Evan Bergman, the in-demand director whose projects as a Rep regular number more than a dozen — and who helmed every one of Canfora’s productions in downtown Long Branch and at New York’s 59E59 stage. For his first project at NJ Rep in some eight years (not counting a contribution to one of the company’s short play festivals at their new West End Arts Center facility), the playwright reunites once more with Bergman and the Barabas team, for the world premiere of The Source, an intimate drama that’s been described as being “ripped from the headlines” — or, perhaps more to the point, the moral gray areas behind the black-and-white headlines.

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