Chris Collins, Mick “London” Hale, and Bobby “Werner” Strete perform as MOD FUN, Friday the 13th at Asbury Park Yacht Club.

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), March 12, 2020

 “They say that turbulent times are good for the arts,” says guitarist and vocalist Mick London, by way of explaining a level of activity that brings his long-running rock band Mod Fun back to the local stage this Friday, March 13. “And what does it say that we’ve stayed together a lot longer this time around, than when we were first on the scene?”

One of the most attention-compelling original combos to emerge out of New Jersey in the early to mid-1980s, Mod Fun caught the cutting edge of a rock renaissance that centered around such creative hives as Hoboken, New Brunswick, and our own Shore points; fortified by such legendary outposts as The Dirt Club in Bloomfield (site of the band’s inaugural gig), City Gardens, Maxwell’s, Court Tavern, the Fast Lane and the Brighton Bar; supported by a robust indie press and the pioneers of college/ alternative radio (oh, and The Uncle Floyd Show). While most of those cultural outlets are the stuff of late-boomer nostalgia these days, the trio of London, drummer Chris Collins and bassist Bobby “Werner” Strete remains on call; ready to assemble like Avengers or some jukebox Justice League, whenever turbulent times demand the peculiar diplomacy of the band’s supercharged postpunk powerpop.

Hosted within the satisfyingly stripped-down setting of the Asbury Park Yacht Club on the famous boards, the Friday night fracas finds the Fun playing its first Asbury Park gig in a full decade, having last appeared at the “old” Asbury Lanes in 2010 as part of a “Modsbury Park” bill in support of their to-date most recent recording, the full-length album Futurepresent.

Bolstered by a widely viewed video for “Give” (a clip filmed against the backdrop of such now-vanished landmarks like the Baronet Theatre and the aborted Esperanza condo project), the album cemented the band’s bond with Asbury Park, even as charter member Strete relocated to the Cincinnati area. For the core trio whose career was inspired by the “Mod” era revivalism of Paul Weller’s `1970s band The Jam — and whose early focus on northern NJ and NYC led to and high-profile sets up and down the eastern seaboard — it was a “homecoming” rooted in a 2004 show at The Saint; a reunion that marked the 20th anniversary of the band’s hard-driving debut single, “I Am With You.”

Even as he’s kept one foot planted in the garage-land realm of guitars and amps, however, “Mick London” is better known to current city residents as DJ Mick Hale, the dance-music specialist who presides over “Tempted Tuesdays,” Tea Dances and Pink Proms throughout the calendar year. Having enlivened the normally drab foothills of the working-week hump via his long-running Tuesday night gig at Georgie’s Bar, Hale prepares to augment his weekly residency at “the gay Cheers” of north Asbury with a summer-season stint at the poolside lounge of The Asbury Hotel, as well as an anticipated return to Convention Hall’s Beach Bar and other outlets of the partystarting pulsebeat.

That “double life” of the Anglophile aficionado of classic Brit bands like The Who and The Kinks, and the expert purveyor of R&B/dancefloor favorites, is reconciled to some extent by Hale’s ongoing involvement with another well-established endeavor: the electronica group Crocodile Shop, a dormant-not-dead entity (founded in 1987, and also harnessing the talents of Strete) about which the busy music maker says, “our keyboard player (v.Markus) sent me five new tracks last year…we finished one, and I keep having the idea of reviving Croc Shop as a recording project.”

There’s another element still to the     musical makeup of Mr. Mick Hale — a factor little-known to the scene at large, but hardly anything of an embarrassment to the Wanamassa resident — and that’s his 15-year career with the U.S. Postal Service, about which more momentarily.  

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Shore area natives John Caliendo and Sophia Parola are pictured in rehearsal for THE PROMOTION, the play that makes its world premiere in Long Branch this weekend. (photos by Andrea Phox Photography)

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), March 5, 2020

“I tried to take on as many hot-button issues as I could with this play,” confesses playwright Joe Giovannetti. “You could say I put a lot of powder into the powderkeg!”

The play in question is The Promotion, a “comedy about surviving in the dog-eat-dog world of business” that will very shortly become the latest in a long line of shows to make its world premiere at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch. The hot topics include race, gender, traditional social hierarchies, sexual tension, and the relentless reality-show competitiveness of modern life — in other words, just another day at the office break room for some — all of it framed in a way that’s “funnier than not funny…it’s a dark comedy, but the treatment of the content is serious.”

Speaking from his Chicago home, the writer-technician-designer-actor-director and sometime filmmaker insists that, while it’s set inside an insurance sales office, the play is not necessarily based on his own past job experience in a “pretty soft-edged” agency. Rather, it’s inspired by “any place where competition rules, and where people try to hack the system to get an edge…it’s a thing that’s baked into our culture, but it’s super-corrosive to treat every interaction as a competition.”

In the show that goes up in previews beginning tonight, March 5, a pair of co-workers named Trish (Sophia Parola) and Josh (John Caliendo) are insurance agents who exist on more or less equal footing in the company power structure — until an opportunity presents itself that both of them want, but only one of them can have. The subsequent jockeying for favor finds both the black woman and the white man exploring the outer limits of just how far they’d go to claim that sought-after prize.

As one of many NJ Rep offerings developed through the National New Play Network, The Promotion has been workshopped for audiences at DC’s Kennedy Center, as well as in Atlanta and Giovannetti’s home base of Chicago. That said, the official fully staged debut boasts an engagingly local angle in the casting of the leads, both new to the Long Branch stage. The young stage and screen veteran Caliendo is a native of Point Pleasant, while Manalapan-bred Sophia Parola is an alumna of both Monmouth University and Brookdale Community College, where she first caught the acting bug under the direction of the school’s longtime drama prof John Bukovec.

The two lead actors are joined by Chantal Jean-Pierre (as Lois, a senior colleague described by Giovannetti as a “voice of God” and “Greek chorus”), and by Broadway veteran Phillip Clark (as Mr. Buchanan, a businessman whose arrival impacts the office equilibrium from the outside). The cast of fresh faces is under the expert guidance of prolific director Evan Bergman, whose critically acclaimed projects for the Rep company now number upwards of a dozen (we’ve lost count).

While jokingly referring to his first-time alliance with Bergman as a “shotgun marriage,” the playwright credits the time that he spent working closely with his director in Atlanta for helping The Promotion get in shape for its premiere.

“Seeing this play being read for audiences three times in three different cities has been really helpful,” Giovannetti maintains. “I’m a white man who’s written a play with two black woman characters, and I appreciate talking to people about what I might have gotten right, or what might be off base.”

“The actors also bring generationally different perspectives to their characters,” the playwright says of the story in which the authority figures — the ones who wield the ultimate decision on that prize — are never seen. “The play does end in a fairly resolved way…just maybe not the way that you might have expected!”  

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Jim Babjak, Dennis Diken, Marshall Crenshaw, and Mike Mesaros bring the Smithereens songbook to the stage of the Pollak Theatre on March 7.   (photo by Neil Seiffer)

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), February 27, 2020

 The Asbury Park Paramount was packed with people and studded with celebs from all walks of public life this past October 27, as The Smithereens found themselves inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame — an honor that placed the “Garage-rock State” institution not only in the company of music makers from Bruce to Basie, but also among a veritable “honor (pork)roll” of leaders in the fields of science, statecraft, the humanities, and athletic accomplishment. Following an introduction by E Streeter Garry Tallent (who acknowledged becoming aware of the band via TV’s Uncle Floyd Show), the surviving ‘reens paid tribute to Pat DiNizio, the vocalist and principal songwriter who passed away in 2017; thanked a litany of friends, family members, managers, producers, club owners, DJs, rock mags — and, in the case of drummer Dennis Diken, cited a “holy place” known as the record department at Two Guys.

The reference to that long-gone but still-cherished discount retailer was simply one more supremely Jersey moment on the timeline, for an internationally celebrated group whose relationship to their forever-home state can be said to be of the “perfect-together” persuasion. For Diken, guitarist Jim Babjak, and bassist Mike Mesaros (all of whom grew up in Carteret) — as well as for proudly proclaimed “Scotch Plainsman” DiNizio (who wore hometown hats ranging from neighborhood garbageman, to candidate for U.S. Senate), the mutual love affair had a favorite trysting place in and around Asbury Park.

“Asbury, and the Shore have always been special to us…going back to 1980,” says Diken, himself an in-demand player (and occasional WFMU disc jockey) whose skills on the skins have been sought by the likes of Tallent, Ben E. King, and ex-Kink Dave Davies. “Lance Larson let us have the opening slot for his band Lord Gunner, for a couple of months…so there we were, just starting out, and with a residency at The Stone Pony!”

The band would return numerous times to the Pony hitching post, all during a nearly 40-year run that would see them navigate the ups and downs of the record-industry rollercoaster, get into rotation on MTV (as well as “alternative” radio outlets like the late lamented WHTG-FM), and make additional local stops at stages like The Fast Lane, where The Smithereens would first share a bill with their spiritual kin and contemporary, Marshall Crenshaw.

It was at the Wonder Bar that Babjak, Diken and Mesaros would play one of their last gigs with DiNizio in July 2017; the frontman by that point having lost the ability to wield a guitar after a protracted struggle with injury-related health issues. For the singer (whose local connection was such that he would come to be named to the Asbury Angels memorial hall of fame), it was no obstacle to delivering a set of those signature songs — “Blood and Roses,” “Behind the Wall of Sleep,” “Only a Memory,” “In a Lonely Place,” “Blues Before and After” — moody, mature, magnificent songs that staked out the crossroads of alternative/punk energy and the ambitious “teenage symphonies” of such heroes as Brian Wilson and The Beatles. And, because it was a Smithereens set, there were covers of everything from the Fab Four’s “Yesterday” and the 60s staple “Gloria,” to the pre-Elvis chestnut “Milk Cow Blues,” and the classic theme from TV’s “Batman” (this last in tribute to the late Adam West).

“Pat always gave it a thousand percent…he admired, we all admired, those showbiz people who were real troupers,” says Diken — with the legendary expert authority on popular culture adding, “we believe that you perform til you drop…and I always loved Dick Shawn!” (a reference to the 1960s-70s comic actor who literally died on stage).

“As far as being more mature sounding than other bands, I guess it just related back to the fact that we liked to read books, take in movies, and just experience life,” the drummer observes. “We appreciated being able to go to places like Scandinavia, where we played pretty early on, in 1984….and a place like The Stone Pony helped us to step out of our little North Jersey womb.”

Another crucial step outside the cradle came courtesy of the dearly departed Greenwich Village landmark Kenny’s Castaways, where the frequently featured Smithereens became the last band to play in 2012 — and where “we cut our teeth; met people in the industry, and found a spiritual godfather” in the owner, Pat Kenny.

For Di Nizio’s bandmates, then, there was never any question that the road would wind on — and on March 7, that road will lead once more down-the-Shore, when The Smithereens are joined by guest vocalist-guitarist Crenshaw for a Pollak Theatre concert on the Monmouth University campus.         

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Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), February 20, 2020

 “People love the idea of Mardi Gras in Asbury Park,” says Cindy Wolfson Ciullo — and, as the impresaria behind the area’s most “something-for-everyone” observance of Fat Tuesday, the owner of Asbury Park’s Backward Glances has almost singlehandedly spearheaded a hyper-local happening that fits right in with such “seagrass-roots” annual events as the original Zombie Walk, the Asbury Park Promenade of Mermaids (returning on July 11), and September’s AP Porchfest.

This Saturday, February 22, the Asbury Park Mardi Gras celebration returns to the downtown business blocks for a fifth annual slate of activities and entertainments, with the vendor of vintage clothing and nostalgic gifts (located on the lower level of the Shoppes at the Arcade mini-mall, 658 Cookman Avenue) serving as anchor site for the event that began as a promotion for the Downtown Merchants Guild in 2016 — and which survived the disbanding of that organization to take on a vivid life of its own.

As Wolfson Ciullo tells it, “My love of New Orleans inspired me to bring the party to New Jersey…we have many people who attend the (Masquerade Ball) every year, and the daytime events are a great way to show what the downtown has to offer.”

The “Fat Saturday” festivities kick off at noon with the King Cake Baby Hunt, an all-ages scavenger safari inspired by the Mardi Gras tradition of baking baby figurines or other symbolic trinkets into “king” cakes, the Carnival pastries that have historically commemorated the Magi’s presentation of gifts to the baby Jesus.

In this case, the babies are hidden inside various neighboring businesses around the Cookman Avenue corridor — with all who take part in the five-hour hunt invited to stop by Backward Glances to pick up a list of the scavenger sites (there’s no charge to participate in the event).

As Cindy explains, hunters should “visit the shops and find each baby…each one is holding a secret word. Write all the words on your entry blank, then return to the start and get a mini king cake as a reward.” In addition, all scavengers are encouraged to hang on to their lists for dropping off back at the Backward Glances base camp by 5 pm, since “a random entry will be chosen to win great prizes.”

At 2 pm the fun gets down on all fours, as the 2020 edition of the Mardi Paws Pet Parade invites proudly strutting pets and human handlers to dress up in festive regalia for a promenade that proceeds from out front of the Shoppes, continuing along Cookman Avenue, then returning to be judged in the costume contest for which prizes will be awarded in multiple categories.

Pet Parade participants can register in advance for a discounted $5 via, or sign up for a $7 fee on-site by 1 pm Saturday. All registration proceeds will help fund the good works of the Oakhurst-based nonprofit Wag On Inn Rescue, with additional information available by calling Paws Pet Boutique at Shoppes at the Arcade, 732-449-5000.

From there the good ship Mardi Gras finds Happy Hour harbor in a delightfully unusual port of call, as Taka (660 Cookman Avenue at Bond Street) offers revelers a selection of “Mardi Gras inspired cocktails and festive food with a Japanese flair” between the hours of 3 to 7 pm. It’s an aperitif to the evening’s centerpiece and main event, when Scott Stamper’s Main Street mainstay The Saint plays host once again to a musically minded Masquerade Ball.

Headlining the hullabaloo — as they’ve done each year since its inception — are The VooDudes, the Highland Park-based specialists in Big Easy bontemps roullez who are familiar from countless summer-stage appearances in Long Branch, Asbury, Red Bank and other shakin’ Shore points. Fronted for more than 25 years by guitars-and-drums brothers Gary and Dave Ambrosy (as well by vocalist, harmonicat and washboard-vest virtuoso Andy B, pictured), the globe-trotting and glove-tight quintet is charged once more with dialing up the cajun-spice heat on a midwinter’s night, there in downtown AP’s boxcar berthplace of rock and roll.         

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Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), February 13, 2020

 It’s Valentine’s Day, and all around the romantically walkable beaches of our fair Shore, thoughts turn to candy kisses and cardboard Cupids; the sweet swirl of the sauvignon, and the scent of Sunoco station roses; the prix fixe menus, and the pure peer pressure of participating in a “romantic” ritual designed to make the unattached feel like…

Sorry folks, that’s Anti-Valentine’s talk — and that’s the purview of music promoter Megan O’Shea, whose Anti-Valentine’s Day Songwriting Contest hosted its third annual competition this past Wednesday at the Asbury Hotel. But beginning tonight, February 13 — and continuing on through a four-day “Valentine’s Overtime” interlude of concert events and variety vaudevilles — it is all about the Love.

Here on the first V-Day of the Roaring Twenties, what better way to kick off the festivities than with a Valentine’s Day Eve Massacre, set to take place tonight in the basement of downtown Asbury Park’s Bond Street Complex. Going up at 8 pm, the FREE subterranean spelunk showcases the intriguingly moody pop electronica of Blaise, along with Bronco 2, The Skinny Dickies, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, and the nextbigthing known as kqhyt kqhyt.

Meanwhile over at the oceanside Langosta Lounge, a special Thursday night Galentine’s Day free-for-all highlights the new-ish New Attitude, a supergroup of singers (Postmodern Jukebox vocalist Brielle Von Hugel, Virginia Cavaliere of Six Appeal, and Shore stage sensation Bre Cade) who team up to channel “badass lady icons” like Chaka, Aretha, Whitney, and Adele with full band in tow.

Valentine’s night itself finds impresario, humanitarian, restaurateur, entrepreneur and eternal entertainer Tim McLoone assembling his band The Shirleys for a specially themed show at Tim’s eponymous Supper Club on the Asbury boards — and February 14 wouldn’t be complete without the contribution of the aptly appellation’d DJ Tyler Valentine, commandeering Asbury Lanes for an “Emo vs. R&B” dancefloor showdown that’s FREE of charge.

Frequenters of the Jenn Hampton-era Lanes know Angie Pontani as the undisputed superstar of the region’s New Burlesque scene, with the Jersey-born mistress of classic striptease/ bump ‘n grind dance emerging as impresaria of her own touring Burlesque-A-Pades performance troupe. More than just a leering cousin to old-time vaudeville (or a slightly less pierced version of hipster sideshow revivalism), the burlesque/boy-lesque dancers, comics and specialty performers of Angie’s company are on display Saturiday night, February 15, on the big stage of House of Independents, when Angie joins The Maine Attraction, Ben Franklin, emcee Murray Hill and other guests for a Burlesque-A-Pades in Loveland encore event.

When we last interviewed Southside Johnny Lyon, it was in his now-traditional role as master of ceremony for Asbury Park’s Independence Day interlude — a role that the Jukes generalissimo balances each year with his “Mr. New Year’s Eve” gig at Red Bank’s Count Basie stage. On Saturday night, Johnny returns once more to his Stone Pony spawning grounds for the “third time’s a charm” in another calendar-guy context: as blues-belting Cupid for a special Valentine’s weekend show. Meanwhile back at Mr. McLoone’s, Asbury’s own songbook sensation Chris Pinnella is joined by a 12 piece orchestra, performing “re-imagined versions of songs by The Beatles, Jeff Buckley, The Who, The Righteous Brothers, Elvis, Billy Joel, Elton John and more.”  

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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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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, or at Cookman Ave neighbor Rebel Supply Co.     Continue reading


It’s still just scratching the surface…but some of the faces of this weekend’s 20th anniversary Light of Day Winterfest schedule include (top row) Marc Ribler, Sandy Mack, Deseree Spinks, Marc Muller, Jarod Clemons, Sara Aniano (New Narratives), Bobby Mahoney, Quincy Mumford, Stella Mrowicki, Pat Guadagno; (2nd row) Lisa Bouchelle, Taylor Tote, Cranston Dean, Billy Hector, Christine Martucci, Rachel Ana Dobken, Tara Dente, Avery Mandeville, Stringbean, Dr. Geena; (3rd row) David Ross Lawn, Bob Egan, John Easdale (Dramarama), Richard Barone, Jo Wymer, Poppa John Bug, Mary McCrink, Joe D’Urso; (4th row, hidden) We’re Ghosts Now, Shady Street Show Band; (5th row) James Dalton, JT Bowen, Stormin’ Norman Seldin, Chuck Lambert, Jo Bonanno, Billy Walton, Keith Roth, Emily Bornemann (Dentist), Paul Whistler, Reagan Richards (Williams Honor); (6th/ bottom row) Anthony “Remember Jones” D’Amato, Glen Burtnik (The Weeklings), John Eddie, Joe Rapolla, Anthony Krizan, Joe Grushecky, Vini Lopez, Jeffrey Gaines, James Maddock, Willie Nile.

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), January 16, 2020

It’s a milestone menu of musical movings and shakings that was appetized by several local and regional events in the past week — one that lays out its spectacularly sprawling spread over the next four days; a benefit banquet that involves some 34 separate sites, dozens of distinct events, and enough performers to populate one little but LOUD, gloriously music-mad city.

Where to even begin to get a handle on Light of Day Winterfest, the fully soundtracked fundraising vehicle whose landmark 20th annual edition achieves climax this mid-January weekend? For perspective’s sake, it might behoove us to start at the very beginning — in this case the original Downtown Cafe in Red Bank; scene in November 1998 of a tune-filled 40th birthday party thrown by Bob Benjamin. Having received a diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease two years earlier, the music promo/ management pro asked his guests to forego the birthday presents in favor of donating toward Parkinson’s research — and it was there that Jean Mikle found herself on the ground floor of a thing that the Asbury Park Press journalist and Bruce Springsteen specialist says “has grown beyond anyone’s imagination…something that’s had such a positive impact on the community.”

The thing is the Light of Day Foundation, of which Mikle serves as president, and whose other board members include co-founder and premier promoter Tony Pallagrosi, as well as veteran music makers Joe D’Urso, Joe Grushecky and Rob Dye. As a year-round nonprofit endeavor with an international footprint, “LOD” has raised millions toward the goal of a cure for Parkinson’s — in addition to Joan Dancy & PALS, the ALS-focused charity founded by the late Terry McGovern — although the casual observer might be forgiven for first thinking of the organization as the planners and purveyors of a most auspicious party.

An ever-evolving affair that’s expanded its reach to several continents, major North American cities, and various satellite events throughout the calendar year, Winterfest commandeers the stages, storefronts and saloons of Asbury Park (as well as one sympathetic site in next-door Ocean Grove) in a manner that’s guaranteed to disturb the long winter’s nap of most other “off season” Shore locales. It’s a phenomenon that manifests as a natural outgrowth of the event’s symbiotic relationship with the city, where it first established base camp at the Stone Pony in 2000 — and to which it returned in 2008, after several years at surrogate homes in Sayreville and Sea Bright. By that time, Asbury Park had re-asserted itself as a music city that competed head-on with places many times its size — a “spiritual home” that finds Mikle “just amazed by the diversity and the depth of talent we have here.”

That deep bench will be on full active roster between tonight, January 16 and Sunday, January 19; represented by multiple generations of homegrown heroes, honorary local legends, and transplants to our music-friendly Shore. As Mikle (who recently accompanied D’Urso on the Fests’s European jaunt for the ninth time) explains it, “the fact that we have access to so many different musicians on this scene…and our out-of-town friends look forward to coming back each year…means we grow bigger each time out.”

Naturally, a big draw (and a focal point for some tantalizing will-he-or-won’t-he buzz) is the potential participation of Benjamin’s long-time friend Springsteen — whose soundtrack song “Just Around the Corner to the Light of Day” directly inspired the organization’s name, and whose frequent presence has made him de facto ringmaster for the majority of those all-star Bob’s Birthday concerts. 

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