WHOLE LOD OF LOVE, AT 20th ANNUAL WINTERFEST IN ASBURY

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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BIG MAN’S NEXT: JAROD CLEMONS ON A NEW WAVELENGTH

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), January 9, 2020

Yes, New Jersey, there is such a thing as a Clarence Clemons Day — and here within the Big Man’s old Shore stomping grounds, that special “day” is, fittingly enough, really more of a two-day deal.

This Saturday, January 11 marks what would have been the 78th birthday of the saxman/ bandleader/ occasional actor (and, briefly, club owner) who defined the look, sound, and personality-packed dynamic of the E Street Band, every bit as much as its hard-working foreman. And, when Clarence Anicholas Clemons Jr. died of complications from a massive stroke in June 2011, his passing was recognized as something far beyond a one-day headline in the mass media. Flags flew at half-staff here in the native Virginian’s adopted home state; the biggest names in popular music paid tribute to his sound and style from live stages around the world — and two years later, then-governor Chris Christie signed an official resolution making January 11 “Clarence Clemons Day” in the Garden State.

The loss of “CC” also served to spur into existence the Asbury Angels Project, a virtual memorial to departed Asbury Park music pros whose inaugural Class of 2012 included not only Clemons and his E Street colleague Danny Federici, but the city’s “first music superstar” Arthur Pryor, legendary Convention Hall concert promoter Moe Septee, and Upstage Club hosts Tom and Margaret Potter. And concurrent with Clarence Clemons Day in 2013, music promoters BIG RoaD Productions established their Big Man’s Birthday Winterbash, a yearly celebration that presents its eighth annual edition this Friday night and Saturday afternoon.

Staged as a benefit for the adoption center and programs of the Eatontown-based Monmouth County SPCA, the Bash returns in 2020 to a pair of longtime landmarks of Jersey Shore nightlife — The Headliner on Route 35 South in Neptune, and Bar Anticipation on 16th Avenue in Lake Como. The two venerable venues will be hosting a fairly eclectic (and multi-generational) mix of talents, ranging from several of CC’s veteran contemporaries on the local scene, to a couple of men who are carrying the Clemons name forward into a new musical decade.

Headlining the Headliner show on Friday evening will be the musician charged with taking over Clarence’s role on the E Street roster — his 39 year old nephew Jake Clemons. The multi-instrumentalist (whose sophomore album Eyes on the Horizon dropped this past September) will be spotlighting his solo material in a full-band set, joined on the bill by Eddie Testa, by Bob Polding — and by the most recent addition to the musical family tree.

At 21 years of age, Jarod Clemons has already set about writing the kind of working-musician’s story more befitting a player several years his senior. The youngest son of Clarence Clemons grew up with his mother Jacqueline Monteau in Connecticut and Florida, where he cut his tuneful teeth in and around the bars of the Tampa Bay area. But up here in the music-mad city that made his father famous, the young veteran with the weighty name was a relative newcomer when he made the decision to relocate to Asbury just last year — a move that resulted in what Jarod calls “the best six months of my past five years.”

Performing regularly at first with fellow Floridian Taylor Davis, Clemons made a memorable impression in settings both old (the Brighton Bar in Long Branch) and new (Danny Clinch’s Transparent Gallery at The Asbury Hotel) — sets that nimbly addressed the proverbial elephant in the room, by including an intimate arrangement of “You’re a Friend of Mine,” his dad’s hit 1985 duet with Jackson Browne.

Having parted ways with Davis in the months since his move, Jarod performs now in fully electrified band mode with The Late Nights, the four piece combo (guitarist Zach Tyler, bassist Alex Fuhring, keyboardist Stephen Verdi, drummer John DiNunzio) with whom he’ll be appearing in Neptune on the 10th. It’s both a capper to a hectic interlude of transition for the emerging bandleader — and a keynote to a coming year of musical exploration, experimentation, and continued excitations.       

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NJ REPERTORY CO. THROWS A NEW-SEASON ‘BONE’ TO ITS LOYAL AUDIENCE

Expanded from an article published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), January 2-3, 2020

There’s the simmering resentment and uncertainty that threatens the comfort-zone routine of long-standing relationships. The assault on stability that comes from devastating divorce and dawning dementia. The literal scars of hard-knocks life experiences; the petty rivalries; the public humiliations; the buried secrets that seldom lie still — and, for a bit of R-and-R, the odd side trip to the local concentration camp.

Or, as the folks at New Jersey Repertory Company might have it: That’s “Family” Entertainment!

Granted, there would never have been much of a thing as live theater, if human beings hadn’t always been such conflicted and unhappy bundles of raw nerve-endings. But even in an environment where the marital martial artists George and Martha of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? promise to be once again the toast of Broadway, the folks at the Garden State’s premier greenhouse for original plays are experienced hands at framing the many ways in which people are not so nice to each other — and a quick glance at the 20-year track record of the Long Branch-based company is a whirlwind tour of bad-housekeeping dynamics, racial animosity, romantic betrayal, paralyzing grief, debilitating illness, fragile facades, and sexual power-plays, often presented with a comic edge as bitterly dark as baker’s chocolate.

The truly ironic thing is that all of this relationship-threatening dramatic unpleasantness has been the publicly purveyed product of one of the greatest and most enduring personal/ professional marriages in the history of our region’s arts scene — that of Gabor and SuzAnne Barabas, co-founders (and, respectively, executive producer and artistic director) of NJ Rep. Partners in life and art and community vision, the two share a range of interests that span everything from poetry to horror films, to the long-running TV western Gunsmoke (a topic on which they literally wrote the book) — and as they prepare to roll out a frankly awesome 21st season of original mainstage productions on downtown Broadway LB, “Gabe” and SuzAnne are once more holding up a mirror to the good-bad-and-ugly of how we’re getting along with each other, here in 21st century America.

Speaking from their West Long Branch home during a characteristically busy holiday interlude, Dr. Gabor Barabas maintains that “when we choose our plays we have no formula…but if you look at things historically, we gravitate toward certain relationship plays.”

“It’s whatever we find compelling; whatever we feel is relevant across the generations,” adds the Hungarian-born retired neurologist and published poet, citing as one example the 2018 production Issei, He Say, a portrait of two Asian immigrant families dealing with their own cultural differences.

“And in the end, it all comes down to the idea of family.”

The people who head up an extended family of Rep regulars have kept the figurative porch light on throughout a couple of tumultuous decades in a fast-morphing city; not only via their branded playhouse at Broadway and Liberty Street, but through their purchase and ambitious plans for the onetime West End Elementary School property now re-imagined as the West End Arts Center (to say nothing of their stewardship of the historic “Buffalo Bill House,” recast in the new century as a lodging for guest performers and creative people during the rehearsal and run of a new show).

Here at the kickoff to the 2020 season, the welcome guests include a pair of players long familiar to NJ Rep audiences — actors Wendy Peace and John Little — as well as director M. Graham Smith, a Bay Area-based veteran of the National New Play Network, who happens to have been able to spend his holidays with family here in the local area.

The project they’ve been preparing for imminent debut is Bone on Bone, a “two-hander” comedy-drama by MaryLou DiPietro, and the latest in a very long line of plays to make its world premiere at the “modestly scaled but expansively visioned” venue In Long Branch, NJ.

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TELL TCHAIKOVSKY THE NEWS: THIS NUTCRACKER ROCKS

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), December 19, 2019

 “Tell Tchaikovsky the news,” sang the late great Chuck Berry in “Roll Over Beethoven” — and if the 19th century Russian master didn’t get the memo the first time, he might be interested to know that, here at the tail end of 2019, one of his most enduring concert classics has been given a holiday makeover complete with a transporting to an enchanted land known as the Jersey Shore, and a compositional assist from members of the Garden State rock band The Gaslight Anthem. Because of course it has!

Going up for six performances this weekend at the Axelrod Performing Arts Center in the Deal Park section of Ocean Township, The Nutcracker ROCKS represents a delightfully unexpected collaboration between   the APAC’s in-house professional dance company The Axelrod Contemporary Ballet Theater [AXCBT], and a team of Jersey-based creative partners highlighted by two core components of the New Brunswick-spawned Anthem: bassist Alex Levine and guitarist Alex Rosamilia.

As director and choreographer Gabriel Chajnik explains, “this is our first full season of ballets here at the Axelrod…and we wanted to finish the year with a work that adds something of the musical tradition in our area.” Recognizing The Nutcracker as “the ballet that most kids and families are exposed to first,” the founder of the AXCBT (who performed in the 1892 classic during his days at the National Academy in his native Argentina — and who, as a student at NYC’s Juilliard School, thrilled to multiple stagings of George Balanchine’s landmark production) set out to create something that “would appeal to the classicists…and to the Jersey Shore rock and rollers.”

Indeed, the producers aren’t trying to “gaslight” their audience when they pitch this intriguing project as a work that’s “destined to become a Jersey Shore staple for many holidays to come“ — a thing designed not so much to set P.I. Tchaikovsky spinning in his grave, as to get the old boy humming like a dynamo in sync with its fuel-injected energy.

Riffing on the original source stories by E.T.A. Hoffman and Alexandre Dumas — and the ballet’s familiar plotline of young Clara and her Christmastime voyage through magical realms of mouse armies, sugarplum fairies, and an enchanted nutcracker soldier — The Nutcracker ROCKS boasts a new book by Red Bank Regional High School drama teacher Reuben Jackson (entirely coincidentally, Chajnik’s old Juilliard roommate), a traditional score (recorded by maestro Jason Tramm and the 40 piece MidAtlantic Symphony Orchestra at Ocean Grove’s Great Auditorium this past October), dozens of young student dancers, acrobatic performers from Howell High School, “rats instead of mice; rockers instead of soldiers” — along with “hip-hop elements” and a layered rock component (including two all-new songs) custom-crafted for the occasion by the two Alexes and their partner in X Squared Productions, Wes Klienknecht.

As for exactly how the ballet master (who became a full time resident of Ocean Grove when given the opportunity to establish the AXCBT) connected with the veterans of the band best known for the album The ‘59 Sound, it’s as simple as the fact that “Alex Levine was my barber!”  

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A (MULTI)CULTURED PEARL, REVEALED IN LONG BRANCH

Above and below: 10PRL owners Kira Sanchez and April Centrone are pictured inside the Cyclorama construction that’s a centerpiece of the all-new, multi-purpose arts facility in Long Branch, set to debut with a New Year’s Eve intro party. Photos by Allison Kolarik

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), December 12, 2019

 The first thing you notice, upon ascending the stairs to its second-floor perch within a busy but largely beneath-the-radar neighborhood of Long Branch, is its immensity — an immensity grounded in its 6,500 square feet of splendid sprawl, its 14-foot high ceilings, and its numerous nooks of real-world real estate. It’s also a quality that transcends physical dimensions; that looks beyond the sturdy brick walls toward whole other realms of possibility and promise and pure potential.

It’s maybe only then that you happen to take in the cyclorama that commands the entire southwest corner of the space. For those who don’t have one at home, a “cyclorama” in this case is neither an amusement park midway ride, nor one of those spinner things in which astronaut trainees experience multiple G forces. Rather it’s an “840 square foot, fully immersive, gentle curve of white wall” that represents, in the words of April Centrone, “a canvas, for anything you can imagine.”

A Harlem-born, Shore-based musician, educator, therapist, photographer, and citizen of the world, Centrone is spending much of this holiday-season interlude prepping for the imminent public debut of a project that, in its own relatively quiet way, is as ambitious as anything on the rise within this fast-changing city by the sea.

Located just off Broadway’s midtown main drag at the onetime site of Pearl Street Gym, the place known as 10PRL (pronounce it as “Ten Pearl,” and you’ve all the GPS directions you need) is the brainchild of Centrone and Kira Sanchez — partners in life, marriage, music, art, entrepreneurship, and now a venture that is as proudly “Woman Owned” and “Queer Owned” as it is “super inclusive.”

“This is an idea that’s actually more than a decade in the making,” explains Centrone, herself familiar to fervent followers of the Shore soundscape as a unique maker of music, both as a drummer/ percussionist (for singer-songwriter James Dalton and others) and a front-and-center performer who was seen recently during November’s slate of “Tallie Fest” showcases in Asbury Park.

Regionally, the Point Pleasant native (who’s been raising a gloriously rhythmic ruckus since the age of 9) continues to commandeer the drummer’s seat with the Brooklyn-based band Jane — and is best known as the middle eastern music expert who founded the New York Arabic Orchestra in 2007 (an organization that also boasts the contributions of Venezuelan-born bassist Sanchez).

“I’ve played and taught in a lot of venues, from squats in Europe to major theaters and festivals,” explains the specialist in the stringed instrument known as the oud — a voyager whose Masters degree in psychology has seen her combine music and therapy disciplines in her work with at-risk teens on the home front, as well as (at the invitation of the UN and various American embassies) youthful refugees around the globe. “And what struck me in my travels was when we’d be welcomed into a space that was completely run by artists.”

The germ of what would eventually be realized as 10PRL was also inspired by the thought that, as tech-sector entities encroach upon available urban loft spaces and rehabilitated commercial properties — thereby driving up rents to the point where “artists are frozen out of the places they helped bring back to life” — it becomes more crucial than ever to stake out a space in which all members of the area’s creative class can converge; a hive of activity where “the connection is in supporting the community,” and where the momentum is generated by “the original forms of therapy: music and art!”

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DECEMBER IN MUSIC-MAD ASBURY PARK IS A SONIC SAMPLER!

Performers appearing in holiday-themed concerts this month include top row, L-R: New Narratives (Asbury Lanes, Dec. 6), Rachel Ana Dobken (Stone Pony, Dec. 6), Brian Kirk (Stone Pony, Dec. 7), Rev. Horton Heat (Asbury Lanes, Dec. 7), Jody Joseph (Stone Pony, Dec. 8), Layonne Holmes (Paramount Theatre, Dec. 8; McLoone’s Supper Club, Dec. 20); bottom row L-R: Jo Wymer (The Saint, Dec. 15), Chris Pinnella (McLoone’s, Dec. 15 & 21), La Bamba (Stone Pony, Dec. 20), John Eddie (Wonder Bar, Dec. 21), P-Dub (Langosta Lounge, Dec. 22), Happy Fits (House of Independents, Dec. 20 & 21)

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), December 5, 2019

 While it’s maybe a tad too early to anoint Asbury Park as a regional Capital of Christmas, try telling that to any of the multitudes who lined up outside Convention Hall this past Saturday, when some of the scene’s favorite makers of locally sourced, certified organic music (highlighted by Remember Jones, following up a big Back to Black Friday gig at the Pony) flipped the switch on another souped-up Santa sleighload of seasonal sounds, here in this historic city of summers.

Of course, nobody hits the latter-day circuit here in this music-mad town expecting such a thing as a Silent Night — and the holiday interlude is no exception, as the season’s traditional hymns, choral cantatas and orchestral chestnuts are given a Santa-run for their money by a set of signature sounds that boast a decidedly more jingle-bell raucous bent. It’s an eclectic advent-calendar countdown that begins in earnest this weekend — and, as becomes abundantly clear, doesn’t necessarily let up when the tree hits the beach dunes or curb.

THE BIG ONE

Back for a second annual go-round as The Hottest Ticket in Town, the all-Shore/ all-star jinglejam known as A Very Asbury Holiday Show commandeers the Paramount Theatre proscenium on Sunday, December 8 for a 2019 sequel to last year’s sold-out inaugrual edition. Produced by those most proactive preservers and promoters of the city’s principal export — that is, The Asbury Park Music Foundation — the early evening extravaganza convenes another jukebox Justice League of performers whose Asbury roots run deep. It’s a multi-generational mashup that boats some of the living-legend linchpins of the SOAP scene (JT Bowen, Billy Hector, Layonne Holmes, Lance Larson, Lisa Lowell), next-wave singer/ songsmiths (Emily Grove, Anthony Krizan, Williams Honor), and some of the true master entertainers of the Shore clubscape (Pat Guadagno, Jillian Rhys McCoy, Pat Roddy, Deseree Spinks, Eddie Testa).

All this, plus a special set by the “Grooveangelicyulegasmicfunknsoulicious” force that is Everett Bradley’s Holidelic; the debut of the new song “Gonna Be Christmas” by The Weeklings, members of 60s heavyweights Vanilla Fudge and The Rascals; a big house band (led by music director Tony Perruso) boasting veterans of such acts as the Jukes, Joe Jackson and Patti Smith; plus returning co-hosts Lee Mrowicki and WABC-TV newscaster Michelle Charlesworth (joined by 107.1 The Boss deejay Michele Amabile Angermiller) handling the play-by-play. It’s dedicated to the memory of Asbury scene stalwart Kerry Layton, with proceeds going to benefit the community programs of the APMF, Mercy Center, Jewish Family and Children’s Services, and Boys & Girls Clubs of Monmouth County (there’s also an invitation to donate new unwrapped items to the Asbury Park Toy Drive). Info on available tickets can be had at asburyparkmusiclives.org.

SPECIAL SOMETHINGS

The December yesterdays when the likes of Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Andy Williams, and The King Family aired their annual Christmas TV specials have a modern-day corollary in Asbury town, with the ever-expanding selection of special live sets hosted by performers from within and without the local scene. First out of the box (and returning to the Stoney stage on Friday, December 6) is Quincy Mumford, who joins his band The Reason Why for a 2019 Holiday Show that further features Mike Pinto and another of QM’s contemporaries among the exciting new generation of Asbury-based solo artists, Rachel Ana Dobken. Another one-to-watch act on the present Shorescape, the duo New Narratives, is among the performers helping to raise donations for the AP Toy Drive effort during a Friday evening multi-band bill at Asbury Lanes — while over at Little Buddy Hideaway (that tropic-island-nest annex to downtown AP’s Brickwall), another best-kept-secret set aims to keep the beachy vibe alive, with a tinsel-garland twang. Hosted by the folks who bring you the annual surf/ tiki/ cocktail fest Hi-Tide Weekend — Magdalena O’Connell and Vincent Minervino— Friday’s Hi-Tide Holiday session offers chestnuts from DJ Hi-Tide’s private stash of swingin’ sides, plus live and languorous sounds by Philly’s foremost purveyors of party music with a Hawaiian punch, Slowey & the Boats.

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WAG GATHER TOGETHER, FOR A HECTIC HOLIDAY SCHEDULE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ASBURY’S GOT TALLIE (AND LOTS OF TALENTED WOMEN) DURING 3-DAY FEST

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), November 21, 2019. Tallie design by Eric Schiabor

Tallie? Tallie Who? According to producing partners Brittney Dixon and Bob Makin, she’s the “overlooked girlfriend” of Tillie, the iconic figure whose toothy Cheshire-cat grin has graced many a souvenir and signifier of Asbury Park. She’s also someone whose name means princess in Gaelic, and from Friday, November 22 through Sunday, November 24, she’ll serve as spirit guide namesake for a three-day/ three venue happening designed to “shine a light on 22 female and female-fronted music acts, as a means to raise funds for two impactful women-operated Asbury-based charities” — an ambitious project called Tallie Fest.

Taking place on the stages of Marilyn Schlossbach’s Langosta Lounge and Asbury Park Yacht Club on the famous boardwalk, as well as Scott Stamper’s Main Street mainstay The Saint, the inaugural Tallie Fest celebrates “the many talented women based in Asbury and throughout New Jersey,” even as it raises funds and awareness for Food For Thought, the nonprofit initiative through which Chef Marilyn’s flagship restaurant feeds the homeless and hungry with free holiday dinners (on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter), in addition to operating a food truck that employs inner-city youth. The slate of shows also aims to benefit the Asbury Park Women’s Convention, the annual empowerment event (and its related year-round activities) that occurs during the Women’s History Month of March.

As the onetime manager of the landmark New Brunswick nightclub Court Tavern, and the promotional powerhouse behind the Brittney On Fire music showcase events (seen regularly over the past few years at venues like The Asbury Hotel’s Soundbooth Lounge), Dixon has indisputably ranked among the most influential women on the Garden State’s burgeoning music scene — although, as she readily observes, this highly anticipated “female powered” festival was originally the brainchild of Makin, the Dean of NJ Rock Journalists, and the veteran event organizer whose Makin Waves programs have raised beaucoup bucks for many a worthy cause.

“Tallie Fest was actually all Bob’s idea…I ran into him at a show at a local cafe, and he brought it up to me and I told him I loved the idea,” she says. “This is the first time we’ve ever officially done an event together, and I’m really thrilled with what we’ve created.“

“There have always been fantastic women doing their thing in the scene, and I’ve worked with a bunch of them from the get-go,” Dixon observes. “But it does seem that in recent years, bands with females or female fronts are taken a bit more seriously…it’s still not where it needs to be, but hopefully the scene can keep improving.”

Tallie floats her first notes over the chilly Atlantic with a pair of concurrent-but-connected concerts on Friday night, at the Schlossbach group’s sister saloons on the boardwalk. Langosta Lounge offers up an eclectic bill of locally based music makers, beginning at 9:30 with an unusual and exotic twist: the Middle Eastern percussion and instrumentation of music educator (and co-founder of the NY Arabic Orchestra) April Centrone. She’s followed by a young mainstay of the Shore scene, pop vocalist/ songwriter and bandleader Taylor Tote, with a closing set by Leah Voysey (from Brooklyn via Joisey).

Meanwhile, the Yacht Club features Pony-pedigreed singer and songwriter Stella Mrowicki, launching a Friday triple bill that further features Mamadrama (“a mom-only Jersey Shore band spicing rock and punk covers with inspired originals”), and Ella Ross, teamed here with a genuine Asbury original, Blaise. Both shows (as well as the two Saturday night events) are free of charge, but half of the entertainment budget will be donated to Food for Thought, which also will benefit from a 50/50 raffle, a silent auction (for color prints of co-sponsor Eric Schiabor’s Tallie poster), and a food drive through which attendees are encouraged to bring canned, nonperishable items to the show.

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