IT’S WHAT’S (ALSO) UP FOR WEEK OF DECEMBER 6-12 (NON-XMAS EDITION)

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, December 6 2018

SOUNDS: Wynonna and the Big Noise at Monmouth U 

It’s a local debut for the platinum-plated country star who made her first big noise as the younger half of the mother-daughter duo The Judds — but when she comes to the Pollak Theatreat Monmouth University on Saturday, December 8, Wynonna showcases her more recent incarnation as the rock-rhythm and blues infused front-woman of The Big Noise, the guitar-driven band that teams her with husband and drummer Cactus Moser. The singer who took such country-pop ballads as “Grandpa (Tell Me ‘Bout the Good Old Days)” to the top of the Billboards had been seriously flirting with a leaner-meaner sound, as far back as her appropriately titled 1997 album The Other Side — and with a set list that ranges from gritty blues-rockers (“Ain’t No Thing,” “You Make My Heart Beat Too Fast,” “Cool Ya”) to trad Americana (“Things That I Lean On,” “Jesus and a Jukebox”) and re-imagined chart-toppers, the Grammy nominee performs with a newfound sense of purpose and extended “family.” Take it to www.monmouth.edu/arts or call the box office at 732-263-6889 for tickets to the 8 pm show ($65-$85). Continue reading

IT’S WHAT’S UP FOR WEEK OF NOVEMBER 29-DECEMBER 5

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, November 29 2018

SOUNDS: Doo Wop Project Holiday at Monmouth U 

As cast members of some of the most popular jukebox musicals of all time (including Jersey Boys and Motown: The Musical), the  five vocalists of The Doo Wop Project were directly inspired by such street-lamp serenaders. as The Del Vikings, The Capris and The Belmonts. When the men from DWP (Dominic Scaglione Jr., Russell Fischer, Dominic Nolfi, Charl Brown, Dwayne Cooper) return to the Pollak Theatre at Monmouth University TONIGHT, November 29, they’ll be bringing the audience on a musical adventure that ranges from spot-on recreations of vintage hits, to reimaginings of songs from the 1980s and the new millennium — with a special set of holiday signatures guaranteed to swap that lamppost for a candy-striped North Pole. Tickets for the 8 pm show ($25, $35) at http://www.monmouth.edu/arts.

SCENES: Tree Lightings, Menorah Lightings and Krampus Sightings   

Following up on last weekend’s lighting of the big Douglas Fir inside Convention Hall, the annual tree lighting ceremony at Fireman’s Park (Main Street in Asbury Park, between Sunset and Fifth Aves) takes place this Friday, November 30. Enjoy holiday refreshments, live/ DJ music and caroling during the all-welcome event that starts at 5:30 pm — then watch this space for details on the Springwood Tree Lighting and Kwanzaa event, going on next Saturday, December 8!

The grounds of the historic Eden Woolley House (703 Deal Road) is the setting for the annual Ocean Township Christmas Tree Lighting, going on at 4:30 pm this Sunday, December 2 — following which, take it to the nearby Town Hall for the lighting of the menorah, scheduled for 6 pm.

Over at Volunteer Park (South Riverside Drive in Neptune), the township’s annual tree lighting flips the switch at 6:30 pm on Wednesday, December 5. Co-sponsored by Recovery Along the River Foundation, it’s an all-welcome affair that offers seasonal refreshments, live ‘n local music, and a scheduled visit from the Big Guy himself.

Keep it tuned here for info on the upcoming lighting events in Ocean Grove, Allenhurst and Interlaken — and don’t forget about Krampus Asbury Park, the fourth annual costumed march/ filmfest/ celebration of that other old-time Yuletide visitor, going on around Cookman Avenue this Friday evening and Saturday (see krampusap.com for details — and check out our feature here on the upperWETside)!

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AT MONMOUTH U, A FAB FOUR-DAY FORAY INTO A BRIGHT WHITE ALBUM

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, November 8 2018

It’s “the anti-Sgt. Pepper” if you will; an audacious, ambitious, eclectic piece of work that “if you surrender to it…batters you around like a shuttlecock” — and that “looms large as a big, brash, bold statement.”

The words are those of Kenneth Womack, Ph.D — Dean of the Wayne D. McMurray School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Monmouth University; award-winning author and critic; in-demand lecturer, and internationally recognized authority on the history, the lasting legacy, and the cultural influence of a little band called The Beatles. And the not-a-Pepper in question?  That would be the album also called The Beatles — a two-disc touchstone that marks the 50th anniversary of its release here in November 2018, and that remains known — due to obvious optics, and lack of any other formal christening — as The White Album.

Even if you’re not accustomed to big, brash, bold statements that arrive in deceptively plain, blank, “no frills” packaging, there’s no denying that the 1968 double-LP remains the great white elephant in the room for a couple of generations of music fans and cultural observers — an inviting canvas that would come to be embraced by both people-pleasing politicians and murderous Mansonites, and a cheerfully challenging opus that dispensed with the candy-colored psychedelia of 1967; re-establishing the Fab Four as a cohesive band, even as it laid the groundwork for the group’s quickly onrushing End of Days.

Beginning TODAY, November 8, and continuing in an extended weekend of events through Sunday, November 11, Monmouth University hosts The Beatles’ The White Album: An International Symposium — the latest in a successful series of academic conferences sponsored by the Bruce Springsteen Archive and Center for American Music at Monmouth; the resource whose director, Eileen Chapman, is both a longtime figure on the Asbury Park music scene and a current member of the city council.

Although The Beatles never played Asbury Park (they did perform a Philadelphia concert that was produced by Convention Hall event promoter Moe Septee), the music-mad city makes its presence felt here on Thursday’s opening day, with a Rock and Roll Walking Tour of local landmarks conducted by authors and Boss authorities Jean Mikle and Stan Goldstein. It’s an encore presentation of a featured attraction from several of the Springsteen-themed conferences hosted previously at Monmouth (including last spring’s salute to Darkness on the Edge of Town), with tickets ($35; see Monmouth.edu/the-white-album) still available, and the two-hour tour commencing at 1 pm from The Wonder Bar (Ocean and Fifth Avenues).

From there, the action moves to the West Long Branch campus of Monmouth U, where the school’s auditoriums and public spaces host an impressive array of Beatles experts and collaborators, as well as an assembly of Shore-based musicians who are raring to share their own musical perspectives on the album of the hour.

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IT’S WHAT’S UP FOR WEEK OF NOVEMBER 8-14

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, November 8 2018

SOUNDS: The Duprees at Tim McLoone’s 

Their catalog boasts “My Own True Love,”  “Have You Heard,” and what might just be their finest few minutes on record — that travelogue pledge of undying love, “You Belong to Me.”  Some 60-some years on, The Duprees don’t just belong to the ages (or to that know-it-all “oldies” collector in the track suit who wouldn’t cut you a break on that scratched-up single by the Jive Five) — but to the here and now, as the doo wop quartet has never stopped delivering their sublime little slices of streetcorner soul to a multi-generational public that’s hungry for harmony. On Saturday, November 2, the veteran vocalizers take it topside to McLoone’s Supper Club for some smooth slow-dance Saturday night sets of favorites from the Fifties, the early Sixties, and both-ways beyond. Available tickets for the 8 pm show start at $40, with seating reserved at timmcloonessupperclub.com.

STAGES: ANNIE at Axelrod PAC

Andrea McArdle, the original Little Orphan Annie of the Tony winning 1977 Broadway original, returns to the hit musical (this time as mean Miss Hannigan) in a new production at the Axelrod Performing Arts Center in Ocean Township. Performances at 8 p.m. on November 8, 9, 10, 15, 16 and 17; at 2 p.m.  on November 10, 11, and 17; at 3 p.m. on November 18, and at 7 p.m. on November 11. Reserve tickets ($46-$56 adults, with discounts for seniors and students) at axelrodartscenter.com. Check upperwetside.wordpress.com for our archived Coaster interview with McArdle on the new production.

STAGES: HAPPENSTANCE at Jersey Shore Arts 

The prolific collective La Strada Ensemble Theater returns again to the third floor cafe space at  Ocean Grove’s Jersey Shore Arts Center, with a program of four short original “plays about rolling the dice” (by Tom Cavanaugh, A.J. Ciccotelli, and Emmy winner William Mastrosimone) plus a cast that boasts Lite FM radio personality Christine Nagy (pictured at left). Performances are November 9 (8 pm) and November 10 (2 and 8 pm); reserve tickets ($25; senior and student discounts) at lastradaensemble.org or 732-455-2748.

STAGES: THE DROWSY CHAPERONE at Monmouth U

A clever pastiche of 1920s Jazz Age tunefests (and the fans who love them), the Tony winning 2009 meta-musical (with songs by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison) comes to the Lauren K. Woods Theatre in a production from the Department of Music and Theatre Arts at Monmouth U. Professor Sheri Anderson directs a student cast, with performances at 8 p.m. on November 9, 10, 14, 15, 16 and 17, plus 3 p.m. matinees on November 11 and 18. Reserve tickets ($20; free for MU students) at http://www.monmouth.edu/arts.

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STEVE FORBERT: HONORARY SHORECAT IN THE BIG LITTLE CITY

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, August 2, 2018 (photo by Alan Messer)

There it was again, just the other day — descending from the supermarket store speakers like a friendly angel; adding a subconscious spring to each shopper’s step with its perky piano-driven promise of “southern kisses” and sneak-on-out romance; blessing each purchase of Entenmann’s Glazed Pop-Ems and Plumpy’s Frozen Calamari with the same cheerful upbeat plea for love beneath sun and stars (or back there“behind the chandelier”) that took it to the Billboard Top Twenty chart in 1979.

Even those patrons of the Neptune Shop-Rite who immediately matched “Romeo’s Tune” with its composer and performer Steve Forbert might not have realized that not only is the veteran music maker “Alive on Arrival” and deliriously active on multiple creative fronts — he could very well be the next guy in the checkout line, having become a full-time Neptune resident some 17 years ago (and prior to that, a frequent flyer to our fair Shore, thanks to the presence of a longstanding Juliet to his Romeo).

For the Grammy nominated native of Meridien, MS who’s a proud inductee of the Mississippi Music Hall of Fame — and whose voice retains its honeydrip willow-weep drawl in conversation (and its fine-grain belt-sander blues-grit in concert), the area served by The Coaster is more than just a place to hang one’s figurative hat. Having written and recorded hundreds of songs since the release of his debut LP a full four decades back, he’s seen his works covered by the likes of Rosanne Cash, James Maddock, Carolyne Mas, Marty Stuart, and Keith Urban — and his established presence on the Asbury Park scene has granted him the local-dude cred to put forth such tunes as “Strange Names (North New Jersey’s Got ‘Em),” “My Seaside Brown-Eyed Girl”— and “Sandy,” a 2013 single that name-checked the communities devastated by that selfsame superstorm (and ended on a hopeful note of rebuild and restore).

Then there was Highway of Sight, the 2011 exhibition (and its 2015 sequel) that commandeered Cookman Avenue’s Art629 Gallery for a intriguing look at an altogether different facet of the musician’s art — a first-rate collection of photographs, showing people and places from one man’s ongoing road trip through the space and the spirit of a blacktop-laced continent. And it was Asbury Park that played a significant part in one of Forbert’s most famous extracurricular endeavors, when he took the stage at the old FastLane to sing Little Richard songs with Cyndi Lauper, then fronting the band Blue Angel — a lark that led to his appearance as Cyndi’s tux-clad beau in the mega-heavy rotation video for “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.”

While he still practices his “glorified hobby” as a lensman, Forbert harbors no illusions about a pursuit in which “you’ve gotta be William Eccleston to be able to do a proper photo book” — and it’s the pursuit of his first and foremost muse that brings him back to the Asbury stage on Friday, August 3, when he pays a visit to the Circuit-side staple Wonder Bar in the midst of a northeastern tour with his band, The New Renditions.

It’s actually a rare full-combo gig on the home front, for a performer whose local appearances in recent years have ranged from duo sets at McLoone’s Supper Club and featured spots at Light of Day concerts, to holding down the Stone Pony SummerStage all by his lonesome, as an opener for Johnny and the Jukes. Backed by an “all Jersey people” organization — Jesse Bardwell (mandolin, guitar), Caleb Estey (drums), Todd Lanka (upright bass), and George Naha (lead guitar) — Forbert promises a retrospective that ranges from the earliest times of his 40-plus years as a troubador, to a preview of his latest album.

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MAKIN MUSIC HISTORY, FOR 30 WUNDERBAR YEARS

Williams Honor (Reagan Richards, Gordon Brown) is among the acts of Asbury Park’s musical past/ present/ future convening at the Wonder Bar on Saturday, March 31, as Jersey-legend soundscribe Bob Makin (below, with daughter Bekah) celebrates the 30th anniversary of his go-to column MAKIN WAVES.

(Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park, March 29, 2018)

“I was introduced to The Sounds of Asbury Park in the summer of ‘78, when Lord Gunner played my friend Kelly’s parents’ annual Labor Day Beach Bash,” wrote Bob Makin some years back, in a retrospective series of articles. “My old man tried to turn me onto Springsteen a couple of years before, but I thought Bruce was ‘a big, hairy werewolf with a sore throat’.”

“Little did I know I would become a music journalist, inspired by Springsteen, the Asbury Park music scene and my entertainment editor dad.”

Thirty years after that pivotal summer when he published his first music dispatch — and in a writing career that approaches the threshold of its fifth decade — the veteran reporter is Makin Waves once again, with an all-day bandfest that celebrates the “pearl anniversary” of his column by that name; in the process paying tribute to generations of music makers here in the seaside city that so electrified his Selectric way back when.

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COMICS CREATORS FIND SUPERPOWERS IN BUSINESS ALTER EGOS

cliff Rob_wall Originally published on TheStreet.com May 11, 2014

To hear Cliff Galbraith tell it, he might just be the only guy ever to conceal a business text behind a comic book — an act that turns a time-worn cliche on its ear, even as it reinforces the fact that the New Jersey based comics creator keeps up with the latest titles by Gladwell and Ben Horowitz “like they were Game of Thrones.”

With two self-published Crucial Comics titles in circulation, and lordship over a pair of buzz-generating commercial websites, Galbraith could already be said to have enough on his drawing board. But it’s his newly minted status as co-founder of a growing empire of ComiCon events that’s got the veteran cartoonist hitting the books over such topics as subcontracted security, guest accommodations, and the sweet science of customer service.

Cliff and his partner in the Con game — fellow Red Bank, NJ resident and “popculturist” authority Rob Bruce — recently wrapped a successful fourth edition of their Asbury Park ComiCon, a “relatively small” two-day extravaganza that drew some sought-after star talent and thousands of fans to the salty Jersey Shore resort. Just weeks from now, they’ll be doing it all again, during a first-ever New York Comic Fest that commandeers the Westchester County Center in White Plains, NY for a single Saturday on June 14.

Sponsored by the pair’s online outlets 13th Dimension and  Monsters and Robots, the spring 2014 events represent a quantum leap forward from the “microscopic” bowling-alley origins of the first Asbury Park gatherings. At the same time, they remain manageably scaled affairs designed to “promote the people who create comics,” in an age when the major conventions have been effectively hijacked by the entertainment conglomerates behind the top titles, publishers and properties.

 

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LEE BLESSING’S NEWEST IS A DOOM WITH A ‘VIEW’

View15Mountain Madness: John Little, Katrina Ferguson, Eva Kaminsky and Michael Zlabinger star in New Jersey Repertory’s world premiere of A VIEW OF THE MOUNTAINS, Lee Blessing’s follow-up to his Pulitzer nominated A WALK IN THE WOODS.  (photo by SuzAnne Barabas)

Back in 1988 — at the tail end of a Cold War that proved pretty fertile fodder for highbrow drama and low-blow satire alike — a playwright by name of Lee Blessing crafted a two-hander that wore its message of human engagement on its sleeve, and took it all the way to Broadway.

A nominee for both a Tony and a Pulitzer Prize — and adapted to TV with its stage cast intact — A Walk in the Woods placed a passionately principled young American arms negotiator named John Honeyman (Sam Waterston), and a wry and worldly old Soviet named Andrey Botvinnik (Robert Prosky), in a neutral-ground setting far from the brinksmanship and blustering of the conference room.

Here in 2014, John Honeyman lives again; not as a John Le Carre sort of weary warrior called back in from the cold, but as the man-out-of-time figure at the center of A View of the Mountains, a follow-up (of sorts) to Woods — as well as a scenario that trades the 20th century arms race for its millennial equivalent (the weapons-grade rhetoric of the amped-up, ramped-up “national debate”), and the sardonic Soviet for a more homegrown antagonist: Honeyman’s Republican son from his first marriage.

As seen in a world premiere engagement currently on display at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch — where previously produced Blessing scripts have included Eleemosynary and WhoresMountains finds the Honeyman character (John Little, adding another role to his gallery of patriarchs in crisis) living with his heiress second wife (Katrina Ferguson) and a teenage son named for the play’s Andrey character (Jon Erik Nielsen platooning with Jared Rush), in an upstate New York retreat framed as a sparsely appointed and highly stylized simulacrum of the real world.

He’s also contending with a conflict that goes beyond mere daddy-issue angst: estranged son Will (Michael Zlabinger) is now a United States Senator who’s been short-listed for the running mate slot in the next presidential election — a resolutely right-wing rising star whose entire career is based on a complete refutation of the father who neglected his original family way back when. Under the direction of Evan Bergman (Saving Kitty, Jericho), things really come to a head when the veteran negotiator turns blackmailer; threatening to rattle a long-fogotten skeleton in the junior Senator’s closet unless he does nothing less than withdraw completely from public life.

Put aside any thoughts of the father-son thing being at the heart of this one-act piece, however — the play packs a thermonuclear punch in the person of Gwynn (Eva Kaminsky), the young pol’s campaign manager wife, and a stridently one-stop generator of negative energy who scans for listening devices, tests food and drinks for poison, threatens to beat and tie up the other characters, treats even her husband with contempt and basically makes the darkly ambitious Lady Macbeth look like dear Little Nell. Blessing writes here with needle-sharp pen and the most slash ‘n burn sort of character dynamics — and Kaminsky takes ownership of the proceedings with a love-to-hate performance that matches the author’s anything-but-subtle style.

The playwright, who made the opening-weekend trip from his California home to downtown Long Branch (on a particularly grim week marked by a leaper’s suicide from the neighborhood’s 500-foot radio tower), spoke to your upperWETside Control Voice prior to the first preview.

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