REG IS MAKIN A GLORIOUS NOISE, AT 4-DAY MUSIC FEST

REG SATANA of Defiance Engine and 19DRT (photo by Judi Hull)

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), May 16, 2019

Although there doesn’t seem to be such a thing as a traditionally recommended gift for a 31st anniversary — most sources have it as somewhere between pearl and coral — that’s hardly any excuse for music fans to skip the momentous milestone occasion unfolding on the famous stage of a landmark rock bar this weekend. In fact, the official designation of the first annual Makin Waves Fest can be regarded as a Year One celebration that merits a gift of paper — namely, the legal-tender currency that allows access to one of the must-see events of the season.

The occasion is the latest birthday for the beloved baby of entertainment journalist Bob Makin — which is to say Makin Waves, the long-running, award-winning music column that appears in The Aquarian Weekly, New Jersey Stage and other Jersey-based outlets. The veteran news reporter has staked out a ringside seat for every significant development on the Shore scene throughout the past few decades; interviewing scores of music makers, promoting live shows, and in the process helping to raise many thousands of dollars for children’s charities, arts education, community food banks, and other non-profit entities.

This time out, the designated beneficiary is one that’s unabashedly close to home, as the inaugural Makin Waves Fest is a “Save the Wave” endeavor designed to help the multi-media venture “sustain itself due to a lack of revenue and funds.” To that end, Makin has partnered with a panorama of co-sponsors (including Wave Resort, BlowUpRadio.com, and Tito’s Vodka, facilitator of featured drink specials for the four-day fest) — in addition to primary host venue The Brighton Bar, the Long Branch-based outpost of the innovative and fiercely indie that carried the torch of original music, when other stages had gone dark, or surrendered to the demands of the cover-band dinosaurs and the disco ball. Under the stewardship of co-owner, public schoolteacher and seasoned punk rocker Greg Macolino, the West End wonder at 121 Brighton Avenue soldiers on into our strange new century; staying connected to its own wall-of-fame legacy, even as it nurtures another new generation of bands, off-beat comics, and other vanguard vaudevillians.

Look closer at Makin’s list of event partners and you’ll notice the banner of “Reg Satana Presents,” a name that denotes the (more or less) official entry into the band booking biz for a figure who is herself no stranger to the Brighton stage: thunderdome drummer, record label exec, pop culture authority and supermom Reg “Satana” Hogan.

“Bob suggested that I help him line up bands for the Saturday show,” explains the scene stalwart whose extensive resume includes stints with fondly recalled bands like Dimebag, Solarized, Freak Theater, and the nationally renowned Daisycutter. “I was happy to do it, since I’ve done some occasional shows at The Saint, and I’m glad to be playing it…twice!”

Reg (whose stage name pays tribute to the late great Tura Satana, one-of-a-kind star of the 1960s cinema classic Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!) appears as a member of two distinct power trios, during the May 18 multi-band blitz that kicks off at 3 pm. The surgically jagged noise-rock incursions of Defiance Engine find the drummer teaming with her husband, bassist-vocalist Jim “Rex” Hogan (with whom she co-founded the now-legendary 1980s/90s label Heat Blast Records), as well as with guitarist Rich Walter. It should be noted that, in addition, to their string-throttling skills, the two guys in the band are ace administrators of a pair of must-view Facebook groups for likeminded fans: Rich as curator of NJ Hardcore Reunion, and Rex as all-seeing watcher over the ever-growing online community known as Noise Rock Now!

The drumminatrix returns to the driver’s seat with the more recently minted 19DRT (a semiprivate-joke reference to a person or thing being so old, that they date back to the year “19-dirt”), in which “I play ‘Sammy’ to my fellow Rat Packers, Frank (Burdynski) and Dean (Monjoy).” Flexing her promoter muscles — and tying in to the day’s theme of bands who boast a connection to the fabled history of the Brighton — Reg also brings aboard the five-piece Full On Empty (featuring Keith Ackerman of The Atomic Bitchwax) and Solace (featuring Tommy Southard and Rob Hultz of the high-profile national recording act Godspeed).

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STRINGBEAN ON BOARD-WAY: A SUMMER SIGNIFIER TAKES IT OUTSIDE

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), May 9, 2019

It’s as sure a signifier of the summertime season as “Event Rate” parking: every Monday evening, from the cherry-blossom bosom of May and right on through the October moon of the Great Pumpkin,  the herringboned hardwoods of the Asbury Park Boardwalk bear witness to a ritual that’s as much about the Joy as it is about the Blues — a ceremony that summons a devoted group of followers, even as it draws unsuspecting passersby into a spell that’s “loose, danceable, with a lot less pressure to enjoy yourself.”

The speaker of these spells is blues harmonica ace, guitarist, singer, songwriter and bandleader Ken “Stringbean” Sorensen — and these revels in the foothills of the working week are the Monday night meetings of Stringbean and the Boardwalk Social Club, a tradition that inaugurated its ninth consecutive season at Marilyn Schlossbach’s Langosta Lounge on May 6. Scheduled to take place inside the waterfront restaurant for its first few weeks, the freewheeling (and free of cover charge) session is expected to hit the boards, on the oceanside patio between Langosta and the adjoining AP Yacht Club, by Memorial Day Monday if weather cooperates.

With his signature knit cap, and his hard-earned bona fides as a retired New York harbor pilot, the lanky Stringbean has the air of a guy who’s not afraid to work in “any and every kind of weather” — and indeed, the veteran of countless open-air festivals, beach jams and street fairs has already notched his first outdoor gig of the season, during last weekend’s Asbury Park Alive! fest. Pronounced “a big success” by Sorensen, the inaugural slate of health and eco-themed displays, speakers, bands and activities coordinated by the Alliance for a Healthier Asbury Park — during which Springwood/Lake Avenue was closed to vehicular traffic between Springwood Park and the boardwalk — traced its origins to an endeavor that’s long been near and dear to the musician’s heart: the effort to create a more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly community.

“Asbury’s on the right track, as far as becoming a walkable, bikeable city,” says Sorensen, himself an early member of the Complete Streets Coalition, the grass-roots group that advocates for bicycle safety. “It’s a progressive city with some wealth behind it, and a lot of people who bike for recreation, or as their main form of transportation.”

A particular pet cause for the busy  music maker has been the ongoing state-run project to place Asbury Park’s Main Street/ Route 71 on a “road diet,” with the previous four-lane layout reconfigured as two motor vehicle lanes, a central turning lane, and dedicated bicycle lanes for both northbound and southbound riders. While the project has inspired its share of detractors, Sorensen emerged as a clear and avid supporter from the get-go; writing letters to the local media, lobbying public officials, and taking every opportunity to state his case that “this is going to improve everyone’s quality of life…it’s a lot of work, but when it’s done, it’s gonna be great.”

Just in case there were any lingering doubts as to whether Stringbean “bikes the bike” as well as he talks the talk, check out Bike Riddim, the documentary that made its debut at the 2018 Asbury Park Music and Film Festival — and that made Stringbean a star of the (hyperlocal) silver screen.

Following Sorensen throughout a gig-packed summer of 2017, filmmaker (and fellow bike enthusiast) Sarah Galloway painted a portrait of an artist-activist who favors the pedal-powered two wheeler as his preferred mode of transport to all of his regular engagements, including a residency at Belmar’s Ragin’ Cajun restaurant that’s been a Sunday night fixture for 25 years.

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A SURFING REPORT, FROM AN ARTIST WITH SHOWBIZ IN HER DNA

Playwright and performer Jodi Long brings the showbiz pedigree and the backstory to the stage of New Jersey Repertory Company, with the East Coast premiere of SURFING MY DNA. Photo courtesy of NJ Repertory Co.

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), May 2, 2019

STAGES: SURFING MY DNA at New Jersey Repertory Company

While she wasn’t literally birthed in a dressing room, Jodi Long could qualify as what might have once been called a “trunk baby” — a child born into a hard-touring showbiz family, and seemingly predestined to carry on the family business.

“My parents were entertainers, dating back to before I was born, so I grew up backstage,” explains the stage/screen actress who’s perhaps most familiar as Margaret Cho’s mom on the sitcom All American Girl, and as  Steve Byrne‘s mom on the series Sullivan and Son. “They would pull out a drawer in whatever place they were staying, and that was my crib.”

Prior to making her Broadway debut at age 7 in a show directed by Sidney Lumet, young Jodi hit the road with her folks — Australian-born singer-comedian “Larry” Long and Japanese-American dancer Kimiye “Trudy” Long — as the veteran show people plied their trade at nightclubs ranging from their NYC home base, to the “Chop Suey Circuit” of the Bay Area, with the high point of their decades-spanning career being an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.

The story of the act known as “Larry and Trudy Leung” — and the experiences of the daughter who had a ringside seat to the showbiz life in her pre-school years — forms the basis of Surfing My DNA, the autobiographical theatrical piece that makes its East Coast debut this weekend at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch.  Accompanied onstage by musician Yukio Tsuji, Long returns to the downtown Broadway playhouse (where she appeared last year as part of a stellar ensemble of seasoned character actors in Fern Hill) with a retooled version of a work that she first performed in Los Angeles in 2006.

Using music, humor, and her own considerable toolbox of talents, the playwright-performer tells the tale of a marriage and a vanished lifestyle; bolstered by highs like an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show— and haunted by such experiences as Trudy’s time in a Japanese-American internment camp. Continue reading

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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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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IT’S PRIME TIME FOR SOME PRIME CUTS OF (MARC) RIBLER

Marc Ribler (left) and Steven Van Zandt (photo by Rene van Daimen)

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, February 21 2019

“He got the bug again,” says Marc Ribler of his friend and frequent collaborator Steven Van Zandt, by way of explaining how that iconic prime mover ‘n shaker of the Shore music scene — a guy who, after all, had diversified his portfolio in recent years to score significant successes in the realms of on-camera acting, Broadway theatrical production, satellite radio, education, philanthropy, and everything this side of branded spaghetti sauce — came to rely on the veteran musician as his music director for a newly resurgent iteration of the Disciples of Soul.

“Steven was working with Darlene Love, and asked me to be her music director for some shows,“ recalls the singer, songwriter and guitarist whose own solo trajectory ranges from charting songs for other vocalists, to earning a reputation as an ace interpreter of signature stuff from the classic rock playbook. “We’d do a few of his compositions at each show — ‘‘Love on the Wrong Side of Town,’ ‘Til the Good Is Gone,’ ‘Forever’ — and we all came to the realization that, wow, there’s a great body of work here.”

“A year later he called me to do a one-off festival in London, and, well…ever sonce then he’s been immersed in his own artistry. Right now his music is the center of his universe.”

Having “toured continuously”  in recent years as Van Zandt’s right-hand lieutenant (as well as co-producer of SVZ’s recording sessions), the Brick Township-based Ribler prepares to hit the international road once again, on the momentum of two new projects with the resurgent Little Steven: the just-issued Soulfire Live! box set/ Blu-Ray package, and the May 2019 release of the all-new studio set Summer of Sorcery.

“If he had somehow misplaced that songwriter within, he’s reconnected with it in a major way,” says Ribler of the bandana’d bandleader whose upcoming itinerary brings him to Australia in April, and various European ports of call in May (with some high profile CD release shows planned for New York and LA). “He’s a man on a mission!”

Before all that, however, Marc Ribler returns, in the company of assembled Friends, to the Asbury Park venue where he’s found happy harbor for the past several years — Tim McLoone’s Supper Club, the sophisticated space-age saucer that hosts not just one but twoRib-sticking repasts in the next couple of weekends. This coming Saturday, February 23, it’s a birthday salute to the life and musical legacy of the “Quiet Beatle,” George Harrison — a retrospective for which Ribler is joined by the in-demand rhythm section of Rich Mercurio (drums) and Jack Daley( bass), as well as by keyboardist Andy Burton from SVZ’s band. Then the following Friday, March 1st, it’s an Electrifying Tribute to The Who that finds the core band joined for the occasion by vocalist Dale Toth.

“Everyone in the band grew up with this music…it’s in our DNA to begin with,” observes the chief Friend  whose repertoire of special salute sets also includes a Traffic tribute performed in partnership with Jukes keyboardist Jeff Kazee. “We’ve been celebrating George’s birthday for five years now…both here, and at the Cutting Room in New York…and we like to do it at least once or twice each year.”

Scheduled for 8 pm, the Harrison set traces the personal and professional journey of a Beatle bandmate whose years in the considerable shadow of Lennon and McCartney saw him emerge over time as “an artist with an incredible sense of self…and a genuine humanity.”

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IT’S A 3-DAY, V-day WEEKEND IN ASBURY TOWN

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, February 14 2019

Ah yes, Valentine’s Day — the candy kisses and the cardboard Cupids; the sweet swirl of the sauvignon and the scent of Sunoco station roses; the prix fixe menu and the pure peer pressure of participating in a “romantic” ritual designed to make the unattached feel like they’re little more than…

Whoa, wait a minute now…that’s Anti-Valentine’s talk, and that’s an avenue that was explored to fine effect just this past Wednesday, when the Asbury Hotel hosted its Anti- V-day songwriting competition. But beginning tonight, February 14 — and continuing on through an extended interlude of concert events and variety vaudevilles — the venues in and around Asbury Park have you Casanovas covered in style, with a choice of entertainments (ranging from hyper-current to classic retro) that are all about the Live and the Love.

Among the most highly visible of the weekend’s events are not just one but two major manifestations of the modern art of Burlesque — a Burlesque-a-pades in Loveland revue that commandeers the stage at House of Independents this Friday, and a NJ Burlesque Valentine’s Show that returns to the Asbury on Saturday. Scroll it down for more details on these exemplars of the art form’s “newly re-energized, multi-gender encompassing, even empowering next wave.”

Following up on that theme of everything old being new again, the Valentine’s interval is a time in which the classic sounds of Great American Songbook pop, vintage soul serenades, and timeless jazz jams come once more to the fore — and it’s no coincidence that all of those genres have been well represented at the Brown Performing Arts Center, the intimate storefront space operated by elegant crooner Bill Brown at 312 Main Street in downtown Asbury.

A little too intimate, it can be said, to meet the demands of V-day’s romantic rush — so with that in mind, Brown has re-teamed with the more spacious Mister C’s Bistro on the Allenhurst waterfront, programming a three-night dinner/show residency that finds the singer holding court there on February 14 and 15. Then on Saturday the 16th, Bill’s buddy Bobby Valli (pictured) — brother to Jersey Boy-for-all-seasons Frankie, and a seasoned performer in his own right — closes out the stand, with available seating for any of the three shows ($69 per person) reserved by calling 732-531-3665.

Upside Tim McLoone’s Supper Club on the Asbury boards, one of the greatest non-rock albums of the classic-rock era is celebrated in style on Friday night, when Asbury’s own Chris Pinnella (himself profiled in these pages back in December) channels the legendary Chairman of the Board in a special salute to Sinatra at the Sands, the Rat Pack artifact that found Ol’ Blue Eyes singing, swinging and swaggering at peak powers, backed by fellow Jerseyan Count Basie’s band (including a next-generation arranger by name of Quincy Jones). The 8 pm event — for which Chris has shared that he won’tbe recreating Sinatra’s sign-of-their-times comic monologues — has sold out as we post this, but fans will be able to reconnect with Pinnella as he honors a regional music master of a different era, Billy Joel, at the Asbury Hotel on March 23.

Valentine’s Day proper finds the Supper Club stage playing host to an altogether different act: From Blue to Greene, the acoustic duo that pairs singer-songsmith-guitarist Austin Vuolo with vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Kaela Fanelli. The 6 pm dinner/show event ($49.95) represents the first of two opportunities to catch the twosome this weekend, as they take it downstairs to Robinson Ale House on Saturday night. Continue reading