ASBURY PARK’S GOT PRIDE OF PLACE, THIS WEEKEND

If it’s the first weekend in June — and it most certainly is, ready or not — then it’s time once again for the Jersey Pride Festival, the largest LGBTQ+ community celebration in the Garden State, and an all-welcome Asbury Park tradition that marks its frankly amazing 27thannual edition this Sunday, June 3.

Centered around a vividly vibrant and ever-growing parade — as well as an all-ages festival that brings a celebratory rally, a generations-spanning mix of live music, and a full day of hometown-fair style fun to Bradley Park — the event “allows us to showcase what’s truly special with the New Jersey LGBTQ community,” in the words of Jersey Pride president Laura Pople.

A co-founder of the nonprofit organization, and one of its longest serving volunteer members, Pople is part of a “core leadership” of twenty principals in the committee that assembles the big event on the threshold of summer, each and every year since 1992. She’s joined by an additional ten “junior leaders” and some 40 to 50 volunteers, with an estimated 25 percent hailing from the Asbury Park area.

Looking back on the festival’s origins, it wasn’t difficult for Pople and her fellow organizers to envision Asbury Park as the host city for the statewide event. The seaside resort that was “uniquely Jersey, centrally located, and had a community that was going to work with us” had struggled through decades of decline by the 1990s — but it also had a long history of gay-owned taverns, hotels and restaurants, even as the downtown business base dwindled, and the waterfront stagnated within a tangle of bankruptcies and litigation. By the end of the century, the old town’s gay club scene was largely the thing that had kept the lights on, and the music playing, through so many of the city’s darkest and most deathly quiet days and nights.

That strong connection to the community also spurred a considerable investment in the faded resort’s base of still-grand old homes — and as Asbury Park’s fortunes began to creep forward again in the new millennium, that level of commitment remained a crucial component in the journey from “ghost town” to a place that now regularly rates among the most buzzed-about vacation options in the region (and, in some cases, the world). Many of the old landmark nightspots met the wrecking ball, but the LGBTQ community was here to stay, represented prominently and proudly on the city council, in public service, on the frontlines of social activism, and within a business landscape that has helped redefine how a place of brick-and-mortar can survive and thrive in an age of challenges. A good case can even be made that the Pride Festival and parade, in their colorful and resolutely committed glory, have inspired and influenced attractions that range from the city’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, to the Promenades of Mermaids, Zombie Walks, and numerous open-air celebrations of music culture that have taken their turns in the Asbury Park sun and sea air. Continue reading

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THE SUMMER OF TUNES STARTS NOW!

Adam Ant makes a not-at-all-desperate and very-much-indeed serious July 21 stop on his summer Singles tour; just one of many high-profile happenings at Asbury Park’s venerable venue the Paramount Theatre.

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, May 24 2018

From the days of Arthur Pryor’s long-running seaside serenades, to the syncopated incubations of the legendary Springwood Avenue nightspots…and from those amplified guitarslingers who plugged into the Circuit during its 1960s-70s heyday, to the new generations of dreamers who seek their fortunes on our boardwalk, boulevards, barrooms and bowling alleys…Asbury Park has long been that unique little town that comes equipped with a soundtrack.

Granted, it’s a pulsebeat that emanates year-‘round from venues located throughout the downtown and waterfront…but the coming of summer turns up the volume and ups the ante on all that, as open-air bandstands, festival stages, and suitably flat surfaces transform parks, plazas, and prime portions of beachfront real estate into vehicles for musicians of all stylistic stripes to do their thing. It all begins in earnest this Memorial Day weekend…so here’s to every maker of sweet sounds who ever turned their sandcastle dreams into concrete reality in this city of summers (plus every awesome out-of-towner who ever made Asbury Park a must-play whistlestop on the never-ending tour), and here’s a round-up preview of all the sounds coming your way. Continue reading

IT’S WHAT’S UP FOR WEEK OF MAY 24-30

From moonlighting movie stars to daylighting doctors…honorary Shore rockers to homaging rappers…a dose of The Dude high atop the Asbury, and a dash of striptease down below…there’s definitely something in the air with the coming of Memorial Day Weekend, a ready-or-not rendezvous with destiny that starts here and eeYOW! We’ve got some highlighted recommendations for you…be you tourist, townie, or tardis-tripping time lord…and we’ve got the FULL rundown of music, movie, comedy and special event listings ONLY in the printed pages of greater Asbury Park’s fightin’ weekly, The COASTER!

SOUNDS: Kiefer Sutherland at the Stone Pony

Local audiences have become accustomed to the spectacle of musically curious actors passing this way with projects that have seemed alternately heartfelt (Bacon Brothers, Jeff Daniels) and hardly-so (Russell Crowe, Keanu Reeves). But when Kiefer Sutherland returns to the Stone Pony stage for a Memorial Weekend Friday encore, he’ll roll into town as a pre-seasoned veteran who racked up a lot of life experience by the time he recorded his debut disc, 2016’s Down in a Hole. With a reverent approach to straightforward country/rock; a voice whose lower register edges ever closer to Tom Waits, and a new album apparently being prepped for release, the star of screen and screen has braved enough high-profile stages (including the Grand Ole Opry) and logged enough road miles to have truly earned the designation of Survivor. Available tickets, $27.50 in advance, can be purchased at stoneponyonline.com.

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MEET…AND GREET…THE WEEKLINGS

L-R: John “Rocky Weekling” Merjave, Glen “Lefty Weekling” Burtnik, Joe “Smokestack Weekling” Bellio and Bob “Zeek Weekling” Burger ARE The Weeklings, kicking off a Summer of (Labors of) Love with a Friday night show at Tim McLoone’s Supper Club.

Expanded from an article published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, May 17 2018

To dispense with the walrus in the room, right from the get-go: The Weeklings are nobody’s “Beatlemania” act. Their brand has nothing to do with brushing/ pressing/ shining their wigs and suits and boots — and everything to do with channeling the musically adventurous spirit of the original Fab Four. Their sonic signature isn’t so much a “greatest hits” gurgitation, but an exploration of the intriguing “inner groove” between the best-known works of Lennon and McCartney. And their canvas isn’t the county fair circuit, but the bigger wider world that extends from the premier clubs of Asbury Park, to the biggest international fan fests, symphony stages, and even the sacred soundboards of the one and only Abbey Road Studios.

Besides, when it comes to Beatle-booted bona fides, the Weeklings’ co-frontman Glen Burtnik has been there first, and done that finest; having played countless performances as Paul McCartney in the original Broadway production of Beatlemania. It’s a credit that the gold record recipient singer-songwriter-guitarist, who performs under the stage name Lefty Weekling, might be able to hold over his bandmate Bob (“Zeek Weekling”) Burger — were it not for the fact that attorney-by-day Bob can boast of having shared the stage with Sir Paul himself (as well as Jon Bon Jovi, Jimmy Buffett, and Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters) during a very memorable impromptu concert in 2007.

Having collaborated in years past on various tribute projects — and on several original songs that Burtnik brought to his two tenures in the platinum-plated classic rock band Styx — the two members in good standing of the Shore music scene entered into an official musical marriage in 2015; the same year that Glen married Christina Shafer on the stage of Asbury’s Paramount Theater in the middle of a marathon “Love Concert” benefit show (the newly minted spouses reportedly “walked the boardwalk in their suit and gown, and got boardwalk food” following the very public ceremony).

Completing their fab foursome with the addition of rhythm section aces John “Rocky Weekling” Merjave and Joe “Smokestack Weekling” Bellia — all veterans of Burtnik-organized Beatle Bash events at New Brunswick’s State Theater — the guys made their debut in a novel setting: performing on a moving trailer during the Asbury Park St. Patrick’s Day Parade. From there, the road would find the enthusiastic young band of seasoned cats appearing everywhere from outdoor summer freebies, to venerable theater-sized venues, to the Abbey Road on the River Festival in Jeffersonville, Indiana — an annual high-profile “Beatles-inspired five day music festival” to which the Weeklings return once more on May 25.

The injection of original material into the Beatle-centric repertoire is a big part of what sets The Weeklings apart from the pack — that, and the fact that the band’s core mission was to explore the largely uncharted territory beyond the more obvious signature songs of John, Paul and George; both the “songs they gave away” to other artists, and the “lost” compositions that they never got around to recording in the first place.

Along the way, the savvy songsmiths deduced that theirs was an ideal framework in which to cultivate a set of new (or newly re-imagined) originals; this in a music-biz landscape that isn’t always accommodating to songwriterly singers — even one like Burtnik,

Before all that, however, the brothers Weekling play one for the hometown fans, when they take it topside to Tim McLoone’s Supper Club this Friday, May 18. Scheduled for 8:15 pm, it’s a classy affair — complete with VIP meet-and-greet option — that’s being pitched by Lefty as something of a summer kickoff event. And what a summer it promises to be, too; one that, among many other things,  finds the core four backed by the Nashville Symphony at that city’s Schermerhorn Symphony Center on July 22 (they’ll also be playing for fabulously FREE in the Downtown Freehold music series on June 7, and at Sayreville’s Independence Day celebration on June 30).

And then there’s The Orchestra, the tirelessly touring juggernaut assembled by Electric Light Orchestra violinist Mik Kaminski, and dedicated to lushly live recreations of classic ELO hits. Burtnik sees a lot of the world as bass player and co-lead vocalist of the big band — that is, when he’s not performing as a member of the Weeklings, the Beatles tribute Liverpool, or with Burger and Merjave in Max Weinberg’s Jukebox, the fun E Street sidebar that hitches up to the Stone Pony on June 16.

While he understandably spends a good deal of his year in have-guitar-will-travel mode, the composer (whose most recent drops include the Weeklings single “In the Moment,” and the band’s full lengther Live at Daryl’s House Club, Volume 1) brings it on home these days to Asbury Park; the musically minded town to which the celebrated and self-styled “Slave of New Brunswick” relocated about a decade ago.

Of course, it’s all in a hard day’s night for the rhythm ringmaster, whose catalog includes the chart-topping “Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough” (a Grammy-nominated record by Patty Smyth and Don Henley), the Randy Travis country hit “Spirit of a Boy, Wisdom of a Man,” the regional breakout “Here Comes Sally” (introduced by Burtnik as a member of Richie Rosenberg’s big-band brouhaha La Bamba and the Hubcaps), and the top-ten Styx hit “Love is the Ritual.”  And who, on May 6, returned to the Paramount stage for the fourth time as musical director of the annual New Jersey Hall of Fame Gala — an awesomely star-studded occasion that found Burtnik breathing the same air as Bruce, Steven, moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, NASA twins Mark and Scott Kelly, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, Whoopi Goldberg, Debbie Harry, Gloria Gaynor, Cake Boss Buddy Valastro, and our own Village Person Felipe Rose.

Your upperWETside Control Voice managed to get marvelously musical moving-target Glen Burtnik to sit still for a few Q’s ‘n A’s, on the eve of what promises to be another Summer of (Labors of) Love. Here’s how THAT played out…

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IT’S WHAT’S UP FOR WEEK OF MAY 17-23

A smorgasbord of savvy speakers get PASSIONate at the Paramount…the sound of Asbury Park gets seriously POLKA-fied at everyone’s favorite Festhalle…a former flavor-du-jour from the major label exurbs finds his INDEPENDENT voice, in a House call to the Cookman corridor…while a PROJECTIONIST pays tribute to a childhood icon, AND a lakeside Asbury landmark. It’s WHAT’S UP for the week ahead, and we’ve got the highlights right here right now…while the printed pages of THE COASTER carry your full rundown of sights, sounds, screens, and scenes!

SCENES: TEDx Asbury Park at the Paramount

“PASSION” is the theme for this year’s TEDx Asbury Park, the sixth annual edition of the happening that commandeers the Paramount Theatre stage on Saturday, May 19 for a day-long menu of dynamic speakers, storytellers, songsmiths and celebs. A hyper-local and independent offshoot of the international TED talks, the event that began life as TEDx Navesink (with early host venues that included Red Bank’s Two River Theater and the Lincroft campus of Brookdale Community College) has found its happiest harbor here in Asbury town, the Shore area’s crossroads for so much of what’s most exciting in art, commerce, and the marketplace of ideas. Far from a snoozefest in a stodgy lecture hall, the TEDx AP program is at its best a confluence of the people, the projects and the progressive thinking that will shape our shoreline in the seasons to come — with maybe just a healthy dose of ego.

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A NEW STAGE FOR A STAND-UP GUY

From Red Bank to Rome…and from the White House to our “House”…BOBBY COLLINS makes a debut house call to the Cookman Ave Corridor on May 12, when the comedian visits the House of Independents.

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, on May 10 2018

“My phone rings a lot” says Bobby Collins, speaking from Rome, Italy in what must be an epic understatement of this maybe too-connected age.

The constantly working comic — who averages more than 200 shows each year, in locales that range from Hong Kong to Hasbrouck Heights, and Levittown to London — is in Rome precisely because his phone rang the other day, with his old friend Cher at the other end of the line.

“She said, ‘Bobby, I got a f***in’ special event for you’,” reports the veteran funnyman, who’s toured several continents with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Dolly Parton, and Julio Iglesias — and just like that, it was off to the Eternal City for a one-off performance, shoe-horned between Cher’s extended-engagement gigs at the Monte Carlo in Vegas.

All in a lucrative night’s work for the have-gags-will-travel Collins, a standup’s standup who boasts six CD releases, a top-selling book, appearances on three iterations of the iconic Tonight Show (“Johnny, Jay, and Jimmy”), and a well-earned reputation that’s carried him from the highway “Chuckle Huts” of this great land, to command performances at the Clinton and Obama-era White House.

Add to that another recent gig with Celine Dion at that “other” White House — Mar-A-Lago — following which President Trump complimented him with a “good show…I started to laugh,” before dropping the question, “so, did you vote for me?”

“ I told him I would rather vote for El Chapo,” recalls the comedy pro who once clocked many hours at the mic inside various Trump-branded properties in Atlantic City. “All of his people laughed…but he didn’t.”

While he might dial back some of “the political sh*t” for audiences in places like Bangladesh, topical topics remain part and parcel of the Collins comedy curriculum, within the busy itinerary of an entertainer who’s constantly testing out new material; who’s not afraid to “go there” or work a shade or two of blue; and who continues to observe that “I get paid to have fun…although the travel gets to me.”

“I take it a little bit easier in the warmer months,” says the theater-size attraction who performs at nearly 50 good-sized auditoriums (as well as “three or four” favorite smaller clubs). “Summer is for casinos and golf benefits…I hit ‘em hard in January, February, and March.” That said, Collins is still out there on the road in the merry month of May — a road that takes him, for the first time this Saturday, May 12, to the House Of Independents in (according to his website) “Ashbury NJ.”

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IT’S WHAT’S UP FOR MAY 10-16

The Sainted Zappa’s legacy REVISITated…fast-food culture RECYCLE-arted…punk-rock pappies RESURGENTized…the Stoney’s SummerStage REOPEN-ized…the Golden Gays girls re-BRUNCHIFIED…The Music Man re-YOUTHIFIED…and Asbury VIPs re-ENERGIZED for another spin on the Carousel…it’s WHAT’S UP in and around Asbury town for the week beginning Thursday, May 10, and we’ve got the highlights right HERE, with the FULL layout of music, movies, art, special events and MORE exclusively in the printed pages of THE COASTER weekly!

SIGHTS: RECYCLED at Art629 Gallery

The gallery at 629 Cookman Avenue in Asbury Park hosts a group show featuring new works constructed from  recycled/ repurposed materials. Artists include Lisa Bagwell, whose delectably “disposable,” playful parodies of fast food culture have been seen at area libraries and at the Monmouth Arts “Zero Waste Arts Fest” on Sandy Hook. Also represented: Joe Harvard, crafty curator of Cookman Ave’s own gARTen project (coming soon to an additional west side locale!). Call gallery at 732-859-1458 for exhibit dates and hours. Continue reading

A CULT COMPOSER, AMAZING EDNA, RISING STARS ON STAGE IN MAY

Joe Iconis, composer of the cult-hit musical BE MORE CHILL, returns to Red Bank’s Two River Theater to star in a special benefit event on Saturday, May 19. (photo courtesy Two River Theater)

Published in the Asbury Park Press, May 4 2018

The merry month of May brings a bounty to Shore area theater fans, courtesy of a few newly flowering perennials, a couple of surprise sproutings, and maybe even an invasive thriller or two to keep things truly interesting. We’ve got your roundup, so to speak, right here.

A recent, widely read article in the New York Times called it “one of the most popular new musicals in America, with a passionate fan base that dwarfs the number of people who have ever seen the show” — a reference to none other than Be More Chill, the supercharged sci-fi high school musical that made its commissioned world premiere at Red Bank’s Two River Theater back in 2015. Based on a novel by the late Ned Vizzini — and playfully touching on themes that include addiction, acceptance, and assimilation into the popular-kids social hierarchy — the show by composer Joe Iconis and book writer Joe Tracz has since gathered major momentum through viral streaming of its soundtrack album, an international fanbase, and a series of school and community productions that included a successful staging by Tom River’s Exit 82 company. On the eve of a commercial Off Broadway revamp — and even as Two River Theater Company commissions an all new project from the Two Joes team — the Be More Chill songwriter returns to Red Bank for a special benefit event on Saturday, May 19. Billed as “An Evening with Joe Iconis and Family,” the fundraiser for TRTC’s ambitious slate of development programs is “a combination of rock ‘n’ roll jamboree and musical cabaret” that “will include classic tunes, new numbers, and works-in-progress.” Joining Iconis and director John Simpkins are such “family” member vocalists as orignal Chill veterans Lauren Marcus, Eric William Morris, and George Salazar; tickets ($60-$250) and details on a pre-show cocktail reception and post-show family dinner are available at tworivertheater.org or 732-345-1400.

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