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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SHORE’S CHAMPIONSHIP BLUESBUSTER BRINGS O’REE-LY BIG SHOW

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, February 7 2019

It was some time in 2006 when Shore music fans came to the sobering realization that, effective immediately, they would have to share dibs on Matt O’Ree with the rest of the planet.

The clincher was Guitar Center’s annual King of the Blues competition for that year; a contest that the young blues-rock guitarist from Holmdel aced over a field of thousands of contenders for the throne. In addition to the instantly conferred cred, it was an accolade that netted O’Ree a cash prize, a Gibson Guitars endosement, a personal Guitar Center shopping spree — and a brand new Scion automobile, about which more in a bit.

It was a sure shot in the arm for the young veteran who’d made his rep playing in just about every indoor or outdoor setting to be found on the regional scene — from the portable parkside stages of the Jersey Shore Jazz & Blues Foundation’s summer series, to the hallowed halls of BB King’s, and pretty much every barroom, bistro, barn, backyard BBQ or boardwalk bench between.

“I was using credit cards to finance my career up to that point,” recalls the guitarist who formed his first edition of the Matt O’Ree some 25 years ago, in 1994. “So no matter how much mileage I get out of that win, being able to pay off those cards was the greatest feeling!”

That said, the single greatest thrill of Matt O’Ree’s career arguably occurred nearly a decade after that, when he was tapped by Bon Jovi to serve as an onstage guitarist for the mega-band’s Burning Bridgestour of major international markets.

“Suddenly I went from playing to a couple of dozen regulars at a local bar, to being in front of anywhere from 50 to 70 thousand people,” he says. “It was an awesome perspective to be able to experience…truly a magic moment.”

As the hometown guitar hero confesses, the aftermath of the Bon Jovi tour was an interval that “took a bit of adjustment,”while he resumed a schedule of hyper-local gigs that included a first-Friday monthly set at the music-friendly Red Bank bar Jamian’s — a tradition that he maintains to this day.

At the same time, a sold-out “homecoming” show at the Stone Pony served to “O’Ree-inforce” the fact that the guitarist was operating on a newly heightened level of play —  a fact borne out by the release of his 2016 album Brotherhood.

A followup to such multiple Asbury Music Award-winning opuses as Shelf Life, the long-player found the singer-songwriter-instrumentalist (then newly named to the NY/NJ Blues Hall of Fame) working within some rarefied company — in particular Bon Jovi charter member David Bryan, with whom he cemented his friendship and professional partnership via their co-authorship of the album’s breakout track “My Everything Is You.”

The keyboard man would go on to make several guest appearances at O’Ree gigs — and listeners would soon enough discover that the cut “Black Boots” boasted backing vocals by one Bruce Springsteen. In addition to the legendary Memphis guitarman Steve Cropper, a deeper delve into the recording sessions revealed additional collaborations with Blues Traveler harpist John Popper and Parliament-Funkadelic keyboardist Bernie Worrell— with O’Ree divulging that he’s “still sitting on”tracks featuring those artists, whose contributions were cut from the final release due to legal issues.

Even with all of that collaborative energy zinging about, the most significant partnership of Matt’s career was soon to manifest itself — and when the Matt O’Ree Band takes to the stage of Monmouth University’s Pollak Theatre this Saturday, February 9, audiences will key in on a genuine labor of love in big, bluesy bloom. Continue reading

STRICTLY BALLROOM: KEITH ROTH MARKS AN ELECTRIC ANNIVERSARY

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, December 20 2018

“The thing about those years before the internet, is that it was so much more fun seeking out the info instead of finding it online,” observes Keith Roth of the crucial interlude that straddled the heyday of the arena-rock goliaths, and the rise of the scrappy punk bands who dared to topple the big guys to earth.

“You would read CREEM Magazine, you would see what your classmates and your older brother had in their collection…and every Friday, you went to the local Korvettes store, where they had a punk rock wall in their record department!”

“I grew up in the Bronx…I mean, the first album I bought with my own money was The Dictators Go Girl Crazy,” says the 52-year old resident of Tinton Falls, in reference to the 1975 masterpiece of cheerfully offensive outer-boroughs wrestle-punk slobrock. “And when I moved to New Jersey, I kind of assumed that everybody knew who the MC5 was!”

As it turned out, not everyone in the suburban Jersey milieu could automatically name the band who did “Kick Out the Jams” on demand. And so, the aspiring rock star and record mogul Keith Roth became a man on a self-appointed mission; a calling to elucidate, illuminate and educate his new neighbors as to the rich legacy of rock and roll music’s most frantically fertile period — that beyond-the-Beatles/ way-after-Woodstock moment when classic tour-gods traversed the skies in custom jets and landed luxury automobiles in hotel pools; when the glittering stars of “glam” gleefully pushed at every pop-culture boundary of gender roles and sexual identity; when the music’s gigantic tent simultaneously housed symphonically inclined artistes, meat-and-potatoes traditionalists, and those lords and ladies of mischief who wanted nothing more than to see that big top come crashing down.

The vehicle for Roth’s supercharged passions was The Electric Ballroom, a weekly blast of words and wax that marked its twentieth year on the air (Sunday nights on 95.9 WRAT-FM out of Lake Como) this past October — and that celebrates the milestone with a special Anniversary Party next Sunday, December 30; a ringing out of the fast-fading year that finds its brick-and-mortar Ballroom inside the all-purpose auditorium of downtown Asbury’s House of Independents.

Scheduled to get underway at 7 pm, the multi-band blast is a presentation of Pat Schiavino’s Asbury Underground brand, one that represents an expansion of the twice yearly free festival of storefront music and art (returning in January with an edition keyed to Light of Day 2019, about which more to come in this space) into the realm of special concert events. As such, it’s a showcase for Roth, his own band Frankenstein 3000, and some of his favorite regional or international acts — a chance to take stock, before sprinting ahead to the next waltz on the dance card.

“This event is going to be run pretty tightly and quickly,” observes Roth of the live show; contrasting the onstage action with the Sunday-sauce studio affair that, after all these years, “follows no format…we could have (legendary Dolemite star) Rudy Ray Moore one week, and one of the Sex Pistols the next. It’s whatever’s cool; we don’t bother with playlists…so the format is that there is no format!”

All in a night’s work for an endeavor that represented “a baptism of fire” for its host back in the late 1990s; a project in which “we did everything wrong the first night…and for our first guest, we had a vampire. An actual vampire.”

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A HAPPENIN’ HALLO-WEEK, IN AND AROUND ASCARY PARK

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, October 25 2018

Let other towns lay claim to being the area’s capital of Christmas cheer; home to the longest running St. Patrick’s Day celebration; scene of the most star-spangled July Fourth display. With dozens of venues in which to dance the witching hour away — and plenty of world renowned boardwalk and boulevards on which to strut one’s carefully costumed stuff — Asbury Park has a lock on the days and nights leading up to the Eve of All Hallows, making the seaside city that so famously “came back from the dead” the undisputed headquarters of Halloween festivity.

It’s an interlude that sounds an early-October keynote with the Asbury Park Zombie Walk, the annual lurch previewed in these pages a few weeks back. And in between there are events like this past Saturday’s Haunted Carousel Dance Party, the gala-ghoul benefit for local charities from which images can be seen at ahauntedcarousel.com. But from the moment the sun goes down tonight, October 25 — and on through the moment the clock strikes midnight on November 1, the Day of the Dead — both the legendary haunted landmarks and the shiny new haunts of the greater Asbury area are where the sights, the sounds, and the seriously fun cosplay can be found.

CONCERTS

On the Asbury boards, the major concert event in the season of the witch is Convention Hell — and in this year’s edition of the Hall-rocking happening, the venerable venue welcomes the jam-circuit juggernaut Pink Talking Fish, a band that — as the name implies — triangulates a tribute to the collected works of Pink Floyd, Talking Heads, and Phish. On Saturday night, the four-piece group and friends will be saluting Floyd’s epic album Dark Side of the Moon in sound and light — and joining in the spirit of dress-up fun are three local favorites portraying acts who appeared at Convention Hall in summers past: Wild Adriatic (as Led Zeppelin), Waiting For Mongo (as James Brown and his Famous Flames), and The Burns (as Jim Morrison and The Doors). Doors open at 7 pm, with tickets ($20 advance; $25 d.o.s.)  at the box office or via apboardwalk.com.

While the Convention Hell show is open only to concertgoers age 21 and up, fans of all ages can take it over to the headquarters of the Asbury Park Music Foundation (in the Lakehouse complex on Lake Avenue) on Saturday night, where from 7 to 11 pm the annual Diamond Concerts Halloween Show presents a bill headlined by the up-and-coming Brick Township-based band The Ones You Forgot. Continue reading

SURF’s UP…UP…UP…UP (‘n UP!!) AT 5TH ANNUAL FEST

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, August 16 2018

It was a well-known left-handed guitarist (Jimi Hendrix) who famously said, “You’ll never hear surf music again.” It was another, brilliant if not-quite-so-famous southpaw (Allenhurst native John McBain, of Monster Magnet and Wellwater Conspiracy) who countered with, “Jazz ain’t the only American art form…(surf) was a musical apex for this once great nation.” And of course, it was a legendary leftie Fender-bender and surfer by the name of Dick Dale who best captured the thunder and lightning of the wild ride with the majestic “Miserlou,” first in 1962 and again in the opening moments of Pulp Fiction.

Although that 1994 Tarantino film helped re-ignite an interest in Surf Rock that continues unabated to this day — and that’s spread like California wildfire from subtropical South America, to sub-zero Scandinavia — the subgenre has historically been thought of as a left-coast thing; a phenomenon that couldn’t compete for precious Atlantic waterfront real estate with the sandy soul of Carolina beach music, Miami dance rhythms, or the SOAPy swells of the Asbury sound. But here in 2018, a married couple of enterprising, entrepreneurial impresarios from Monmouth County have successfully wed the epic thrill of surf music with the amped-up excitement of the Jersey Shore’s one true music city — and when the Asbury Park Surf Music Festival paddles out for its fifth annual edition this weekend, it’ll be an extended-play affair that can legitimately claim to be the largest such salt-water soiree, not just on the east coast, but in the entire surfin’ USA. Continue reading

Asbury Park’s a Candy Store of M&M (Music & Movies) during APMFF

Danny De Vito’s at the center of an Asbury Park Music and Film Festival weekend that also brings to town such luminaries as (clockwise from top left) Sublime with Rome, Michael Front  Wyclef Jean, and John Densmore of The Doors.

Published in The Coaster, April 26 2018

It’s another multi-day convergence of sights/ sounds/ scenemaking in a town that’s never been shy about hosting them — from Lollapalooza, Skate & Surf and ATP, to this fall’s much-anticipated inaugural edition of See.Hear.Now. But if the weekend wingding known as the Asbury Park Music & Film Festival truly distinguishes itself from the pack, it’s in the variety of vaudevilles and venues involved; in the commitment to its concept and mission — and in the fact that it keeps itself equally grounded on the hometown turf, as well as the greater entertainment universe beyond.

Now in its fourth annual edition, the ever-evolving keynote to the pre-summer season commandeers the city’s concert halls, hotels, and Circuit landmark nightspots for an a-la-carte experience that runs between Friday, April 27 and Sunday, April 29. And you’re not imagining things if you recall that the event was originally branded the Music IN Film Festival — a name that ties in to the festival’s founding as one which “explores the role of music in film,” with a core mission “to benefit underserved youth in Asbury Park.”

That mission is accomplished through funding raised for the programs of the Asbury Park Music Foundation, the education-oriented nonprofit that relocated recently to the expanded Lakehouse complex on Lake Avenue. Proceeds from the Music & Film Fest benefit the APMF’s partnerships with such city-based entities as the Boys & Girls Club of Monmouth County and Hope Academy Charter School — a range of activities that introduce kids to a love of music through its playing, its recording, and its rich local legacy.

Established in 2015 by then-APMF executive director (and drummer for the alterna-pop band Dentist) Matt Hockenjos, these days the festival is guided by principals that include Sony Pictures Classics co-president Tom Bernard, Grammy nominated photographer-filmmaker Danny Clinch, and Asbury Park Press publisher Tom Donovan. The board of directors, an august group of music biz pros, filmmakers and philanthropists, boasts such names as the Grammy Museum’s Bob Santelli, Batman franchise producer Michael Uslan, and NJ Devils great Jim Dowd.

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