MACK DADDY: THE ‘JAMILY’ PATRIARCH’S AT THE HEAD OF THE TABLE IN JANUARY

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, January 3 2019

For a couple of generations’ worth of Shore music fans, he’s a scene stalwart and a living landmark whose presence remains every bit as reassuring as a favorite club or neighborhood watering hole. To his fellow music makers, he’s the go-to man for all manner of sessions and sitting-in situations; a blues harp ace who can stake out harmonious common ground with acoustic old-schoolers, supercharged axslingers, roots rockers and alt-Americana songsmiths alike — or as local radio linchpin Rich Robinson said, “he could sit in with anybody like he’s played with them forever.”.

But perhaps above all else, Sanford “Sandy” Mack is the keeper of a weekly ritual that rivals any family’s most cherished Sunday-sauce tradition. At 4 pm, during every so-called “day of rest” on the calendar, an extended “jamily” of musical regulars, guest players, fans, friends, and drop-in passersby convenes inside the lobby lounge of the Asbury Hotel for a little gathering known as Sunday Jam— a lovably loose but enviably organized afternoon-into-evening that offers up a sonic smorgasbord of danceable Dead, concise classics, and some often wild workouts on things you’d least expect. All of it presided over by Mr. Mack, the patriarch of this Jamily and the founder of the feast that’s been an Asbury Park fixture for the better part of a decade.

“I’ve been doing Sundays around town for about eight years now,” says Mack, speaking amid the game tables, ultra-designey bar and conversation pit of The Asbury’s Soundbooth Lounge. “I started at Asbury Blues, and continued there when it became The Press Room…it was the first place where I ever did Grateful Dead music…and then (Stone Pony honcho) Kyle Brendle asked me if I would do a Wonder Jam event each week at the Wonder Bar.”

Those Sunday sessions at Lance and Debbie’s Circuit landmark became the stuff of latter-day legend in themselves; happenings that generated their own momentum, drew a fairly fervent fanbase, and soon had a whole lot of top-shelf talents expressing a desire to sit in. But when it came time once again to relocate the moveable feast, Mack was momentarily at a loss as to where to go next.

“I was curious about The Asbury…it didn’t look like my kind of place;; kind of upper crusty, you know…but I reached out to them,” he recalls. “They originally gave me three dates, to see what happens…that was a year and a half ago, and as you can see we’re still going strong!”

Sandy Mack will once more sit at the head of the figurative table this Soundbooth Sunday, January 6 — but before that, the harpist and a crew of his fellow Jam-mates will be performing a very special gig that’s required an unusual degree of rehearsal: a set paying tribute to The Allman Brothers, scheduled as part of A Celebration of Jam Bands.

Going up this Friday, January 4 at Asbury Lanes (where Mack and company were one of the first acts to play the reborn bowl-a-rama in a “soft opening” event last spring), the program further features the Grateful channelings of The Cosmic Jerry Band, as well as a Phish tribute featuring members of Secret Sound.

It also represents a return to the Duane/Gregg catalog for Mack, who teamed with Marc Ribler for a classic Allmans tribute a couple of years back. Joining in for the occasion will be Jam standby Mike Flynn, key man Arne Wendt, guitarist Big John Perry,  plus bassists Mike Caruso and Mike McKernan, drummers Kevin Johnson and Dan Donovan, and special guest Matt O’Ree. Stu Coogan of 90.5 The Night Brookdale Public Radio hosts the tenpins taproom throwdown, with doors at 7 pm and admission a positively spit-take-inducing five bucks.

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IT’S WHAT’S UP FOR WEEK OF DECEMBER 13-19

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, December 13 2018

SOUNDS: Project/Object at The Saint 

Frank Zappa described the grand concept behind his work, as one in which “each project (in whatever realm), or interview connected to it, is part of a larger object, for which there is no ‘technical name’.” In the decades since FZ’s passing, Project/Object staked a claim to being the premier gatekeepers of the Zappa/Mothers legacy, by virtue of the fact that each lineup has spotlighted the skills of Zappa band alumni. These days, singer-saxman-flautist Napoleon Murphy Brock and guitarist Denny Walley are the 1970s/80s-era originals carrying the torch — and when the 2018 edition of P/O arrives at The Saint TONIGHT, December 13, they’ll be channeling the Chunga via a set of concert favorites, many of which (“Village of the Sun,” “Cheepnis”) were vocalized by Brock in their first incarnations. Doors open at 7, with tickets ($20 advance; $25 at the door) at thesaintnj.com.

SOUNDS: Old 97s at the Wonder Bar

Celebrating a silver-jubilee 25th anniversary  — and returning Shoreside in the midst of a special year-end Holiday Party tour — the Texas-based alt-country/ roots-rock/ loud-folk locomotive that is the Old 97s  brings the tinsel and the turned-up-to-11 twang to the Tillie-grin stage of the Wonder Bar TONIGHT, December 13. With doors opening at 7 pm, it’s a wonderland whistlestop in which frontman Rhett Miller is scheduled to deliver a solo acoustic set, and there’s punk-rock prestidigitation byCaseymagic as well. Tickets ($25) at wonderbarasburypark.com.

STAGES: The Hip Hop Nutcracker at the Paramount 

Tell Tchaikovsky the news: The Hip Hop Nutcracker is indeed a thing; a traveling stage spectacle that re-imagines the Russian composer’s classic ballet score “with a distinctly urban twist.” It’s a suite supercharged by Jennifer Weber’s choreography, plus a cast that includes a dozen dynamic dancers, a DJ, a violin soloist — and special guest Kurtis Blow (pictured), the old-school rap trailblazer whose milestone records “The Breaks” and “If I Ruled the World” set the pace for a musical millennium to come (and who, lest we forget, debuted with “Christmas Rappin’”). A production of Newark’s New Jersey Performing Arts Center (and a presentation of NJPAC’s partnership with Madison Marquette in Asbury Park), the show lights up the Paramount proscenium for the first time TONIGHT, December 13, in its third annual tour of regional stages. Take it to Ticketmaster. Com for available seating (priced from $17-$77) to the 7:30 pm event.

SOUNDS: Puddles Pity Party at Asbury Lanes

A favorite out-of-towner visitor on the local scene, thanks to past appearances at House of Indies and elsewhere (and supercharged by widespread exposure on America’s Got Talent, Cartoon Network/Adult Swim, the “immersive theater” project Sleep No More, and the virtual vaudeville of virally viewed video) Puddles the clown brings his romantic baritone, his leaky-glass-empty outlook on life, and his unerring instinct for a compelling cover version of a pop song standard back to Asbury Park, in a two-night stand at Asbury Lanes that continues TONIGHT, December 13.

Big Mike Geier’s king-sized character project is no joke when it comes to his skills as a singer and frontman, and even if Puddles doesn’t exactly brighten one’s holiday season, there’s a good chance that he’ll invest a seasonal standard or two with the stuff that infuses his transcendent take on Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” Tickets ($35) at asburylanes.com. Continue reading

HAVE YOURSELF ASBURY LI’L CHRISTMAS: A GRAB-BAG OF MUSIC ‘N MORE

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

‘Tis the season when carols of Yuletide fill the chill air; when local houses of worship, halls of learning and points of purchase ring out with traditional hymns, choral cantatas and orchestral chestnuts of well-roasted resonance and enduring appeal. Here in Asbury Park, however, the sounds of the season boast a decidedly more jingle-bell RAUCous bent — coming in from all angles, and continuing well on through the gloriously un-silent nights of the holiday interlude. It’s a souped-up Santa sleighload slate of sonic ‘citement; a multi-genre mashup of merry wassailing  (and maybe a bit of cheerful assailing  of stodgy sensibilities) that fairly glows with civic pride and positive vibes, here in this place Where Music Lives.

It all begins this weekend — with The Big Event (and the hottest ticket in town) being the first-ever edition of A Very Asbury Holiday Show. Hosted at the Paramount Theatre  on Sunday, December 9, and produced (by those most proactive preservers and promoters of the city’s principal export to the world) The Asbury Park Music Foundation, the 7 pm extravaganza assembles a multi-generational mixtape of performers with deep Asbury roots. Featured are some of the living-legend architects of the classic SOAP scene (Bobby Bandiera, JT Bowen, Billy Hector, Lance Larson), next-wave singer/ songwriters (Emily Grove, Taylor Tote, Williams Honor), veteran master entertainers of the Shore clubscape (Jo Bonanno, Layonne Holmes, Brian Kirk, Jillian Rhys McCoy, Pat Roddy, Eddie Testa) and representatives of the dynamic new generation of Asbury-centric show bands (Remember Jones, Desiree Spinks, Waiting On Mongo).

This plus The Weeklings, Danny Clinch and the Tangiers Blues Band (as well as whatever looking-for-a-gig friends might show up), the kids from Lakehouse Music Academy, and some promised appearances by members of 60s heavyweights Vanilla Fudge and The Rascals (schedule subject to change, natch) — all under the direction of bandleader Tony Perruso, and with the helpful services of iconic Pony DJ Lee Mrowicki and guest emcee/ WABC-TV newscaster Michelle Charlesworth to keep track of the players. Proceeds benefit the APMF, 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) — and info on available tickets can be had at asburyparkmusiclives.org. Continue reading

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

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

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

5/9: Gentleman Jim: Have Triv, Will Trav

NortonTrivia3“YOU’RE the idiot!” points out genial Quizmaster™ Jim Norton, as Tuesday Night Trivia returns to the very Birthplace of Trivia…Asbury Park. (photos by Stuffy)

The question was a tricky one, regarding the founding of the NHL, and the number of member teams at the time that the league came together in 1917. The correct answer (four) fairly flummoxed fans who were brought up on the legend of the hallowed “Original Six” franchises — prompting Quizmaster™ Jim Norton to observe with a dry drip of feigned arrogance, “To all of you who actually submitted ‘The Original Six’ as your answer…and who even underlined it, like I’m some kind of an idiot…well you’re wrong. Fuck you. YOU’RE the idiot!” It was just another Tuesday in Asbury Park — traditionally a day of rest for many local businesses, there in the drab foothills of the working week — and a day often given over to some creatively wacky pursuits; a fact hammered home by this Tuesday’s head-spinning Steel Cage Match of a city council election. But on May 7, a homegrown tradition returned to take root, as the pop-cultural force of nature known as Tuesday Night Trivia reappeared with a reassuringly familiar host (Gentleman Jim) and a new lease on life, at an all-new host venue — the atom-age retro rec room Asbury Lanes. Continue reading

4/10: Asbury’s Trash Cannes by the Sea

LloydToxieLanesTroma Studios multi-media mogul (and barnstorming Barnum) Lloyd Kaufman — seen here with studio mascot TOXIE on the steps of Asbury Lanes — returns to the Shore’s atom-age rec room for the 14th TromaDance Film Festival, Friday night and all day Saturday. 

In an interview with Dorothy Creamer on our old Red Bank oRBit site (archived here on the upperWETside), Troma Studios merry mogul Lloyd Kaufman described his ultra-underground, infra-indie empire as “the jalapeño peppers on the cultural pizza” of a fastfood entertainment industry…a resolutely outsider paragon of poverty-row pedigree, now closing in on 40 years’ worth of a decidedly vintage-vaudeville approach to “creating movies of the future.”

The film production and distribution marque that gave us The Toxic Avenger hasn’t mega-morphed too far beyond its 1980s roots as a video-age inheritor of a proud drive-in tradition; a successor to all of those sub-American International outfits that were little more than a stogie-chomping would-be mogul with a three-line phone and an art-metal desk. Under the leadership of Yale-educated businessman Kaufman and co-founder Michael Herz, the Troma brand would accrue a library of cult favorites that numbered among them Class of Nuke ‘Em High, Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD, Surf Nazis Must Die!, and Poultrygeist (for which our own Mike Black contributed to the score).

Armed with both a gore-drenched Herschell Gordon Lewis sensibility AND an extra edge of “strong social satire,” the “Toxie” franchise made mainstream inroads with a trio of sequels,  Marvel comics adaptations, a Saturday morning kidtoon and an off-Broadway musical that boasted music by Bon Jovi’s David Bryan. And, in the tradition of Roger Corman and his various proteges, several Troma epics would see some of the earliest screen work by Samuel L. Jackson, Vincent D’Onofrio and director James Gunn.

What Kaufman and Troma appear to have done best is to remain a boil on the butt of the industry — both the one-dimensional dumbdowns of the MilkDud multiplexes, AND the predictable pretensions of the fair-trade-tea festival circuit. It’s a dynamic that inspired Kaufman and kompany to crash the annual Sundance Festival to establish the pirate-satellite celebration of all things inconveniently indie known as the Tromadance Film Festival — and it’s extended to an ongoing online crowd-funding campaign to invade the 2013 Cannes Film Festival for the purpose of producing a documentary (“about how independent art must fight corporate conglomerates to stay alive”) with the working title of Occupy Cannes.

Before anyone gets to go sunning their bikini lines away on the French Riviera, however, the time has come for TromaDance, an event that’s moved from the snowy slopes of Utah — to Asbury Park; specifically the atom-age tenpins taproom turned retro-rocking rec room that is Asbury Lanes. The fightin’ Fourth Avenue landmark — pretty much the only thing left standing on a block characterized by vacant lots, boarded-up bars and the skeletal carcasses of bankrupt condo projects — has provided snug harbor for the freakishly free of charge filmfest, and on Friday and Saturday, April 12 and 13, the center Lanes once more welcome the distinguished ambassador of the alternative arts for the 14th edition of the event that’s turned the Asbury waterfront into a “trash Cannes” for slumming cinephiles, unrepentant rockers and Fat Guys who go Nutzoid for vaudeville that remains verboten even in a post-ironic age where the concepts of the underground and the taboo have been rendered moot.

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