3/21: It’s Where Movies Live Too, Y’know

Rapper’s Delight — the new group featuring original Sugar Hill Gang oldschool professors Wonder Mike and Master Gee — performs its first full concert at Asbury Park’s Paramount Theatre on Saturday night as part of the tenth annual Garden State Film Festival; an event (with special guest rappers) tied in to a screening of the documentary I WANT MY NAME BACK.

We’ve hinted at it before, but in between all the welcome hoopla to the effect that Asbury Park is Where Music Lives, we’d make the case that the city that once served as home base for legendary theatre mogul Walter Reade; the historic home of movie palaces like the late lamented Mayfair, the still-standing Paramount and the back-soon Savoy is furthermore a place Where Movies Live.

Not bad for a town that doesn’t have a multiplex within city limits — although the coming months promise the appearance of not one but two multi-screen arthouses (including the newly expanded downtown landmark The ShowRoom). Still, even as old-neighborhood nickelodeons like The Baronet have  bitten the briny dust in recent years, the town that gave us Bud Abbott, Danny DeVito and, uh, Rick Salomon has found a way — whether it’s a free beach movie on an inflatable screen, or a cinematic singalong session at the Supper Club. A music/film series at a downtown coffeehouse, or a backdrop of vintage stags at the Lanes. Any of the screenings that accompany major events like ZombieFest and All Tomorrow’s Parties, or the intimate movie-club house parties that happen right here at the historic  Stephen Crane House.

Pre-dating ALL of the above is an event that’s existed on the leading edge of the city’s slow reclamation of the region’s cultural spotlight — the Garden State Film Festival, the 10th annual edition of which takes place in and around Asbury town this weekend, March 23-25. A filmfreak fiesta of short subjects and features; comedies, dramas, documentaries and otherwise unclassifiable endeavor; the GSFF employs the town as its canvas, offering dozens of events at venues that range from iconic landmarks like the Paramount and the Berkeley Hotel, to some new fave restaurants and even the surprisingly comfy screening space of the City Council chambers. It’s all the brainchild of founder Diane Raver, herself the first female president of a commercial production company and an industry veteran whose many contacts include TV star daughter Kim Raver (Grey’s Anatomy, 24). As legend has it, it was a supermarket encounter between Diane and the late actor Robert Pastorelli, (best recalled as Eldin the painter on Murphy Brown) that led to the establishment of the GSFF in 2003 — and the legacy of Pastorelli, who died of an apparent heroin overdose in 2004, lives on in the festival’s annual Robert Pastorelli Rising Star Award, presented to NJ residents who “have made inroads to the industry through hard work and determination.”

There’s also a Lifetime Achievement Award to be presented to a very special guest — and this year’s recipient is a performer, activist and Screen Actors Guild president who’s lived a lifetime and then some on the big and small screen — Ed Asner, the TV powerhouse (Mary Tyler Moore, Lou Grant, Roots and tons of memorable movies) whose natural versatility and big-hearted-tough-guy persona continue to gain him new fans through recent projects like Up, Elf and Too Big to Fail. Also coming to town for the festival will be a couple of genuine founding fathers of OldSchoolHipHop  — Wonder Mike and Master Gee, the MCs who summoned it all into being with Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight,” and whose rise, fall and rise again will be celebrated on screen and in live concert. There’s even a bit of tangential involvement by the UpperWETside (for which we are happy to accept a VIP badge and conduct an audence Q&A with an official questionnaire) — and while we urge you to design your own GSFF experience by consulting the festival website and schedule, we’d be remiss if we didn’t offer up our own select picks from the coming days and nights, all of which unspool on the next reel…

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1/31: It’s a Regular Life, for Carol(yne) Mas

Carol Patricia Mas of Pearce, Arizona — better known as singer, songwriter and rockonteur CAROLYNE MAS of New York, Nashville, Asbury Park and many other coordinates on the GPS — has some songs for sale, a smile for her faithful fans, and a slew of stories for the asking.

A few weeks ago we let slip in this space the fact that Carolyne Mas had floated the idea to her Facebook friendbase that she was “looking to sell my portion of my publishing for all of my songs…all of them.”

“I am ready to walk away from music for good and get on with my life at this point,” said the singer best remembered for the rollicking, sax-driven minor hit “Stillsane” and the eponymous 1979 album it hailed from. “Perhaps my music can provide me with one last parting gift.”

It was a bolt from the blue as regards the veteran singer-songwriter (and onetime Jersey Shore resident) — one that elicited a strong “don’t do it” response from a lot of her musical brethren and sistren, and a report that left her “appalled” that we would share her public-forum post in such a fashion.

While we hadn’t spoken personally to the diminutive rock diva since her original, largely strugglesome tenure in and around Asbury Park in the 1980s, we reckoned it warranted a conversation — a chance to reboot and catch up; a forum in which the singer (who prefers to be called Carol Mas these days) could update everyone back here on the upperWETside as to her current whereabouts and activities, as well as her reasons for putting the fruits of her creative labors up on the block.

This is a woman who’s been dealt more than her share of adversity in a public life of more than 30 years. It’s a run of lousy luck that’s ranged from the standard music biz chew-ups and spit-outs (misbehaving management, radio playlist politics, piss-poor promotion) to protracted financial/ legal woes, health issues, busted relationships, family illnesses, crazy stalkers and a 2009 controversy that landed her in the headlines in Florida’s Hernando County, where she and her husband then operated an animal rescue operation known as Our Animal Haus (the couple’s disputes with county Animal Control resulted in the seizure of most of the animals in their care; Mas lays out her side of the story in detail here on her blog).

Then there was the 1986 incident in which she was attacked and stabbed nearly to death inside her home (by an assailant who remains unidentified and uncaught to this day) — an event that served as a bad bookend to a Shore area tenure during which ongoing legal hassles with management kept her from performing as a professional musician, forcing her to make the nut by doing everything from waiting tables and stocking shelves, to dancing in some of the many lovely go-go bars that dotted the Monmouth County coastline in those days.

Now relocated to rural Arizona with her husband and son, 56 year old Carol Mas is nothing if not a consummate survivor — this is no hermit in exile or broken shell of her old self, but an outgoing, active parent and community member who’s worked hard to achieve what is anymore the only real promise of American life: the chance to reinvent oneself, in as many ways and as many times as you damn well please. She’s someone who has no problem reminiscing, discussing and laughing about her life as a next-big-thing pop star — while making it evident that she’s able to do all this because she’s succeeded in taking the pressure off herself.

In there somewhere, of course, there still resides the ambitious, stage-savvy performer who emerged out of the same NYC troubador scene that gave us Steve Forbert, Willie Nile, Garland Jeffreys and Cyndi Lauper’s Blue Angel; a songsmith who could pen a radio-ready original like “Quote Goodbye Quote” or deal an authoritative cover of Forbert’s “You Can Not Win if You Do Not Play.”

There was “mucho mas” to Mas of course than those early Mercury LPs (finally released to a double CD set just last year). There were several well-received live recordings, fueled by a strong following in Germany (apparently, one does not Hassel the Hoff OR the Mas). There were self-released, Europe-only studio albums in the late 1980s and early 1990s (one of which, Action Pact, teams her with the greatest garage/barband in the observable universe, the Missouri combo known primarily as The Skeletons). And there was her participation in the JAM (Jersey Artists for Mankind) project, joining the likes of Bruce, Clarence, Max, Southside and Glen Burtnik on the Band Aid-style single “We Got the Love” (catch her solo spot at 4:12 in the clip).

Carol/ Carolyne isn’t at all shy about hooking old and new fans up with her recorded works (in a variety of formats, including flash stick) on her official website — and as we found out when we rang her up at her Grand Canyon State getaway, she’s got a story or two to tell. Read on…

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1/19: We Take Crumbs That We’re Thrown

So yesterday (January 18) the SOPA de la Dia down at the Farcebook luncheonette centered around the latest threat to our internet way of life, the often uneasy separation of Liberty and Piracy, and the take-THAT whammy of A Day Without BoingBoing.

All this with an underlying note of buzz in anticipation of “We Take Care of Our Own,” the new track from Bruce Springsteen — and a first whack from Wrecking Ball, the long player now taking pre-orders in advance of an early March blitzkrieg.

Comes January 19, however, and the Friendscape is strangely subdued regarding the newly free-range tune, an arena-scale rallystarter with just enough button-pushing repetition of the title to suggest that the author means it to be taken at face value — and just enough spaces between the buttons to suggest that Boss is being just a gentle bit ironic here.

Our pal John Ward put it best, we think: “More product from the anthem factory. I have deep respect for the towering artistry of Springsteen’s youth, but for years he’s been thematically, melodically and rhythmically unimaginative and cliched, playing to the crowd and curating his legacy. What are we supposed to do with this other than punch the air? ‘Yeah! We take care of OUR OWN! Unlike those OTHER guys!’ I’m bored already.”

Dustin Racioppi, a young old-school journalist whose spot-on work generally runs rings around the rest of us mired in the mangroves of the local media, had this to say: “It’s been comedic to watch the proportionate growth of stagnant, hackneyed songwriting and cloying reverence from media and soccer moms from Colts Neck to Belmar. It’s hard to be a fan anymore.” And Sledger-spawned sleuth Wally Stroby correctly points out a distinct note of “Always Something There to Remind Me” (maybe the Naked Eyes version)

Of course, just because these guys sum things up so succinctly doesn’t mean that we could resist chiming in with another 20,000 or so words of our own…

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ReVision’s All About the SURVIVAL

Anthony Preuster, Samantha Croce, Julia Whary, Spiro Markos, Joe Ronga and Chuck Cataia show us all how it’s done in A CHRISTMAS SURVIVAL GUIDE, the ReVision Theatre production going up December 16-18 at the House of Jazz in Asbury town.

Yes, Virginia, there IS a ReVision Theatre Company — and they ARE putting on a show by the name of A Christmas Survival Guide.

Things, admittedly, were looking a Grinchly shade of grim for the Asbury-based stage troupe over the past several weeks — an interlude that saw the resignation of all three principal partners, the downsizing of its scheduled Xmastravaganza from the Paramount Theater, and the uncertainty surrounding the venue to which the production was relocated. It was enough to Krampus the style of the most devoted Xmas-Phile.

Call it a Christmas miracle if you will; chalk it up to good old “show must go on” gumption, but beginning Friday, December 16 and continuing for five performances through December 18, A Christmas Survival Guide makes its welcome debut on the subterranean stage of The House of Jazz on Lake Avenue — in a production that boasts the participation of several not-so-secret Santas.

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A Patrick Hat-Trick, Plus One

The Guy in Black is BACK: Authentically Jersey country singer/songwriter Michael Patrick invades The Saint in downtown Asbury on October 22, for the first of FOUR wildly different events celebrating his new release ANOTHER SONG YOU NEVER HEARD.

First time we ever heard tell of the man called Michael Patrick, the Morganville-bred country singer-songwriter was NOT putting forth a set of his characteristically warm ‘n witty, trad ‘n true originals with his band The Suburban Hillbillies. He was NOT fronting his acclaimed Johnny Cash tribute project Michael Patrick’s Ring of Fire Band, a heartfelt endeavor that’s taken him up and down the eastern half of these United States, and brought him a stamp of approval (along with the odd opening gig) from the likes of Carlene Carter and Rosanne Cash. Hell, he wasn’t even anywhere near chaw-spittin distance of a guitar or microphone.

The particular hat that Mr. Patrick was wearing that night — and by hat, we mean imaginary; not the no-cattle kind sported by the Nashville flavor/savior of the month — was as tireless impresario behind the Suburban Roots Concert Series, a very loose and very occasional vehicle by which Patrick has taken it upon himself to import some of the most exciting young talents in alt-country and Americana, to some of the most unlikely Jersey Shore venues ever to host a HeeHaw hootenanny.

When way-cool next-gen rebel Justin Townes Earle played The Claddagh Irish bar in Highlands, Michael Patrick was the guy behind the scenes. When awesome new traditionalist Pokey LaFarge — one of the greatest entertainers we’ve ever seen — took the stage of a bowling alley lounge in Bradley Beach, you could bet Patrick had a hand in that. And when no less a progeny than John Carter Cash came to Tim McLoone’s swanky Supper Club on the Asbury boards, Mike Patrick was already on the scene — tending to details; checking out sound and sightlines from every conceivable angle; removing the blue M&Ms from the dressing room and just generally remaining a body in motion not unlike your grandma hosting the family at the holidays (“Ma! Siddown and eat, you’re makin’ everyone nervous!”).

This Saturday night, October the DoubleDeuce, it’s all about the Patrick — and the Hat Trick, by which we mean the release of his THIRD independently issued album of songs, a set by the name of Another Song You Never Heard. The most assured session yet from MP, the album finds this refreshingly old-school professor lending the full faith and credit of his classic voice (think of the plainspeak elegance of Hank Snow, Sonny James, Porter Wagoner and Tom T Hall) to a fun bunch of compositions that address such universal topics as growing old, moving on, staying put, and the eternal plight of the barband entertainer.

The venue for the CD release event is arguably an unlikely one — downtown Asbury’s rockin’ roadhouse railroad car The Saint — until you consider that the venerable alternative rock club has also offered up snug harbor for Americana, acousticana and bammalamma acts of every conceivable star and stripe. It’s the inaugural stop on a multi-date, “MP4” CD release schedule that will also see Patrick take his new songs to a Bayshore coffeehouse, a bluegrass-infused church, and that welcoming temple of pinewoods traditionalism, Waretown’s fabled Albert Music Hall.

UpperWETside rang up this Jersey-fresh font of homespun wisdom and one-man musical movement in the midst of a typically frantic week. So make your selection, insert some southern juke coin and watch the record play.


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Blood in Bloom, at Asbury’s Carousel

Chelsea Zeno, Aliya Bowles and Stephany Mora make like intergalactic Angels during rehearsals for LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, the ReVision Theatre Company production going up Thursday, October 7.

ReVision Theatre Company is on a roll.

After an inauspicious start to a supremely soggy Summer 2011 season of entertainments at Asbury Park’s Carousel House (their candylicious Xanadu was one of the few shows that could boast an indoor rain-out on Opening Night), the professional troupe garnered the greatest reviews of its brief history via a totally fuckin’ electrifying Spring Awakening — with that well known Tony winner followed by a genuine surprise: an almost completely unknown Breakup Notebook that cheerfully won over a lot of audiences who didn’t think they were in the market for a so-called “Lesbian Musical.”

Here in October — that way-past-summer month when the Zombies walk and the costume parties ka-ching in the city that’s become the regional capital of Halloween — the ReVisionaries take one final spin on the Carousel, with a new production of the 1982 sci-fi songfest Little Shop of Horrors.

Really? Little Shop? The same show that your nephew co-starred in at his high school? Like, why not just skip straight to Nunsense, with a couple of readings of Love Letters thrown in for good measure?

Now hold on there DeWitt — the ReVision folks didn’t mean to insult your theater-snob sensibilities. It’s just that the whole extended Halloweekend season in Asbury cries out for something that fits within its creature-feature context — and with The Rocky Horror Show having already been successfully staged in 2010, there aren’t a whole lot of well-crafted monster musicals out there to choose from.

On the other hand, Little Shop is a popular show because Little Shop is a good show — one that’s based on a legendary 1960 Roger Corman drive-in groovie (in which a skinny kid from Bradley Beach named Jack Nicholson got a plum early role); that was satisfyingly remade as a screen musical in 1986; that boasted music by Alan Menken with book and lyrics by Howard Ashman. Yeah, the Howard Ashman who gave heart and dimension to Disney’s Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast). One does not speak ill of the sainted Ashman.

On the third hand (did we mention it’s Halloween?), director Mary Kate Burke has out-and-out revealed that this a Little Shop like you’ve never seen before — one that’s chock full of surprises, even in light of a plot that revolves around a bloodthirsty man-eating plant from outer space. More on that in a moment.

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Well, I’ll Be: ATP Power Couple Speaks!

In a photo we “aggregated” from our good friends — and colleagues, did we mention that we’re colleagues — at  the Asbury Park Press, ALL TOMORROW’S PARTIES/ I’LL BE YOUR MIRROR founders Deborah Kee Higgins and Barry Hogan survey all that they’ve summoned into being on the herringboned hardwoods of the Asbury boards.

The wagons have rolled on out of town, leaving just a few stray posters and marquee letters; a last handful of postcards blown like tumblin’ tumbleweeds against the shuttered concession stands of an October weekday boardwalk scene.

Well, that plus the incredible stencil-and-spraypaint creations of guerrilla graphics superstar Shepard Fairey; alternate-universe album art images that still adorn such salty and long-abandoned structures as the Sunset Pavilion north of Convention Hall, and the east wall of what used to be FastLane nightclub on Fourth Avenue. Those punk-icon portraits and exhortations to OBEY will be hanging around for some time — subject to the whims of Mother Nor’Easter, natch.

Oh, and then there’s the major national media coverage in such outlets as Rolling Stone, Spin and the New York Times — to say nothing of the gavel-to-gavel photojournalistic coverage provided by our Facebook pal and Shore-life chronicler Mike Black (a slideshow sampling from Mike’s busy week appears right here).

Nearly 48 hours after the conclusion of the historic All Tomorrow’s Parties Festival in Asbury Park — a three-day thrillathon of alternative music, superstar art, classic film and razor-ribbon writing that’s kind of like getting the Olympics, or at least the Breeders’ Cup — the temporary offices inside the Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel are packing up and closing down. Subtitled I’ll Be Your Mirror, the Stateside adjunct of the Euro-born “Festival for Grown Ups” brought a lot of exciting things to town for those of the 25-to-50, maturing hipster demographic — a fanbase that, as our own Juicy Jenn Hampton put it, “still wants to see something they’ve never seen before, and who don’t want to have be outside.”

The excitement took the form of breathlessly anticipated top-ticket concerts by Jeff Mangum (performing the golden hits of Neutral Milk Hotel for the first time in eons), Portishead (making their first East Coast appearances since 1998) and Public Enemy (reuniting and recreating the classic Fear of a Black Planet LP) — not to mention sets by Swans, The Pop Group, Steve Albini‘s Shellac and many others, going on inside Convention Hall and the adjacent Paramount proscenium.

But wait, there’s more — guest DJ sets by Awesome Tapes from Africa and Peanut Butter Wolf at  Asbury Lanes; Edan the Dee Jay and a Lapham’s Quarterly Literary Stage at the Berkeley; an appearance by director Robert Downey, Sr (introducing Putney Swope at a Criterion Cinemas screening space) — and the September 29 opening of REVOLUTIONS on the boardwalk; an acclaimed and musically minded installation by Fairey, who seemed without question the biggest rockstar in attendance in the days leading up to the big show.

If the very visible Mr. Fairey represented the heart and soul of the festival to the passerby public, the brains of the operation reside squarely with Brit-based Barry Hogan and Aussie-bred Deborah Kee Higgins — a pair of passionate conceptualizers (and, more important, actualizers) who founded All Tomorrow’s Parties as an alternative to the alternative; a more sophisticated, sit-down, artist-curated affair that runs counter to the sweat and writhe and porta-potties of the Glastonburys, Warped Tours and Coachellas of this world, and eschews most of the more obvious “headliner” acts in favor of fervently followed cult attractions, rarely seen musical hermits, even special reunion sets that are destination attractions in themselves.

As the host venues for the first of these fests, Hogan and Higgins chose such faded UK resorts and “Holiday Camps” as Camber Sands and Butlins at Minehead, places of majestic seediness that found their Stateside sister sites in places like the Borscht Belt Catskills getaway Kutsher’s Country Club in Monticello, NY (where ATP did its dirty dancing for three years, 2008-2010) — and Asbury Park, NJ, where I’ll Be Your Mirror made its eagerly awaited debut this past weekend.

Manning the command center at the Berkeley, scouting out the quirks and quaintitudes of the greater Asbury area, dodging drenching downpours and sticking around through the highs and lows of the sprawling multi-platform event (an event that came under some criticism for its arguably pricey passes, and lack of local representation on the band bills), the power couple remained plugged in, in charge, and charged with enthusiasm before, during and after the weekend wingding — including a special October 3 “bonus” concert by Mangum geared to fans who couldn’t raise the cost of a day-pass bracelet.

Despite being based just a couple of blocks from all of this action, upperWETside came late to this party (family obligations, the bane of the VERY grown up, came first) — catching up to Deborah and Barry on their very last afternoon in town, for the interview we were after all along: an exclusive discussion of their Asbury Park experiences, a first look back at yesterday’s Parties and a quick glimpse ahead to Tomorrow’s. Flip the record over for more…

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A ‘Breakup,’ and a ReVision ReBound

Supporting cast: Beth Malone is “carried” by her fellow players during rehearsals for THE BREAKUP NOTEBOOK, the ReVision Theatre Company production going up Thursday, September 8.

Darkness. Floods. Extreme heat and cold. By now, we’d have wagered that the folks at ReVision Theatre Company had experienced every Biblical plague short of the Rain of Frogs, in their quest to make Asbury Park’s Carousel House a viable place for musical entertainments. But imagine our surprise, when on a post-Irene stroll to the boardwalk we found the pavement out front of that quirky rococo roundhouse festooned with — not frogs, but fish.

We’re no ichthyologist — although we play one on TV — but we’d venture a guess that these finny fauna, their razor-tooth carcasses picked clean by scavenging seabirds, were very far from home (ditto the Costco-size bottle of Cocoa Butter, seemingly deposited here from somewhere east of 1971).

That fish-out-of-water imagery actually works pretty well when contemplating the third and latest offering of the ReVision summer season at the Carousel — the East Coast premiere of The Breakup Notebook: The Lesbian Musical. A relatively little known (but highly acclaimed) item about a recently dumped thirtysomething — and her uneasy re-immersion into the churning waters of the LA lesbian dating scene — the 2005 show by Lori Scarlett, David Manning and Patricia Cotter (adapted from Cotter’s own nonmusical play of the same name) lands with a Don Martin SPLADAP sound effect on the doorstep of the Carousel from far-off California, bringing with it a Tony-lauded, Hollywood-legendary producer and director in the bargain.

A top executive of The Walt Disney Company for more than a decade (his own documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty is a fine chronicle of the Disney brand’s toon revival during his tenure as president of Feature Animation) and a world champion bridge player, Peter Schneider also oversaw the wildly successful House of Mouse transition to Broadway player, via such stage sensations as Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. Post-Disney, the independent theatrical producer has been involved with New York and London hits like Sister Act and the Elton John-Tim Rice Aida — as well as a little show called The Breakup Notebook, for which he oversaw a well-received staging in San Diego.

So let’s review: the man who helped broker the game-changing deal between Disney and Pixar; who shepherded such latterday classics as Beauty, The Little Mermaid and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? to the screen; who was present at the creation of the modern Broadway era…is very happy to be working in Asbury Park, taking a spin on the ever-quirky Carousel with the intrepid ReVisionaries of the city’s resident professional troupe.

He won’t be going it alone, of course. Beth Malone stars here as Helen, recently pink-slipped from what she thought was a cozy and committed relationship — who, with the encouragement of her gay guyfriend Bob and her butch buds Joanie and Monica, dives into an alien world of internet dating services, rebounders, twelve-steppers, dominatrixes and other 21st century signifiers. She’s joined in the nine-woman, one-man cast by Briana Davis, Jenn Furman, Melissa Hammans, Christine Lakin, Ariel Tyler Page, Caitlin Lee Reid, Jamison Stern, Natalie Wachen, and Nadine Zahr — most of whom appear in multiple roles.

While we would have loved to talk cartoons and Hollywood and big-time Broadway (and maybe even bridge) with this modern master of art and entertainment — personally, we think both Disney’s screen and stage brands have gone to the dogs since his departure — upperWETside played it strictly by the Notebook in our conversation with Peter Schneider. Flip the pixelated page to continue.

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