Scenes from the Asbury Park Promenade of Mermaids include (clockwise from top left): 2017 crowned King Brett Colby of Asbury Park with royal entourage; special “mer-guests” Merman Christian and The Harlem Mermaid; event founder Jenn Mehmaid (at far right) leading the procession; catching rays on a boardwalk bench; the Gypsy Funk Squad in action (photos by Mermaid Studio).

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, June 28 2018

When you’re a kid, mermaids are something beautiful and exotic,” says Jennifer Mehm, the Shore area native whose self-professed inability to outgrow a lifelong fascination with those fabled finny folk of the sea has seen her find her calling as the founder, the face, and the fervent ringmistress of the Asbury Park Promenade of Mermaids, the open-air event that returns to the city’s boardwalk on Saturday afternoon, June 30.

Speaking during a break from her perfectly normal (and not terribly exotic) surface-world career as anexecutive assistant, the Asbury area resident known as “Jenn Mehmaid” explains that “the appeal probably has more to do with not fitting in…a sense of living life between two worlds, a celebration of freedom.”

Scheduled to set sail shortly after 2 p.m., the colorful procession of costumed mermaids and mermen (and pirates, and seahorses, and shellfish, and jellies) takes to dry land for its fourth annual edition, as a celebration both of our city’s seaside heritage and its welcoming spirit of diversity and community. Repositioned this year to the end of June from its previous perch in August, the event is a relatively recent addition to the yearly slate of outdoor concerts, carnivals, parades, foodfests, and fundraisers on and near the Asbury waterfront — although, as Jenn correctly points out, it’s a happening that’s perfectly in sync with the spirit of summers past.

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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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Out on the Tiles, Down by the Sea

Put your Scrabble Face on and get your rack over to the Berkeley Hotel on August 20, for an ARC of Monmouth fun(d)raiser that can ONLY be called SCRABBLE BY THE SEA.

His imparted wisdom concerns the joys of parallel play, the importance of the word CANISTER, the necessity of closing bingo lines — and the reason why they don’t like tiles with etched letters.

Get him going on some of his most memorable games, and he’ll tell you about the time he exchanged seven on his first draw — or how things almost came to blows between him and his opponent, when his ILIA blocked the other guy’s carefully planned EXEGESIS.

But by all means, do NOT get him started on the topic of Ugly Racks.

We’re at words! in Asbury Park, listening to Jason Keller explain in detail his Ten Scrabble Tips for better, smarter, potentially pro-ey play — a set of gently suggested commandments that, while not exactly brought down from the mountain on stone tablets, are certainly as sensible as any philosopher or prophet’s guidelines for living.

The Highland Park resident (a four-time competitor in the National Scrabble Championship, where in Dallas in 2011 he came in 19th — that’s number 19 in the whole Scrabble-obsessed US of A) is spending a summertime Friday night on Cookman Avenue with a roomful of individuals who are here to play Scrabble, nevermind the beach and boardwalk and full moon outside.

Packed tightly at tables arranged amid the store’s bookshelves — and, in some but not all instances, psyching up for play with a complimentary glass of wine — a diverse lot of humanity has come to learn from a recognized expert, test their METTLE (8 points) and their MOJO (13 points), and maybe see if their lexicological legerdemain can stand up to Tournament-style play.

It’s the second in a brief series of warm-up events leading up to the big Scrabble by the Sea challenge on August 20 — and for this Scrabble Scrimmage (the first was held at NovelTeas in Red Bank), the participants have largely ignored the Scrabble boards furnished by proprietors Jan Sparrow and Scott Asalone, in favor of their own personal sets — an array that’s even more diverse than they are. In evidence are molded plastic cases with metallic boards and translucent tiles; wood-and-cardboard classics that look like family heirlooms — and a super-deluxe Collector’s Edition that sits on its own raised pedestal (this one owned by Scott and his partner).

The beauty part is that despite the hardware, all that truly matters is one’s word-power kung foo, and that all-important capacity for thinking several moves ahead; seeing the big-picture board without getting too hung up on playing that Q. This Saturday morning, Scrabblers of all ages and abilities are invited to take it to the Kingsley Ballroom of the Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel, for a figurative tango ’round the tiles in the service of a great cause.

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Helen On Wheels, in a Summer of Music

Do Teens Change Music? For that matter, Why Do Fools Fall in Love? WHERE MUSIC LIVES author Helen Pike seeks the answers, and she’ll be invoking the spirit of juvie chart-topper (turned junkie rock-bottomer) Frankie Lymon to find out.

It is well nigh impossible to keep up with Helen-Chantal Pike.

We mean that in the sense that it’s always difficult to stay current with the collected works of the prolific local historian, author, raconteuse and rocky-ological digger of diverse sounds. We also mean that if you have a notion of, say, joining her in a drink and a bit of catch-up conversation, well, you have to keep up to catch up. Like, literally chase after her as she fireballs forward to your appointed destination, with or without you.

The editor of the recently published anthology of essays known as Asbury Park: Where Music Lives has had a busy bunch of months, even by Helenic standards — with much of that activity centered around the city’s hosting of the Smithsonian’s touring New Harmonies exhibit and its attendant year-long slate of interrelated music-themed events.

That aforementioned anthology — a whirlwind carousel ride past some little-known corners of Asbury musical history; written in many instances by the very people who gave those scenes their soundtracks — was the “guest of honor” at a July 10 “Book Jam” event on the stage of Asbury Blues; an evening that featured such pieces of the Asbury musical mosaic as Sonny Kenn, Xol Azul Band frontman “Gee” Guillen, folk singer/ folklorist George Wirth, saxman Dorian Parreott (performing a piece written in Asbury for Fats Waller), gospel singer Tyron McAllister, opera/ cabaret vocalist Brett Colby, and Patsy Siciliano (performing an original song about the city penned by doo wop specialist Ray Dahrouge).

If you’ve reckoned that Pike’s peaked as regards the promotion of that book (her tenth in toto and her third on the city in particular), then reckon again: she’ll be on the scene for Sand Blast Weekend; signing copies of her Asbury-centric titles on Friday, July 22 between the hours of 4 to 7pm at the Asbury Galleria inside Convention Hall’s Grand Arcade. Then on Tuesday, July 26 she’ll be taking over the historic Stephen Crane House — yeah, the same hallowed haunt where the author of this blog makes his home these days — for the first of three “Music Memoir” events that culminate with an “Unplugged” words ‘n music birthday party on August 9.

Of course, absolutely none of this even begins to address the question “Do Teens Change Music?” — or precisely what any of it has to do with Frankie Lymon. That’s another story entirely, natch — about which more after the break.

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A GLITTER Attack, on the Asbury Boards

Brett Colby — pictured during what turned out NOT to be a dress rehearsal at McLoone’s — heads a stellar cast in the third annual edition of GAY & BE GLITTER, the fundraiser revue going up this Thursday and Friday.

Starring…Brett Colby!

Like, who wouldn’t throw his sainted grandmother beneath a Weezer’s Ice truck for such billing? And featured so prominently on the nicely designed print ads and postcards, yet — in a stand-alone bubble of the sort usually reserved for claims like “NOW with 40% MORE Brett Colby!”

And yet. Brett Noorigian Colby — genre-bending vocal artist, actor, activist, advocate for all things true and just, and titular STAR of the event known as Gay and Be Glitter 3 — is a humble man who disdains such attention, despite the loud smoking jackets and occasional gowns. A man whose ongoing calling to service and charity co-exists in curious harmony with a wicked sense of humor and a refreshingly un-serious perspective on his own seriously considerable skills (with occasional meddling from a barely controlled alter ego by name of Lyle).

Call him Emcee. Or Narrator, a role that fit him like a leopard-print Snuggie in the 2010 ReVision Theatre production of Rocky Horror. Better still, RINGMASTER of the musical maelstrom and cacophonous comedic commerce swirling about the DooWop, “Howard Jetsons” saucer that is Tim McLoone’s Supper Club.

When the third annual edition of the fun(d)raiser mirth-and-music revue (produced by the nonprofit, nonpareil troupers at Cabaret for Life, Inc.) hits the herringboned hardwoods of the Asbury boardwalk for a pair of performances this Thursday and Friday, July 28-29, it will once again be in the service of a most worthy cause — but, as the ringmaster is quick to point out, that scarcely means we need get all maudlin about it.

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ARCHIVE: A House Party at Hany’s Place


Singer/ songwriter Rachel Garlin is the special musical guest, at a fundraiser concert and party for the Arts Coalition of Asbury Park this weekend.

By TOM CHESEK (First published on Red Bank oRBit July 28, 2009)

A few seasons ago, a young singer-songwriter by the name of Rachel Garlincrisscrossed the country by van on a little tour — playing clubs and coffeehouses; stopping in at small radio stations and colleges; taking her down-to-basics, intimately scaled songcraft direct to her fans with the help of social networking tech — in other words, all the things that an indie recording artist needs to make happen in this D.I.Y. age.

What made this trip a little different than most is the fact that the van was a bio-diesel, essentially powered by french fry grease — a voyage that made her something of a highway Heyerdahl, a polyunsaturated Marco Polo. Maybe even a heart-smart Earhart (since she herself is not powered by french fry grease). In any event, the tour gave birth to a song (”Alternative Fuel”) that wowed ‘em at Sundance, and got its creator a spot on radio’s most sought-after breaker of hits, Click and Clack’s Car Talk.

Then again, you could say that the LA-based Garlin has navigated her way through four indie albums and a tireless touring schedule in a manner that’s always been alternatively fueled, quietly assembling a fanbase from pockets of the greater popular culture — the gay community, NPR listeners, weirdos who like songs — in a way that’s made her a truly bicoastal, underground phenom. Now, “underground” sounds like such a grungy word to attach to something that sounds so positively angelic — but those sweet sounds are the icing on a layercake of sharp, socially-minded lyricism that can be expressed through lament and longing (”Crooked”), the plainspeak of commitment (”Neighborhood Bar,” “I Have I Will”) or with greasy good humor.

This Saturday, August the First, Rachel Garlin returns to the Jersey Shore, for a public-invited fundraiser house party hosted at a private residence on Deal Lake known informally as Hany’s Place (not to be confused with “the old Haney place” from Green Acres; it’s pronounced hahn-eez and by all accounts it’s a gorgeous piece of property). Scheduled for 7pm and located at 1115 Sunset Drive, the open-air affair begins with cocktails furnished by Max’s Liquors and Bacardi, and desserts catered by Asbury Park eateries Restaurant Plan BIl Pavone GelateriaTaka, and Munch, plus Baker Boys of Ocean Grove, Wegmans of Ocean and Sonnier & Castle of NYC.

It’s all for the benefit of the Arts Coalition of Asbury Park, the folks who bring you the monthly Collide-A-Scope art happenings, and who describe themselves a “a coalition of artists, citizens and cultural organizations dedicated to the promotion and advancement of the arts through collaboration, advocacy, and education.” While that pretty much nails it, it’s a bit on the dry side if you ask us.

We’ve had the pleasure of working alongside some of the ArtsCAP crew on local projects, and we kid you not, these people fulfill and transcend the “mission statement” in ways that have genuinely helped Asbury Park become a place of energy and idea$ that can claim real bragging rights over (insert name of your town here). These are the guys who go ten steps ahead when everyone else is figuring out who sits where at the conference table. The guys who finance things out-of-pocket when the budget is blah, the guys who assemble volunteers and set the bar high enough so that it (hopefully) inspires everyone else to catch up.

We’ve even seen the nonprofit organization’s president Brett Colby — a crazy-talented, classically trained singer — deliver a star-quality performance on an outdoor stage, only to be seen moving sawhorse barricades and tidying up the street five minutes later. Whether you know it or not, whether you even live in Asbury Park or not, you could stand to benefit from what Brett, vice president Dennis Carroll and the rest of the ArtsCAP membership does. In fact, every town on the map could use a little ArtsCAP, or something very much like it.

While this mix of artists, attorneys, civil servants and businesspeople have made some great progress, they of course haven’t turned things around all by their lonesome — although their laserlike focus and reality-based set of goals have been a valuable guideline to the Powers (and the Dollars) That Be. It’s also true that not everything they touch goes gold — there are differences of opinion, projects that fall short of expectations, and, like pretty much anyone trying to make anything happen these days, a near-lethal lack of lucre.

Which brings us back to this Saturday night. Red Bank oRBit spoke to “the property known as Garlin” in advance of the weekend fundraiser. Here’s how that played out.

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