IT’S “OUTDOOR VOICES, PLEASE,” AS SUMMER CONCERTS KEYNOTE

Jo Bonanno and the Godsons of Soul summon the “Spirit of Asbury Park” in a free July 14 concert on the West End Beach.

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), June 6, 2019

Imagine if you will a summer concert event with your choice of first-come/first-served seating. No shuttle queues, no turnstile patdowns, no confiscated cameras, water bottles, umbrellas or Pringles packs. And best of all, no platinum-club pricing levels or service charges. In the words of Zappa, it’s all Absolutely FREE, so you low-budget Lotharios and daddy-track Don Juans can do your cheap-date thing.

Yes, it’s Free Outdoor Concert Season again — and from Avon on up to Sea Bright, the boardwalks, beaches, and bandshells are getting set to welcome a beach-blanket brigade of neighbors in search of some savvy sounds, ‘neath the setting sun and stars. It’s a musical menu that runs the gamut from operatic arias, big band jazz, and streetcorner soul, to show-band grooves, acoustic Americana, Latin jams, garage rock, hip hop, and all stylistic territory between. And did we mention FREE?

While the late-spring breezes have already been tested by various festival performers (as well as by hardy souls like Stringbean and the Boardwalk Social Club, in session Monday evenings outside Langosta Lounge, and Wednesdays at Anchor’s Bend), the plein-air panorama starts in earnest right here and now — so grab your freshly webbed lawn chairs and broken-in blankets, and enjoy the complimentary sunsets and the prime people-watching opportunities.

ASBURY PARK

With the Atlantic waves and the whole wide-screen sky as the backdrop, few live music settings are as made-to-order as that of Jams on the Sand, the annual series that stakes out the beach-top bandstand, bar and dance floor of Anchor’s Bend off the north side of the good ship Convention Hall. While attendees are encouraged to come on down and enjoy the specialties of the Bend’s kitchen and cocktail crew, all are welcome to take in the show from the boardwalk “mezzanine,”starting on June 20 with midwest funk/rock unit The Main Squeeze — and continuing Thursdays at 5 pm through August 29 with a diverse dance card of Asbury returnees (guitar prodigy Brandon “Taz” Niederauer, July 18; JAZZ is PHSH, August 15) and buzzworthy newcomers (New England jam juggernaut Percy Hill, June 27; “gospel ninja soul” exponent Zach Deputy, July 4). Each date also boasts an After Party set spotlighting some of the Shore’s finest, at the nearby Wonder Bar.

June 20: The Main Squeeze/ Ron Artis II & the Truth. June 27: Percy Hill/ After Funk. July 4: Zach Deputy/ Shady Street Show Band. July 11: Southern Avenue/ Mike Montrey Band. July 18: Brandon “Taz” Niederauer/ Dogs in a Pile. July 25: Chris Jacobs/ Evanoff. Aug. 8: E.N. Young/ The Pembertones. Aug. 15: JAZZ is PHSH/ Funky Dawgz Brass Band. Aug. 22: Mystic Bowie’s Talking Dread/ Secret Sound. Aug. 29: Bella’s Bartok/ Kat Wright.

Just announced — and returning on Wednesday evenings to the “First Avenue Green” across Ocean Avenue from the Stone Pony SummerStage — the Asbury Park LIVE series showcases double (and even triple) bills of some of the area’s best makers of original music. The 6:30 pm events programmed by the nonprofit Asbury Park Music Foundation (and sponsored by MOGO Tacos) float their first note on June 26 with an indie-pop serenade starring Asbury’s own Sonic Blume and frequent AP guests The Vaughns — and the series continues each Wednesday (save 7/17) through August 28, with the spotlight on such local luminaries as Black Suburbia Music Group, Dark City Strings, Pamela Flores, Rachel Ana Dobken, The Vansaders, and Waiting For Mongo, to name but a very few (proceeds benefit the Asbury Park Music Foundation, on whose Facebook page you’ll find complete schedule details).

June 26: Sonic Blume/ The Vaughns. July 3: Dark City Strings/ Jackson Pines. July 10: Waiting On Mongo/ Whodat!. July 24: Black Suburbia Music Group/ Blaise/ Pamela Flores. July 31: Latewaves/ Well Wisher/ Extensions. Aug. 7: The Vansaders/ Tide Bends/ Sunshine Spazz. Aug. 14: Rachel Ana Dobken/ Mercury Brothers. Aug. 21: Vendetta Rose/ Brian Wood & Co. Aug. 28: Connor Bracken & the Mother Leeds Band/ Shoobies.

The APMF is also the driving force behind the returning MUSIC MONDAYS at Springwood Park, the series that brought live music back to the West Side with a mix of legandary veterans (Ray Goodman & Brown; Gary U.S. Bonds) and rising local luminaries. While the 2019 schedule hasn’t been announced as we go to press, mark those calendars for the inaugural event on June 24; with shows continuing each Monday at 7 pm (and a finale starring the Sensational Soul Cruisers on Tuesday, August 27).

If there’s one summer diversion that can trace a direct line back to the old-timey days when the Shore’s first music superstar Arthur Pryor and his famous march orchestra held court on the boardwalk, it’s the Asbury Park Concert Band, the multi-generational institution that returns to the boards (outside Robinson Ale House, at Fifth Avenue) on the evening of Wednesday, July 3 — and then each Thursday thereafter through August 29. Now under the baton of longtime director John Luckenbill, the band plays a schedule of special themed 7 pm concerts, to be announced imminently by the APMF (asburyparkmusiclives.org).

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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