WAG GATHER TOGETHER, FOR A HECTIC HOLIDAY SCHEDULE

L-R: Brian Ostering, Alicia Van Sant, and Don Lee of THE WAG take it outside, in any kind of weather.

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), November 27, 2019

You’ve probably spotted them, on the stages and under the ceilings of some favorite watering holes within the local music ecosystem: The Stone Pony; The Saint; The Wonder Bar. But chances are much more likely that you’ve encountered The Wag out of doors, in the wild, within a natural habitat that extends from pretty much every area park, plaza, and Porchfest, to the docks, gazebos, and grassy knolls of our municipal marinas, public libraries, baseball diamonds, and even the odd zoo.

With the weather turns warmer, the Shore-based purveyors of radiantly sunny power pop can be counted upon to take it outside; dashing out the door like a pet that’s been cooped up all winter, and getting downright ubiquitous with gigs that include such longstanding commitments as the Monmouth County SPCA’s Dog Walk and Pet Fair at Brookdale Community College (where the band has entertained since the springtime event’s inception), and the many manifestations of the NJ Friends of Clearwater Festival (where Wag bassist-vocalist and songwriter Brian Ostering assumed the role of music director for the eco-friendly fest that’s drawn the participation of wand’ring troubadors named Springsteen and Seeger).

That said, the fall-back season of dwindling daylights is hardly one of hibernation for the Middletown Township combo, established more than 20 years ago by Ostering and his vocalist/ multi-instrumentalist wife, Alicia Van Sant. Newly decked out in their winter coats, the core couple and their bandmates (guitarist/vocalist Don Lee; drummer/ guitarist/ vocalist Joshua Van Ness) prepare to prosecute a cold weather schedule that begins in earnest this weekend — or, as Ostering puts it, “once Thanksgiving hits, it’s nothing but holidays for The Wag!”

Shoreside, the band returns to one of its favorite summer-season sites — Riley Park on Main Street in Bradley Beach — to warm the cockles at the borough’s annual tree lighting ceremony, going on this Sunday, December the First. The Wag (whose catalog of seven indie recordings includes an EP of self-penned Christmas tunes) is scheduled to perform a set of seasonal signatures and original spins during the family-friendly festivities that begin at 4 pm — and which further promise appearances by opera singer Olivia Youngman, the terpsichorean talents of Robin McGill School of Dance and The Dancer’s Workshop, plus Frozen’s Princess Elsa and of course The Big Red Guy himself, arriving in style via fire truck.

For the Wagsters, it’s just part of a very busy interlude that keynotes on the evening of Black Friday up in Red Bank, where the band continues a recently minted tradition of warming up the crowd for the big Town Lighting show by Tim McLoone and the freight-train force of positive vibes known as Holiday Express. The post-Thanksgiving/ pre-Christmas activity climaxes on Saturday, December 30, with a first-annual hometown extravaganza dedicated to the benefit of the MCSPCA.

Going up at 7 pm inside the Middletown Arts Center (the reborn and rebranded warehouse building located just steps from NJ Transit’s North Jersey Coast Line train platform), The Wag’s Christmas Spectacular is being pitched as a step beyond just a holiday concert event — something that’s “more of a variety show, with Santa and dancers (including Jamie Marie Hannigan, featured in the band’s award winning video for their song “She’s a Devil”), and comedy sketches starring the band members.”

“My wife thinks I’m crazy, spending my time on things like painting an 8-foot tall cat snowman,” laughs Osterling, who notes that all profits from the show will be donated to the Monmouth County SPCA’s shelter facility in Eatontown. “But we really want this to become an annual thing…and we’re determined to bring back the concept of the Christmas special!”

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GARDEN STATE FILMFEST CULTIVATES SOME JERSEY TOMATOES

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park NJ) and The Link News (Long Branch NJ), March 21, 2019

“It’s an honor. An honor!

The preceding represents the entire transcript of a speech delivered by Christopher Lloyd, as he quickly accepted an award from the producers of the 2018 Garden State Film Festival— and just as quickly made his way out the door of the festival’s host venue, the onetime Neptune High School building reborn in recent years as the Jersey Shore Arts Center.

A vividly familiar presence in big-budget Hollywood properties like the Back to the Future franchise, The Addams Family, Star Trek III and Roger Rabbit — and a serial Emmy winner for his work in Taxi and other projects — the veteran character man was briefly present in Ocean Grove to promote his participation in an indie thriller being screened that evening, and to help welcome the festival as it went “back to the future,” in a return to the community that it called home for the first 11 years of its existence.

Founded in 2003 by Diane Raver and the late Robert Pastorelli (an Emmy nominee as Eldin on the original Murphy Brown), the GSFF spent four years in Atlantic City before relocating once more to a fast-morphing Asbury Park and neighboring precincts. By that time, the city had spawned several all-new entertainment venues (including the  expanded ShowRoom arthouse cinema); welcomed aboard a slew of new concert series and special events — and given birth to a high-energy, high-profile Music and Film Festival whose upcoming schedule in April 2019 boasts appearances by, among others, writer-producer-director Peter Farrelly (fresh off his  double Oscar win for Green Book).

But while Raver’s festival has welcomed such well known guests as Glenn Close, Ed Asner, Batman producer Michael Uslan, That 70s Show actor Kurtwood Smith, On the Waterfront screenwriter Budd Schulberg and half the cast of The Sopranos beneath its tent in past editions, its roots remain grounded in the still-fertile soil of the independent filmmaking movement — with a particular emphasis on the plump and flavorful “tomatoes” cultivated by the creative community of the Garden State.

And when the 17th annual GSFF presents its smorgasbord of international fare beginning this coming Wednesday, March 27, the guest list will carry a pronounced Jersey accent, with special recognitions given to a set of screen performers with deep local connections — and a keynote event that once again explores our seemingly bottomless fascination with the legacy of HBO’s Sopranos series.

Screening at 7 pm Wednesday, and hosted at the JS Arts Center, My Dinner With Alan finds writers Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz — longtime television correspondents for the Star-Ledger, and authors of the book The Soprano Sessions— discussing the lasting impact of David Chase’s groundbreaking, Jersey-centric project (among various other topics) inside Holsten’s, the Bloomfield restaurant that served as the setting for the show’s still-controversial finale.

Sepinwall and Seitz are scheduled to be present for a post-screening panel discussion with director Kristen Fraga, joined for the occasion by a trio of Sopranos actors: Artie Pasquale, Federico Castelluccio, and Dan Grimaldi (famous for playing both Parisi twins, and familiar to followers of Long Branch’s New Jersey Repertory Company for his roles in Mercy and The Jag). While it’s included in the festival’s weekend pass option, the event (which features a book signing pre-order option for $25) also offers a $15 individual ticket at brownpapertickets.com/event/4094178.

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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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