Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, February 14 2019

Ah yes, Valentine’s Day — the candy kisses and the cardboard Cupids; the sweet swirl of the sauvignon and the scent of Sunoco station roses; the prix fixe menu and the pure peer pressure of participating in a “romantic” ritual designed to make the unattached feel like they’re little more than…

Whoa, wait a minute now…that’s Anti-Valentine’s talk, and that’s an avenue that was explored to fine effect just this past Wednesday, when the Asbury Hotel hosted its Anti- V-day songwriting competition. But beginning tonight, February 14 — and continuing on through an extended interlude of concert events and variety vaudevilles — the venues in and around Asbury Park have you Casanovas covered in style, with a choice of entertainments (ranging from hyper-current to classic retro) that are all about the Live and the Love.

Among the most highly visible of the weekend’s events are not just one but two major manifestations of the modern art of Burlesque — a Burlesque-a-pades in Loveland revue that commandeers the stage at House of Independents this Friday, and a NJ Burlesque Valentine’s Show that returns to the Asbury on Saturday. Scroll it down for more details on these exemplars of the art form’s “newly re-energized, multi-gender encompassing, even empowering next wave.”

Following up on that theme of everything old being new again, the Valentine’s interval is a time in which the classic sounds of Great American Songbook pop, vintage soul serenades, and timeless jazz jams come once more to the fore — and it’s no coincidence that all of those genres have been well represented at the Brown Performing Arts Center, the intimate storefront space operated by elegant crooner Bill Brown at 312 Main Street in downtown Asbury.

A little too intimate, it can be said, to meet the demands of V-day’s romantic rush — so with that in mind, Brown has re-teamed with the more spacious Mister C’s Bistro on the Allenhurst waterfront, programming a three-night dinner/show residency that finds the singer holding court there on February 14 and 15. Then on Saturday the 16th, Bill’s buddy Bobby Valli (pictured) — brother to Jersey Boy-for-all-seasons Frankie, and a seasoned performer in his own right — closes out the stand, with available seating for any of the three shows ($69 per person) reserved by calling 732-531-3665.

Upside Tim McLoone’s Supper Club on the Asbury boards, one of the greatest non-rock albums of the classic-rock era is celebrated in style on Friday night, when Asbury’s own Chris Pinnella (himself profiled in these pages back in December) channels the legendary Chairman of the Board in a special salute to Sinatra at the Sands, the Rat Pack artifact that found Ol’ Blue Eyes singing, swinging and swaggering at peak powers, backed by fellow Jerseyan Count Basie’s band (including a next-generation arranger by name of Quincy Jones). The 8 pm event — for which Chris has shared that he won’tbe recreating Sinatra’s sign-of-their-times comic monologues — has sold out as we post this, but fans will be able to reconnect with Pinnella as he honors a regional music master of a different era, Billy Joel, at the Asbury Hotel on March 23.

Valentine’s Day proper finds the Supper Club stage playing host to an altogether different act: From Blue to Greene, the acoustic duo that pairs singer-songsmith-guitarist Austin Vuolo with vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Kaela Fanelli. The 6 pm dinner/show event ($49.95) represents the first of two opportunities to catch the twosome this weekend, as they take it downstairs to Robinson Ale House on Saturday night. Continue reading


If it’s the first weekend in June — and it most certainly is, ready or not — then it’s time once again for the Jersey Pride Festival, the largest LGBTQ+ community celebration in the Garden State, and an all-welcome Asbury Park tradition that marks its frankly amazing 27thannual edition this Sunday, June 3.

Centered around a vividly vibrant and ever-growing parade — as well as an all-ages festival that brings a celebratory rally, a generations-spanning mix of live music, and a full day of hometown-fair style fun to Bradley Park — the event “allows us to showcase what’s truly special with the New Jersey LGBTQ community,” in the words of Jersey Pride president Laura Pople.

A co-founder of the nonprofit organization, and one of its longest serving volunteer members, Pople is part of a “core leadership” of twenty principals in the committee that assembles the big event on the threshold of summer, each and every year since 1992. She’s joined by an additional ten “junior leaders” and some 40 to 50 volunteers, with an estimated 25 percent hailing from the Asbury Park area.

Looking back on the festival’s origins, it wasn’t difficult for Pople and her fellow organizers to envision Asbury Park as the host city for the statewide event. The seaside resort that was “uniquely Jersey, centrally located, and had a community that was going to work with us” had struggled through decades of decline by the 1990s — but it also had a long history of gay-owned taverns, hotels and restaurants, even as the downtown business base dwindled, and the waterfront stagnated within a tangle of bankruptcies and litigation. By the end of the century, the old town’s gay club scene was largely the thing that had kept the lights on, and the music playing, through so many of the city’s darkest and most deathly quiet days and nights.

That strong connection to the community also spurred a considerable investment in the faded resort’s base of still-grand old homes — and as Asbury Park’s fortunes began to creep forward again in the new millennium, that level of commitment remained a crucial component in the journey from “ghost town” to a place that now regularly rates among the most buzzed-about vacation options in the region (and, in some cases, the world). Many of the old landmark nightspots met the wrecking ball, but the LGBTQ community was here to stay, represented prominently and proudly on the city council, in public service, on the frontlines of social activism, and within a business landscape that has helped redefine how a place of brick-and-mortar can survive and thrive in an age of challenges. A good case can even be made that the Pride Festival and parade, in their colorful and resolutely committed glory, have inspired and influenced attractions that range from the city’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, to the Promenades of Mermaids, Zombie Walks, and numerous open-air celebrations of music culture that have taken their turns in the Asbury Park sun and sea air. Continue reading

To Protect, To Preserve, and To Party


Actually, that was supposed to be A Concert ON, not IN, the Lake — but when ArtsCAP throws its annual summer fundraiser party on Saturday, August 13, local fave rocker Josh Zuckerman is expected to make his usual big splash.

Meetings! We’ve all had to sit through our share — and if you’re one of the lucky ones, you at least agreed on the date of the meeting before moving on to whatever obfuscatory flapdoodle passed for “business” in your neck of the office plaza. Still, strange as it may seem, there are those who occasionally get something accomplished at the conf table — and weirder still, they’re people who represent nonprofit entities of low- (or even NO) budget, meaning they don’t even get paid for the privilege of kissing off those not inconsiderable slabs of Life.

Following is a roundup of what some of our fightin’ arts and/or historical orgs have been up to lately; a list that begs to be highlighted by the Black Box of Asbury Park. The long-running (but lately largely dormant) “incubator of ideas” is coming off a successful poetry slam-poon entitled “The Great American Beat-Off,” in which the black ‘n boxy Saint was transformed for the afternoon of August 6 into an Interzone of wannaBeats and savvy inheritors of the spirit. On Sunday afternoon, August 14, the Box gets a Re-Boot in a public-invited preview party at Chico’s House, with details here as posted previously on Upper WET Side.

Before that, the folks at the Arts Coalition of Asbury Park — a nonprofit that’s invested a lot of sweat equity and thinkpower in its ongoing mission of creating a genuine destination for the arts in AP — is making final preps on their third annual summertime benefit party. Going on Saturday evening, August 13 at an “undisclosed location” (not really; it’s a lovely private residence on Deal Lake), this “major fundraising event of the year” carries on an August tradition that’s worked out well for the ArtsCAP volunteers (check out our archived piece on the 2009 event and its featured star Rachel Garlin) — a cocktail-hour concert that, in the words of ArtsCAP prexy Dennis Carroll, “will enable us to fund an expanded arts agenda announced as part of our recently announced Strategic Plan.”

Under said Strategy (viewable here in short form), the ArtsCAP board is currently focusing their energies on three new established committees dedicated to Advocacy (chaired by The Showroom’s Mike Sodano), Enterprise (chaired by John Vigg of Collective Art Tank) and Public/ Private Partnerships. Add to this the group’s role in an afterschool program at Asbury Park High School (where a full time dance and drama teacher has recently been hired) and, well, you’d still only have a part of the overall picture.

“We’re also involved in a plan to develop artist workspace around town,” explains Carroll. “Particularly in undeveloped areas like Memorial Drive and the West Side.” In addition to all that, the Coalition crew has forged an alliance with Interfaith Neighbors, whose new work-in-progress Springwood Center project is set to include office space for ArtsCAP.

Kicking off Saturday’s soiree with an hour of complimentary cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and desserts, the concert component kicks in at 7 with fave local rocker Josh Zuckerman (whose latest release Got Love? is triangulated as “an infectious mixture of pop rock and soothing ballads, all of them electrified with a powerful message of love and self-acceptance”) AND the Asbury acousticana of Carl Chesna. Tickets ($25) for the event at 2115 Sunset Drive in Asbury Park are available via PayPal right here, or reserve by emailing or calling Ginny Otley at 732.874.3884.

But wait, as they say on TV, there’s more…

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ARCHIVE: Giving Back at the MAC

SteveDeVitoNot-so-secret sideman: Guitarist and event organizer Steve DeVito, pictured backing Beth Arentsen at the Holmdel Barnes & Noble during an in-store showcase for her new release, NICER.

By TOM CHESEK (First published on Red Bank oRBit October 21, 2009)

Holiday Express founder Tim McLoone called them “the adult orphans” among us — the residents of local group homes and assisted care facilities, those set-back-from-the-road places that most of us barely notice as we text, bitch and roll on past.

If you’re a member of the local 4H organization and its Kids for Kids program, on the other hand, places like The ARC of Monmouth are regular stops along your rounds. Far from being merely the folks who award blue ribbons to bunnies at the county fair, it’s the 4H that stops to takes notice of our developmentally disabled population — teaming up with the ARC to present a Formal Prom every year; a high-profile event that puts the spotlight on hundreds of our neighbors from the group home.

Then there are those local people who are among the most visible faces in the crowd. People like Josh Zuckerman and Beth Arentsen, who can’t help being photogenic and certainly aren’t bashful about sharing their prodigious performing gifts with a fervent fanbase across the region. Zuckerman’s brand of alt-country inflected pop/rock and Arentsen’s ethereal chamber-pop (purveyed in both acoustic and electronic settings) have  been heard both indoors and out, in venues that range from “Jersey rox” to unorthodox — and whether separately or occasionally together on the same bill, the two stars have lent their voices to a gamut of causes that range from AIDS research and LGBT rights to post-Katrina disaster relief and animal rescue operations.

This Sunday, Rocktober the 25th, Beth and Josh give their time and talents to a great cause once more — performing not just one but two shows apiece, to help the 4H raise funds for the ARC’s Spring Formal and other ongoing special projects. Scheduled for noon and 4:30pm, the benefit concerts will take place in the very nice, very new (and somewhat under-appreciated) 250-seat auditorium at the Middletown Arts Center (MAC), located just paces from the platform of the NJ Transit train station.

The two singer-songwriters share more than what Eric Clapton called the “soft touch” charitable tendencies of the career musician. They also share Steve DeVito — versatile virtuoso guitarist, all-around go-to guy, local postmaster by day, and the man who’s put together this 2009 entry in what’s planned as a much-anticipated annual event.

You’ve met DeVito here previously in oRBit, as lead guitar player and spokesman for the briefly reunited Secret Syde. The feedback-washed punk psychedelia of that legendary 1980s band is worlds removed from the confidently melodic music that DeVito deals out with Mr. Zuckerman and Ms. Arentsen — and he’ll have plenty of time to hone those skills, as he’s called upon to play four separate sets on Sunday.

We’ll get to the show’s headliners some day soon, we promise — but for right now the Red Bank oRBit spot is rightly trained upon Stevie DeV. Continue Reading for more on this weekend’s event.

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