IT’S MUCHO MONGO, WITH NO WAITING, THIS MEMORIAL DAY

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), May 23, 2019. Photos by Bob Schultz, Heather Morgan

As music fans, we kind of like to think of our favorite groups as band-mates in the most genuine sense; a bunch of longtime friends, or literal family members, who share a bond (and a crowded van) that no outsider could ever truly comprehend — even when that high-mileage van is traded in for a luxury tour bus, or custom-painted Gulfstream.

If you grew up watching The Beatles in Help! or The Monkees on their old TV show, you might have gotten the mistaken impression that, when the show is over, the band members come home to their own shared quarters; a zany clubhouse situation where pretty much any wacky thing can happen. But no one who’s at all serious about the music business actually lives like that — do they?

Meet Waiting For Mongo, a combo that you’ve likely encountered if you spent any time around the bars, bistros, boardwalks, big-room auditoriums and beachtop stages of our Shore. As purveyors of precision-drillteam funk and jamband jazzoid excursions, the seven-piece lineup boasts not only some lifetime friendships, but two sets of siblings. Citing Asbury Park as a home base — and staking out pockets of fandom from Louisiana to Vermont, via that trusty van (well okay, two vans; “one for the people and one for the gear”), the band has put their own stamp on the scene within a relatively brief bunch of years, although as T,J. McCarthy observes, “it feels like we started this a long time ago…we have a lot of emotion invested in this band…and for the past 2 or 3 years, we’ve all lived in the same house in Farmingdale.”

Speaking on behalf of the his fellow musicians — while being quick to point out that “there’s no main leader here…everybody has their own significant role to play in the band” — the bassist and vocalist explains that “if anything, the house has made us closer…we’re more aware of the personal chemistry, and how it affects the music…we always play our best when we get along great.”

“Then there are times when we were angry with each other, when the dishes weren’t done…typical roommate stuff…and the music came out sour,” he continues. “You don’t want that sort of thing to ruin the music and the fun…but at the end of the day, we are all about each other’s best interest.”

Continue reading

STRINGBEAN ON BOARD-WAY: A SUMMER SIGNIFIER TAKES IT OUTSIDE

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), May 9, 2019

It’s as sure a signifier of the summertime season as “Event Rate” parking: every Monday evening, from the cherry-blossom bosom of May and right on through the October moon of the Great Pumpkin,  the herringboned hardwoods of the Asbury Park Boardwalk bear witness to a ritual that’s as much about the Joy as it is about the Blues — a ceremony that summons a devoted group of followers, even as it draws unsuspecting passersby into a spell that’s “loose, danceable, with a lot less pressure to enjoy yourself.”

The speaker of these spells is blues harmonica ace, guitarist, singer, songwriter and bandleader Ken “Stringbean” Sorensen — and these revels in the foothills of the working week are the Monday night meetings of Stringbean and the Boardwalk Social Club, a tradition that inaugurated its ninth consecutive season at Marilyn Schlossbach’s Langosta Lounge on May 6. Scheduled to take place inside the waterfront restaurant for its first few weeks, the freewheeling (and free of cover charge) session is expected to hit the boards, on the oceanside patio between Langosta and the adjoining AP Yacht Club, by Memorial Day Monday if weather cooperates.

With his signature knit cap, and his hard-earned bona fides as a retired New York harbor pilot, the lanky Stringbean has the air of a guy who’s not afraid to work in “any and every kind of weather” — and indeed, the veteran of countless open-air festivals, beach jams and street fairs has already notched his first outdoor gig of the season, during last weekend’s Asbury Park Alive! fest. Pronounced “a big success” by Sorensen, the inaugural slate of health and eco-themed displays, speakers, bands and activities coordinated by the Alliance for a Healthier Asbury Park — during which Springwood/Lake Avenue was closed to vehicular traffic between Springwood Park and the boardwalk — traced its origins to an endeavor that’s long been near and dear to the musician’s heart: the effort to create a more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly community.

“Asbury’s on the right track, as far as becoming a walkable, bikeable city,” says Sorensen, himself an early member of the Complete Streets Coalition, the grass-roots group that advocates for bicycle safety. “It’s a progressive city with some wealth behind it, and a lot of people who bike for recreation, or as their main form of transportation.”

A particular pet cause for the busy  music maker has been the ongoing state-run project to place Asbury Park’s Main Street/ Route 71 on a “road diet,” with the previous four-lane layout reconfigured as two motor vehicle lanes, a central turning lane, and dedicated bicycle lanes for both northbound and southbound riders. While the project has inspired its share of detractors, Sorensen emerged as a clear and avid supporter from the get-go; writing letters to the local media, lobbying public officials, and taking every opportunity to state his case that “this is going to improve everyone’s quality of life…it’s a lot of work, but when it’s done, it’s gonna be great.”

Just in case there were any lingering doubts as to whether Stringbean “bikes the bike” as well as he talks the talk, check out Bike Riddim, the documentary that made its debut at the 2018 Asbury Park Music and Film Festival — and that made Stringbean a star of the (hyperlocal) silver screen.

Following Sorensen throughout a gig-packed summer of 2017, filmmaker (and fellow bike enthusiast) Sarah Galloway painted a portrait of an artist-activist who favors the pedal-powered two wheeler as his preferred mode of transport to all of his regular engagements, including a residency at Belmar’s Ragin’ Cajun restaurant that’s been a Sunday night fixture for 25 years.

Continue reading

THE PARADE’S GONE BY…BUT IT’S A NEW GREEN DEAL FOR ST. PAT’S

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), March 14, 2019

So the local St. Patrick’s Day parades  — both the long-established  ballyhoo in Belmar, and the more recently minted shamrock shake in Asbury Park — have bleated their last bagpipe note; honked their last  hook ‘n ladder horn; swept up their last tossed bag of Skittles, Nerf torpedo, or busted balloon animal as they’ve moved on down the avenue.

Here in that strange interlude when our daylight-savings adjusted eyes spring-ahead to visions of the impending summer  — but when we’re still dealing with the occasional fall-back of  late winter weather — it’s easy to find ourselves in a holding pattern of sorts. With the season of outdoor concerts and beachfront festivals just out of sight, and with early spring attractions like the AP Music and Film Fest yet to commence, we look for a hook to hang our revelry upon in the meantime — something like, say, the actual Day of Saint Patrick, an extended observance that casts a warm green glow over the finer establisments of our fair Shore all this weekend (and then some).

Whether your preference is a publick house that’s been part of the local landscape for a generation — or a  stripmall tavern that’s been embraced like a fond family heirloom — you’ll find that the festive weekend seldom announces itself with a whisper. Keynoting it all with a robust blast of the bagpipes is Kelly’s Tavern at 43 Route 35 in Neptune City, where the pipes sound beginning at the noon hour on Friday, March 15. With two sessions of live bagpiping on Friday and Saturday (12-2 pm; 5-8 pm) — and a St. Pat’s Sunday that begins in reveille-wth-revelry fashion at 7 am — the neighborhood landmark keeps the momentum going on March 17 with DJ tunes from 4 pm, and a broadcast by radio station 107.1 The Boss that goes live at 11 am.

Over at Kelly’s sister establishment Clancy’s Tavern in Neptune — just a few staggered steps from Asbury city limits, and right across Main Street from the threshold of Ocean Grove — DJ Dave spins “Irish Drinking Music” from 4 pm as a Saturday “St. Patrick’s Eve Pre-Game,” while the live bagpipers play for two sessions (12-2 pm; 4-6 pm) on Sunday, with DJ Tony seeing the night through to 10 pm.

While the victuals vibe has run more  toward vacation cuisine (or an eclectic American experience that’s reflected in the musical menu), Marilyn Schlossbach’s Asbury boardwalk flagship Langosta Lounge continues a newly minty tradition here on the big green weekend, with a Friday/ Saturday double-dose of dexterity from two exemplars of the Shore scene’s blues-rock royalty: harpist Sandy Mack (performing on March 15 as “Sandy O’Mack and His McJamily”) and guitarmeister Billy Hector (supercharging Saturday night as “Billy O’Hector’s Electric Explosion”). Regardless of their bona fides as true sons of the Emerald Isle, these two veteran survivors and signifiers of the Jersey Shore Bar Wars remain consistent crowd pleasers and top-draw attractions at venues up and down the oceanside clubscape. Catch Mr. Mack in his regular Sunday role as patriarch to the extended Jamily on March 17, inside the lobby Soundbooth Lounge at The Asbury Hotel— and check out our archived interviews with Sandy and Billy on our blog site, upperWETside.wordpress.com.

Speaking of Shore blues-rock royalty, couples don’t come much more regalthan the powerhouse partnership of Matt and Eryn O’Ree, the union of two headline-worthy talents that’s served to double the audience’s pleasure and fun on stages that have ranged from theater-scale settings to the most intimate corners of the club scene. On Saturday night, Rooney’s Restaurant on the Long Branch waterfront is the setting as Eryn is joined by some tantalizingly teasered Friends for some sets of her glamorously smoky, torchy vocal signatures. Then on Tuesday, March 19 — in an event that serves to unofficially extend the weekend-long spirit of Irish music heritage into the foothills of the working week — Bon Jovi tour veteran Matt “O’Ree-appears” with his full Band at Asbury Park’s Wonder Bar, as special guests for a Band of Friends salute to the late great Irish-born multi-instrumentalist blues master Rory Gallagher. Catch Matt, Eryn and company when they return to the Wonder Bar stage on May 1st — and connect to our archived interview with Matt O’Ree on upperWETside.wordpress.com.

Continue reading

IT’S PRIME TIME FOR SOME PRIME CUTS OF (MARC) RIBLER

Marc Ribler (left) and Steven Van Zandt (photo by Rene van Daimen)

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, February 21 2019

“He got the bug again,” says Marc Ribler of his friend and frequent collaborator Steven Van Zandt, by way of explaining how that iconic prime mover ‘n shaker of the Shore music scene — a guy who, after all, had diversified his portfolio in recent years to score significant successes in the realms of on-camera acting, Broadway theatrical production, satellite radio, education, philanthropy, and everything this side of branded spaghetti sauce — came to rely on the veteran musician as his music director for a newly resurgent iteration of the Disciples of Soul.

“Steven was working with Darlene Love, and asked me to be her music director for some shows,“ recalls the singer, songwriter and guitarist whose own solo trajectory ranges from charting songs for other vocalists, to earning a reputation as an ace interpreter of signature stuff from the classic rock playbook. “We’d do a few of his compositions at each show — ‘‘Love on the Wrong Side of Town,’ ‘Til the Good Is Gone,’ ‘Forever’ — and we all came to the realization that, wow, there’s a great body of work here.”

“A year later he called me to do a one-off festival in London, and, well…ever sonce then he’s been immersed in his own artistry. Right now his music is the center of his universe.”

Having “toured continuously”  in recent years as Van Zandt’s right-hand lieutenant (as well as co-producer of SVZ’s recording sessions), the Brick Township-based Ribler prepares to hit the international road once again, on the momentum of two new projects with the resurgent Little Steven: the just-issued Soulfire Live! box set/ Blu-Ray package, and the May 2019 release of the all-new studio set Summer of Sorcery.

“If he had somehow misplaced that songwriter within, he’s reconnected with it in a major way,” says Ribler of the bandana’d bandleader whose upcoming itinerary brings him to Australia in April, and various European ports of call in May (with some high profile CD release shows planned for New York and LA). “He’s a man on a mission!”

Before all that, however, Marc Ribler returns, in the company of assembled Friends, to the Asbury Park venue where he’s found happy harbor for the past several years — Tim McLoone’s Supper Club, the sophisticated space-age saucer that hosts not just one but twoRib-sticking repasts in the next couple of weekends. This coming Saturday, February 23, it’s a birthday salute to the life and musical legacy of the “Quiet Beatle,” George Harrison — a retrospective for which Ribler is joined by the in-demand rhythm section of Rich Mercurio (drums) and Jack Daley( bass), as well as by keyboardist Andy Burton from SVZ’s band. Then the following Friday, March 1st, it’s an Electrifying Tribute to The Who that finds the core band joined for the occasion by vocalist Dale Toth.

“Everyone in the band grew up with this music…it’s in our DNA to begin with,” observes the chief Friend  whose repertoire of special salute sets also includes a Traffic tribute performed in partnership with Jukes keyboardist Jeff Kazee. “We’ve been celebrating George’s birthday for five years now…both here, and at the Cutting Room in New York…and we like to do it at least once or twice each year.”

Scheduled for 8 pm, the Harrison set traces the personal and professional journey of a Beatle bandmate whose years in the considerable shadow of Lennon and McCartney saw him emerge over time as “an artist with an incredible sense of self…and a genuine humanity.”

Continue reading

IT’S A 3-DAY, V-day WEEKEND IN ASBURY TOWN

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

STRICTLY BALLROOM: KEITH ROTH MARKS AN ELECTRIC ANNIVERSARY

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, December 20 2018

“The thing about those years before the internet, is that it was so much more fun seeking out the info instead of finding it online,” observes Keith Roth of the crucial interlude that straddled the heyday of the arena-rock goliaths, and the rise of the scrappy punk bands who dared to topple the big guys to earth.

“You would read CREEM Magazine, you would see what your classmates and your older brother had in their collection…and every Friday, you went to the local Korvettes store, where they had a punk rock wall in their record department!”

“I grew up in the Bronx…I mean, the first album I bought with my own money was The Dictators Go Girl Crazy,” says the 52-year old resident of Tinton Falls, in reference to the 1975 masterpiece of cheerfully offensive outer-boroughs wrestle-punk slobrock. “And when I moved to New Jersey, I kind of assumed that everybody knew who the MC5 was!”

As it turned out, not everyone in the suburban Jersey milieu could automatically name the band who did “Kick Out the Jams” on demand. And so, the aspiring rock star and record mogul Keith Roth became a man on a self-appointed mission; a calling to elucidate, illuminate and educate his new neighbors as to the rich legacy of rock and roll music’s most frantically fertile period — that beyond-the-Beatles/ way-after-Woodstock moment when classic tour-gods traversed the skies in custom jets and landed luxury automobiles in hotel pools; when the glittering stars of “glam” gleefully pushed at every pop-culture boundary of gender roles and sexual identity; when the music’s gigantic tent simultaneously housed symphonically inclined artistes, meat-and-potatoes traditionalists, and those lords and ladies of mischief who wanted nothing more than to see that big top come crashing down.

The vehicle for Roth’s supercharged passions was The Electric Ballroom, a weekly blast of words and wax that marked its twentieth year on the air (Sunday nights on 95.9 WRAT-FM out of Lake Como) this past October — and that celebrates the milestone with a special Anniversary Party next Sunday, December 30; a ringing out of the fast-fading year that finds its brick-and-mortar Ballroom inside the all-purpose auditorium of downtown Asbury’s House of Independents.

Scheduled to get underway at 7 pm, the multi-band blast is a presentation of Pat Schiavino’s Asbury Underground brand, one that represents an expansion of the twice yearly free festival of storefront music and art (returning in January with an edition keyed to Light of Day 2019, about which more to come in this space) into the realm of special concert events. As such, it’s a showcase for Roth, his own band Frankenstein 3000, and some of his favorite regional or international acts — a chance to take stock, before sprinting ahead to the next waltz on the dance card.

“This event is going to be run pretty tightly and quickly,” observes Roth of the live show; contrasting the onstage action with the Sunday-sauce studio affair that, after all these years, “follows no format…we could have (legendary Dolemite star) Rudy Ray Moore one week, and one of the Sex Pistols the next. It’s whatever’s cool; we don’t bother with playlists…so the format is that there is no format!”

All in a night’s work for an endeavor that represented “a baptism of fire” for its host back in the late 1990s; a project in which “we did everything wrong the first night…and for our first guest, we had a vampire. An actual vampire.”

Continue reading

THE DOUGHBOYS COME HOME FROM ‘OVER THERE’

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, October 18 2018

“The Rolling Stones were representative of the angst of the culture in the 1960s…but as far as I’m concerned, Eric Burdon from the Animals is the greatest lead singer of all time.”

The speaker is Myke Scavone, Eatontown resident and lifelong music fan, and the opinion carries a great deal of weight, since the veteran vocalist has spent more than fifty years experiencing the rock life — hearing his records on the radio, traveling the world as a modern member of an iconic blues-rock institution, and having several of his recordings proclaimed “Coolest Song in the World” by no less an authority than Steven Van Zandt.

It’s a journey that begins and comes back around full circle with the Doughboys, the combo that the singer co-founded in his hometown of Plainfield, NJ, with his teenaged peers Mike Caruso (bass), Richie Heyman (drums), and Willy Kirchofer (guitar). The band that makes a welcome return to Asbury Park this Saturday night with an encore appearance at Langosta Lounge is a seasoned and super-confident unit whose riff-driven rockers are propelled by Scavone’s classic garage-punk snarl — but they’re also in essence the same bunch of earnest kids who first convened under the name the Ascots.

“We’d learn whole albums by the Stones, the Kinks, the Animals,” says Scavone of those early days, when the latest wave of British Invasion bands would inspire scores of American teens to pick up guitars and drumsticks. Live shows would range from the old Hullabaloo Club in Asbury Park (and its many teen-club counterparts throughout New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania), as well as the roof of the Funhouse on the Seaside Heights boardwalk — and at some point in 1966, the Ascots would become the Doughboys.

Continue reading

MERMAIDS JUST WANNA HAVE FIN, AT 4th ANNUAL PROMENADE

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.

Continue reading