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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ARCHIVE: Shanghai’d to Shoregrass Heaven


With ten you get eggroll: Richard Morris (pictured at far right) joins his mates in the M Shanghai String Band for a concert this Saturday in Atlantic Highlands. Check the band’s website to figure out who’s missing from this picture.

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

A few weeks ago here in oRBit, we brought you an interview with the patriarch of the family bluegrass band Cherryholmes, an act that got its start not at some ramshackle country church in the heart of Appalachia, but at a pizza joint in their native East LA.

Today we’re pleased to bring to your attention one of the finest aggregations working the tall cattails of the NY metro region’s burgeoning bluegrass scene — theM Shanghai String Band, a Brooklyn-based combo who, despite the name, play a wondrous brand of music that’s as American as, well, chop suey (look it up).

In this case, it was a popular Chinese lounge and bistro in Williamsburg that served as the launch pad for the MSSB, making the convenient marriage of urban ‘grass band and local ethnic eatery something of a minor trend.

Forming around a monthly basement jam session at the Szechuan bistro, the lineup of just under a dozen players, give or take (depending on babysitter availability) has gone out into the world to great acclaim — not just toward their live shows, but to their three albums (most recent being The Mapmaker’s Daughter, available in advance on iTunes) of original songs by Austin HughesMatthew Schickele and several others.

Check out some of the videos on their website and you’ll see a traditionally rooted yet hypercurrent team of partners, who play this smart, citified cousin to radio-grade country with authority and finesse and mystery and all the things that have gone missing from the sort of Mountaindew-mouthed “hat” acts that show up at Six Flags and the Pee ‘N See every summer.

You’ll also see a perilously crowded stage of musicians who gather “Opry style” around a single microphone, in a way that Guitar Jam Daily described as “like sharks smelling blood in the water.”

As it turns out, this Saturday evening you’ll get a chance to experience M Shanghai live, in a concert at the historic Central Baptist Church in Atlantic Highlands. It’s a presentation of the Atlantic Highlands Arts Council, and it represents a rare backyard gig for the band’s mandolin maestro Richard Morris, who as it turns out also makes his home these days in Highlands. Red Bank oRBit spoke to Morris on the eve of the big Bayshore barndance.

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