COME FOR THE MUSIC, STAY FOR THE FILM, AT APMFF 2019

An era-defining inductee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; a next-generation scion of one of American music’s most awesome bloodlines; a foundational figure from the big musical house that Bruce built — and a producer-director whose most recent project earned the Academy Award for Best Picture. All in a weekend’s work — and maybe all at the next table over, here in an ever-accelerating Asbury Park entertainment scene. But with the arrival of the Asbury Park Music and Film Festival, the celebrity-spotting carries a positively charged connection to the city’s rich cultural legacy, and to the young performers who will carry that torch into the future, and the wide world beyond the boardwalk.

Beginning with a special screening and jam session tonight, April 25 at the Paramount Theatre, and soldiering on through the weekend days and nights ahead, it’s the fifth annual edition of the sprawling event that originated under the auspices of the hard-working Asbury Park Music Foundation — and which serves as a high-profile fundraising vehicle for the nonprofit APMF and its ongoing endeavors in the fields of musical education, historical preservation, and live-concert presentation.

Coordinated in its earliest days by Matt Hockenjos (profiled in this space recently, in his role as drummer for alterna-surfpop band Dentist), the festival is guided these days by principals that include Sony Pictures Classics co-president Tom Bernard, Grammy nominated photographer-filmmaker (plus Sea.Hear.Now Festival founder) Danny Clinch, and Asbury Park Press publisher Tom Donovan. The board of directors, an august group of music biz pros, filmmakers and philanthropists, boasts such names as the Grammy Museum’s Bob Santelli, Batman franchise producer Michael Uslan, and radio personality Shelli Sonstein. What hasn’t changed is the core theme of “exploring music in film” — a mission that’s brought the likes of Bruce, Little Steven, Wyclef Jean, Doors drummer John Densmore, and Asbury’s own movie-biz mover ‘n shaker Danny De Vito to the festival’s stages — as well as the call “to benefit underserved youth in Asbury Park,” through organizations like the Boys and Girls Clubs, the “traveling “Beat Bus” program, and the after-school program of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel church.

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THE CATS ARE IN THE HOUSE, DURING 2ND ANNUAL CATSBURY CON

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), April 11, 2019

As manager for Asbury Park’s resident punk rock exponents The Bouncing Souls — and at the area turntables under the alias DJ Values — Dean “DJ” Bornschein“spent most of my twenties not really growing up,” by his own admission; confessing in this space last year that  “I became an adult in my thirties, when I got a cat.”

More than just a passing cat fancy, that sincere interest in the domesticated feline species led Bornschein to establish a home-based, not-for-profit cat rescue service that specialized in matching hard-to-place cats with new forever-homes through social media — and, in 2017, to found New Jersey’s first full-fledged “cat cafe” under the Catsbury Park name.

Located at 708 Cookman Avenue in Asbury Park, and open every day but Tuesday, the storefront adoption center allows visitors to meet and mingle by appointment with an ever-changing collection of resident cats (all oat least one year old, vaccinated, spayed/neutered, and ID-chipped); obtained from the Monmouth County SPCA and other reputable rescue sources. The cafe part allows patrons to enjoy local-vendor desserts, teas or coffees in a sit-down setting, with in-house gift shop “meow-merch” items also going toward the funding of the adoption center.

All very well and fine, and welcome even in the passionately pooch-friendly seaside city that brought you the Doggy Yappy Hour. But with platforms like YouTube, Facebook and Instagram having made international celebrities of various photogenic felines, those once-humble housecats began to transition from hairball-hocking homebodies, to household names in the big world beyond. Hence, the need for Bornschein and his Catsbury crew to organize the Catsbury Park Convention, the inaugural edition of which commandeered Convention Halland the Paramount Theater— an area where not so very long ago a community of feral felines made its home beneath the former Howard Johnson’s — in early April of 2018.

Going up this Saturday and Sunday, April 13 and 14 — and augmented by various ancillary events and afterparties at locations around AP — the second annual Convention promises to bring thousands of cat lovers to town, in addition to nationally noted animal advocates, felinephile entertainers, and of course a furry firmament of stellar celebri-cats.

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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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FLOYD’S YOUR UNCLE, FROM SPAGHETTI DINNER TO SUPPER CLUB

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, January 31 2019

He’s been branded a menace to the morals of impressionable youth; a living standard-bearer for an all-but-forgotten style of humor and song, and a colorful cultural ambassador for Jersey pride — a human equivalent of pork roll (that’s a compliment) in a porkpie hat, and a LOUD jacket that would give pause even to the late great Mets announcer Lindsey Nelson.

No less a showman/fan than David Bowie (who saluted him in the song “Slip Away“) praised him as “one of the Last Entertainers” — and, in a career that’s taken him from the brink of nationwide stardom to the spaghetti dinner at your local firehouse (and all points between), Floyd Vivino has staked a claim to that mantle like almost no other performer alive.

“Comedy can heal or destroy,” says the veteran vaudevillian best known as Uncle Floyd. “It’s the most delicate form of entertainment, because unlike a music act you have to give the comedian your full attention, instead of hitting the dance floor.”

“You really need to look at the performer.”

For just about half a century now, Vivino has “made ya look” — and not only via those signature mega-decibel duds.

“I have very few checked blazers left…and forget finding porkpie hats anymore,” he says. “They’re in disrepair, but I manage to keep ‘em together, as long as you don’t look too closely.”

More than that, Floyd Vivino has made you listen, through a mastery of early 20th century popular piano styles and an encyclopedic knowledge of joke-book chestnuts, vintage novelty ditties, Italian favorites, singing-cowboy standards, and other Hit Parade paraphernalia from the era of sheet music and wax 78s.

To an entire mildly misguided generation of Garden State boomers, however, the man at the piano will forever be the host of The Uncle Floyd Show, the cheerfully anarchic, low/no budget “children’s program” that aired in various broadcast forums and formats from the mid 1970s to some time in the late 90s.

A throwback to the earliest pioneer days of television in terms of production values — and, for a demographic that grew up on the likes of Soupy Sales, Chuck McCann and Sandy Becker, a cherished echo of the “local kiddie host” era — the show was a madcap minestrone in which Floyd and his stock company of regulars (including Scott Gordon, Looney Skip Rooney, Mugsy and Netto) bulldozed their way through a very loose collection of puppet segments (featuring Oogie, Bones Boy and Mr. Tony), old-school songs, character skits (Eddie Slobbo, Cowboy Charlie and Joe Frankfutter, to name but a few), and viewer-generated “pictures on the wall.”

Somewhere along the line, the Floyd show got noticed and embraced by a burgeoning scene of punk/ new wave artists who jockeyed for exposure within the claustrophobic confines of the modest suburban studio. Lip-sync guests ranged from breakout acts like the Ramones, and NJ-based favorites like The Misfits, Smithereens, and Shrapnel — to downtown NYC avant garde percussionists, and even the occasional visitor from across the pond.

More legendary than lucrative, the TV show inspired Floyd to hit the regional road (with castmates, puppets, and full band featuring brothers Jimmy and Jerry Vivino) for a series of live gigs at nightclubs that included Asbury Park’s much-missed Fast Lane. While that TV heyday is sadly long past, Vivino has remained a frequent returnee to Asbury town — and when the entertainer comes back to the circuit this Friday, February 1, he’ll be taking it topside to the space-age saucer roundhouse of Tim McLoone’s Supper Club.

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IT’S JUST AROUND THE CORNER: LIGHT OF DAY KEEPS THE AP HOME FIRES LIT

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, January 17 2019

To hear the man tell it, “Longevity is a benchmark of greatness” — and given that the speaker is Tony Pallagrosi, the words are no mere fridge-magnet platitude. After all, this is the veteran music scene mover ‘n shaker whose unimpeachable cred extends from his days as one of the cats in the band (The Shots, The Asbury Jukes), to host of some much-missed Shore nightspots (The FastLane, Xanadu), to co-founder of major concert venues and promotion entities (Starland Ballroom, Concerts East), to manager of The Weeklings — and quite possibly all the way to “the other side,” thanks to Asbury Angels, the musical memorial initiative that he chairs.

Pallagrosi, however, isn’t referring to himself, or to any of those aforementioned feathers in his cap, but to the endeavor that may ultimately stand as his most lasting legacy: Light of Day, the music-driven fundraising vehicle that’s  illuminated some of the darkest winter days and nights in this City of Summers for well nigh two decades.

Co-founded by Pallagrosi with music promo/ management pro Bob Benjamin as an awareness resource for Parkinson’s Disease research — and inspired by Benjamin’s own diagnosis with the disorder — the annual slate of star-studded happenings grew out of a 40th birthday party for Bob at the Stone Pony; taking its name from the Springsteen soundtrack song “Just Around the Corner to the Light of Day” on its way to becoming a sprawling affair that’s spanned several continents, major North American cities and additional satellite events throughout the calendar year.

Of course, along the way Light of Day became indelibly identified with the stamp of Benjamin’s long-time friend Bruce Springsteen — not just via the organization’s name, but in the very real presence of The Boss as an onstage participant and de facto ringmaster for the majority of those all-star Bob’s Birthday concerts. As an undeniable draw (and a focal point for some tantalizing will-he-or-won’t-he buzz each year), the Bard of the boardwalk has generously shared the stage with a core cast of frequent-flyer performers (including Joe Grushecky, Willie Nile, and Steve Forbert), as well as drop-in guest stars that have ranged from Southside Johnny, Darlene Love and Gary US Bonds, to Light of Day movie star (plus high-profile person with Parkinson’s) Michael J. Fox, and  The Sopranos’ Vincent Pastore.

While the nonprofit Light of Day Foundation is a year-round entity upon which the sun never sets, the heart and soul of the positively charged enterprise remains LOD Winterfest, the mid-January jamboree of activity that commandeers the stages, storefronts and saloons of Asbury Park during the post-holiday “off season” interlude when most other Shore towns are deep into a long winter’s nap. Having offered up a couple of preliminary pace-setter events on January 13 (see the feature on Bob Burger in last week’s Coaster), the circus comes to town in full force for a long weekend that begins tonight, January 17, with a choice of tuneful entertainments that includes a “Hall of Fame Jam” featuring veteran Bruce drummer Vini Lopez (Langosta Lounge), a special edition of Sandy Mack’s Wonder Jam at the Wonder Bar, and an official kickoff concert at downtown’s House of Independents that spotlights such next-gen talents as Williams Honor and Anthony “Remember Jones” D’Amato.

“No other town this small has such a vibrant music scene,” says Pallagrosi. “And at the end of the day, I want everyone involved.”

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8/15: Four Seasoned Pros Hit the Town

J. Robert Spencer, Michael Longoria, Daniel Reichard and Christian Hoff are The Midtown Men — and the four seasoned veterans of Broadway’s JERSEY BOYS are working their way back to Jersey for a concert at Asbury Park’s Paramount Theatre this Saturday, August 18. 

“Sherry.” “Candy Girl.” “Walk Like a Man.” “Dawn.” “Big Girls Don’t Cry.”

We know ’em as canonical catalogue classics from Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, the Garden State streetcorner-serenade city slickers (and Belleville’s answer to The Beach Boys?) about whom native Jerseyans can tend to be as proprietary as pork roll, pizza and pumping gas (not).

For a whole millennial generation of Broadway babies, however, these awesome poptunes — instantly ID’d through their clanking, thumping beat and the sci-fi falsetto beamed in from somewhere east of the final frontier — are the stuff that drives Jersey Boys, the jukebox juggernaut that became the hit of the 2005 season — and granted its original New York cast (including John Lloyd Young, the Tony winner who recently announced his return to the role of Frankie) the Vallidity of the real thing.

A few years back, four “seasoned” vets from that Broadway cast — including Christian Hoff (a 2006 Tony winner as Tommy DeVito), Daniel Reichard (who played the group’s songwriting mastermind Bob Gaudio), J. Robert Spencer (who portrayed Nick Massi) and Michael Longoria (who took over as Frankie Valli after originating the show’s part of young Joe Pesci) — got together for a touring project that would find them expanding on their 1960s pop bona fides, by tackling a bonanza of Billboard-toppers from the pre-Woodstock era.

Originally dubbed The Boys in Concert, the allstar act hit a serious snag in its momentum, when a legal challenge by the producers of Boys forced a name change before more than an initial handful of gigs were booked. Since rebranded as The Midtown Men, the guys retook to the road last year, and recorded a platter of Sixties Hits that finds them looking beyond Jersey to the exotic lands of Motown (Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t That Peculiar”), SoCal (The Mamas and the Paps’ “California Dreamin”) and the UK (The Zombies’ “Time of the Season”). This Saturday, August 18, the Men for All Seasons are joined by their seven-piece band for an Off Broadway/ On Boardwalk concert at Asbury Park’s Paramount Theatre.

Produced by Sammy Boyd, the 8pm event will dedicate portions of proceeds to the (recently relo’d to Asbury) Big Brothers Big Sisters of Monmouth & Middlesex Counties — and, as per the specs of the settlement, it will NOT be a performance of, or in any way connected to, the smash musical that gave these four singing actors their big break.

UpperWETside talked to Hoff — a busy character actor, narrator and vocal artist who actually got HIS first big break as the young voice of the Hanna Barbera toon Richie Rich! — in the middle of a tour schedule that will take the Midtowners from Green Bay to Asbury to Missouri, with big-time New York TV ops along the way. Let’s hang on…

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ARCHIVE: Coming Back for Oates

(First published on Red Bank oRBit March 8, 2009)

303852234_964cd68f71_zIn “Brian the Bachelor,” a show that regularly places on most fans’ lists of favorite Family Guy episodes, Lois is seen in a flashback to her days as a plaster-casting rock groupie, crafting a backstage souvenir of her meet-’n-greet with a willing Daryl Hall. When Hall’s mustachioed musical partner John Oates enters the dressing room unexpectedly, Lois assures the shorter member of pop’s champion-selling duo that she’ll come back for him momentarily.

After Oates exits, she smiles slyly and whispers to Hall, “I’m not coming back for Oates!”

This is a needlessly negative, entirely inappropriate way to begin our appreciation of the Oat-man — and if you need to know, the moment can be found at around 6:55 in this linked clip.

Poor misunderstood Oates. Mocked from here to The Simpsons, where he formed part of a supergroup with fellow second bananas Garfunkel and Messina. Fully a head shorter than the golden-maned, top-billed Hall, who’s spared no opportunity to remind interviewers of how he is the acknowledged “leader” of the long-running act (in between continuing to rail against the way-dead Kurt Cobain for ruining music).

But John Oates is no Andrew Ridgely or even Alan Colmes. John Oates has been described as the “finisher,” the “details guy” of the duo, to Hall’s “starter” or “big picture” person. He’s stepped out front to take the lead on a number of songs, our favorite being “Africa” (they had us with that sax quote from “Soul Makossa”). There was also the admittedly rather jerky rendition of “Jingle Bell Rock,” and“Possession Obsession,” the one time he got to do a slick video for one of his songs (although Hall still tries to pull a head-games powerplay move, as he wrests the sugar dispenser from Oates at about 3:00).

The 70s porn ’stache may have fallen to the Wilkinson sword, but the act persists uninterrupted for over 40 years — and Friday night, Hall and Oates take it to the stage of Asbury’s Paramount Theatre for a special stop in their “Up Close and Personal Tour.” And for Oates — who bought into a condo project in the city in 2007  — it’s a chance at home field advantage.

ARCHIVE: A Sneak Preview in Circuit City

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Red Bank area native, movie actor and filmmaker Peter Dobson directing his project EXIT 102, which climaxes a daylong REELS & WHEELS event at various venues in Asbury Park.

By TOM CHESEK (First published on Red Bank oRBit November 21, 2008)

He was Elvis, briefly and memorably, in Forrest Gump, and Joe DiMaggio in the TV movie Norma Jean and Marilyn. His many film projects include meaty roles in Last Exit to BrooklynThe Frighteners and Drowning Mona — and his many short-lived TV series include Johnny BagoLenny, Head Over Heels and, most memorably, Cover Me.

He’s 44-year old actor-writer-producer-director Peter Dobson — son of the Red Bank orbit, veteran of the Monmouth College stage, and a hi-profile prodigal who’s making a Shore homecoming in a big way this weekend.

Saturday marks a big day for the Madison Marquette company, developers of the Asbury Park oceanfront. As their its little Boardwalk website proclaims, “For the first time in decades, all retail pavilions on the Asbury Park Boardwalk are open.” The collection of newly minted and/or relocated businesses includes “three new gourmet restaurants” — among ‘em Langosta Lounge, the latest project from the estimable Marilyn Schlossbach.

To further call attention to the astonishingly busy scene on and around the boards, the developers have arranged this Saturday as Reels and Wheels day — a slate of happenings that includes a display of classic cars and bikes along Ocean Avenue, along with a workday’s worth of live music at some of the city’s most venerable venues.

At the center of it all is Exit 102, the film project from Dobson and co-producer Ran Ballard that’s scheduled for its first public sneak preview at 7pm, with a free screening at the Paramount Theatre. Billed as a “Trailer Premiere,” the 15-minute short version of what is still very much a work in progress can be more correctly sized up as a “teaser.” Dobson and company are putting the final touches on securing financing for completion of the feature, and plans are for the crew to resume filming at the onset of warmer weather in late spring of 2009.

Shot on location in and around Asbury Park last July — and set in the circa-1974 days of the Circuit, the Casino and a new club called the Stone Pony — Exit 102 features Dobson as a working-class joe who flashes back to his younger days as a young punk caught up in cool custom cars, cruising for chicks and an epic “battle between rock ‘n rollers and greasers.” Costas Mandylor, of the Saw films and TV’s Picket Fences, co-stars, along with Frank Vincent (best remembered as Phil Leotardo in The Sopranos).

Dobson and Mandylor will be on hand for a Q&A session following the screening, which will be preceded by a short set of tuneage featuring Status Green, whose singer Lou Montesano also figures prominently in the film’s cast. The Paramount event is free of charge, first-come first-served, and every-man-for-himself.

Visitors to the Paramount-Convention Hall complex will be treated to free sounds from Mike Butler (4pm) and Bob Polding (5:15pm) in the fully refurbished lobby now known as The Grand Arcade. Across the street, theWonder Bar hosts a menu of music that includes Gene Walk at 3:30pm,Maybe Pete at 4:15pm, Woodfish at 5:15pm and Matt O’Ree following the screening at 8pm. It’s 21 and up at the Wonder, with all ages invited everywhere else; full schedule available right here.

Wanna know more? Red Bank oRBit talked with Peter Dobson about his local background, his career and the project that he describes as “the best thing I ever did.” Read on for the full text.

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