CORONA CONCERTS ARE A VIRAL SENSATION (IN A GOOD WAY)

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ), April 2, 2020 

“Seattle just banned all live music performances for 30 days!” read a widely disseminated meme that made the social media rounds a few weeks back. “This cancels over 1246 gigs, affecting 320 working musicians…with a total income loss of almost $426.75!”

It’s funny because it’s true, more or less — but with the COVID-19 public health emergency having subsequently slammed into the Garden State like a killer frost, it’s a bit less funny for all those who toil in the fields of what up until very recently stood as this area’s major cash crop: the bar/ restaurant/ theater/ nightclub circuit.

When the region’s music scene shuttered almost overnight, music makers from all stylistic corners of the local soundscape took to the wi-fi “airwaves” to serve up home-cooked concert creations for their fans — a sonic smorgasbord that ranged from “saloon singer” supreme Pat Guadagno, to classic crooner Chris Pinnella, to kidrock romper Yosi Levin, to dancefloor DJ Mick Hale. But it was a longtime patroness of the arts by the name of Ellen Berman who took it as a cue to do something unprecedented, for the scores of creative individuals who have historically counted on eking out a spartan but steady existence making music. Beginning on March 18 and scheduled to continue every night at 9 pm for the duration of the public venue shutdown, a cast of singers from our neck of New Jersey (and the big world beyond) connects with their fanbase via Facebook, in an ambitious endeavor entitled Ellen Berman’s Viral Video Productions presents Corona Classic Concerts.

Appearing in that inaugural mini-concert — and taking a major role in the planning and production of the series — was a familiar presence on the Shore soundscape: Arlan Feiles, the singer/ songwriter/ producer/ multi-instrumentalist and activist whose intensely personal-yet-universal compositions have graced a catalog of acclaimed indie albums, stages of every conceivable size, high-profile film soundtracks, and collaborative projects with the likes of vocal veteran JT Bowen.

“Ellen is one of New Jersey’s great music fans,” observes Feiles in a call from his Matawan home. “I first met her at a holiday show at the Stone Pony, where she bought 40 of my CDs to give out as Christmas gifts!”

“She hired me to help put together this live stream project, with the idea that the musicians get paid for their work…I thought I’d line up a few guys; get a few shows going for a few weeks…but within three days we got a huge response, a healthy schedule, where we’re employing over 40 artists. So far it’s just been overwhelmingly incredible!”

Featured artists have thus far included such Jersey Shore perennials as Emily Grove, Tara Dente and Cranston Dean, as well as nationwide acts like the LA-based Canyoneers, Nashville (by way of her native Neptune City) sensation Nicole Atkins, and Joan Osborne (best known for the hit “One of Us”).

As Feiles emphasizes, “This is a curated schedule of artists who have been paid to perform…they all get 200 to 300 dollars, which is a drop in the bucket for someone like Nicole Atkins, but which goes a long way for someone whose livelihood depends on music-related activity. They can pay it forward, do what they want…but the important thing is that Ellen and I want to see these musicians get paid for their art.”

“They get to produce their segments as they see fit…but we ask them to please let us see where you are,” adds the music programmer in reference to the videos that have presented a quirky and engaging look at these “captive” creatives in their home environment. “And the at-home format has allowed us to get April Smith, who was such a big part of the scene before she retired from performing about ten years ago (the singer is scheduled to perform on Monday, April 13).”

Feiles, who performed his own virtual set on Wednesday night, returns for additional 9 pm schedulings on April 8 and 15 — while other upcoming Corona Classics spotlight such fellow Shore faves as Rick Barry (Sunday, April 5), Quincy Mumford (Monday, April 6), Dentist (Friday, April 10), and Rachel Ana Dobken (Friday, April 17), as well as NJ-to-NOLA transplant Allie Moss (Thursday, April 16).

The response to the nightly series has been such that Berman and Feiles organized a separate slate of virtual “Happy Hour” concerts, scheduled for 5 pm on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The series that kicked off on March 27 continues into another weirdly quiet weekend with Ocean Township’s own Frank Lombardi featured on Friday, April 3. Gayle Skidmore and John Anaya, respectively of the Netherlands and Scotland, round out the Saturday/ Sunday scene — while Asbury fans will not want to miss a solo appearance by Swagmatics frontwoman Deseree Spinks on Sunday, April 11 (there’s also talk of an 11 pm late-nite series).      Continue reading

TELL TCHAIKOVSKY THE NEWS: THIS NUTCRACKER ROCKS

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), December 19, 2019

 “Tell Tchaikovsky the news,” sang the late great Chuck Berry in “Roll Over Beethoven” — and if the 19th century Russian master didn’t get the memo the first time, he might be interested to know that, here at the tail end of 2019, one of his most enduring concert classics has been given a holiday makeover complete with a transporting to an enchanted land known as the Jersey Shore, and a compositional assist from members of the Garden State rock band The Gaslight Anthem. Because of course it has!

Going up for six performances this weekend at the Axelrod Performing Arts Center in the Deal Park section of Ocean Township, The Nutcracker ROCKS represents a delightfully unexpected collaboration between   the APAC’s in-house professional dance company The Axelrod Contemporary Ballet Theater [AXCBT], and a team of Jersey-based creative partners highlighted by two core components of the New Brunswick-spawned Anthem: bassist Alex Levine and guitarist Alex Rosamilia.

As director and choreographer Gabriel Chajnik explains, “this is our first full season of ballets here at the Axelrod…and we wanted to finish the year with a work that adds something of the musical tradition in our area.” Recognizing The Nutcracker as “the ballet that most kids and families are exposed to first,” the founder of the AXCBT (who performed in the 1892 classic during his days at the National Academy in his native Argentina — and who, as a student at NYC’s Juilliard School, thrilled to multiple stagings of George Balanchine’s landmark production) set out to create something that “would appeal to the classicists…and to the Jersey Shore rock and rollers.”

Indeed, the producers aren’t trying to “gaslight” their audience when they pitch this intriguing project as a work that’s “destined to become a Jersey Shore staple for many holidays to come“ — a thing designed not so much to set P.I. Tchaikovsky spinning in his grave, as to get the old boy humming like a dynamo in sync with its fuel-injected energy.

Riffing on the original source stories by E.T.A. Hoffman and Alexandre Dumas — and the ballet’s familiar plotline of young Clara and her Christmastime voyage through magical realms of mouse armies, sugarplum fairies, and an enchanted nutcracker soldier — The Nutcracker ROCKS boasts a new book by Red Bank Regional High School drama teacher Reuben Jackson (entirely coincidentally, Chajnik’s old Juilliard roommate), a traditional score (recorded by maestro Jason Tramm and the 40 piece MidAtlantic Symphony Orchestra at Ocean Grove’s Great Auditorium this past October), dozens of young student dancers, acrobatic performers from Howell High School, “rats instead of mice; rockers instead of soldiers” — along with “hip-hop elements” and a layered rock component (including two all-new songs) custom-crafted for the occasion by the two Alexes and their partner in X Squared Productions, Wes Klienknecht.

As for exactly how the ballet master (who became a full time resident of Ocean Grove when given the opportunity to establish the AXCBT) connected with the veterans of the band best known for the album The ‘59 Sound, it’s as simple as the fact that “Alex Levine was my barber!”  

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