DECEMBER IN MUSIC-MAD ASBURY PARK IS A SONIC SAMPLER!

Performers appearing in holiday-themed concerts this month include top row, L-R: New Narratives (Asbury Lanes, Dec. 6), Rachel Ana Dobken (Stone Pony, Dec. 6), Brian Kirk (Stone Pony, Dec. 7), Rev. Horton Heat (Asbury Lanes, Dec. 7), Jody Joseph (Stone Pony, Dec. 8), Layonne Holmes (Paramount Theatre, Dec. 8; McLoone’s Supper Club, Dec. 20); bottom row L-R: Jo Wymer (The Saint, Dec. 15), Chris Pinnella (McLoone’s, Dec. 15 & 21), La Bamba (Stone Pony, Dec. 20), John Eddie (Wonder Bar, Dec. 21), P-Dub (Langosta Lounge, Dec. 22), Happy Fits (House of Independents, Dec. 20 & 21)

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), December 5, 2019

 While it’s maybe a tad too early to anoint Asbury Park as a regional Capital of Christmas, try telling that to any of the multitudes who lined up outside Convention Hall this past Saturday, when some of the scene’s favorite makers of locally sourced, certified organic music (highlighted by Remember Jones, following up a big Back to Black Friday gig at the Pony) flipped the switch on another souped-up Santa sleighload of seasonal sounds, here in this historic city of summers.

Of course, nobody hits the latter-day circuit here in this music-mad town expecting such a thing as a Silent Night — and the holiday interlude is no exception, as the season’s traditional hymns, choral cantatas and orchestral chestnuts are given a Santa-run for their money by a set of signature sounds that boast a decidedly more jingle-bell raucous bent. It’s an eclectic advent-calendar countdown that begins in earnest this weekend — and, as becomes abundantly clear, doesn’t necessarily let up when the tree hits the beach dunes or curb.

THE BIG ONE

Back for a second annual go-round as The Hottest Ticket in Town, the all-Shore/ all-star jinglejam known as A Very Asbury Holiday Show commandeers the Paramount Theatre proscenium on Sunday, December 8 for a 2019 sequel to last year’s sold-out inaugrual edition. Produced by those most proactive preservers and promoters of the city’s principal export — that is, The Asbury Park Music Foundation — the early evening extravaganza convenes another jukebox Justice League of performers whose Asbury roots run deep. It’s a multi-generational mashup that boats some of the living-legend linchpins of the SOAP scene (JT Bowen, Billy Hector, Layonne Holmes, Lance Larson, Lisa Lowell), next-wave singer/ songsmiths (Emily Grove, Anthony Krizan, Williams Honor), and some of the true master entertainers of the Shore clubscape (Pat Guadagno, Jillian Rhys McCoy, Pat Roddy, Deseree Spinks, Eddie Testa).

All this, plus a special set by the “Grooveangelicyulegasmicfunknsoulicious” force that is Everett Bradley’s Holidelic; the debut of the new song “Gonna Be Christmas” by The Weeklings, members of 60s heavyweights Vanilla Fudge and The Rascals; a big house band (led by music director Tony Perruso) boasting veterans of such acts as the Jukes, Joe Jackson and Patti Smith; plus returning co-hosts Lee Mrowicki and WABC-TV newscaster Michelle Charlesworth (joined by 107.1 The Boss deejay Michele Amabile Angermiller) handling the play-by-play. It’s dedicated to the memory of Asbury scene stalwart Kerry Layton, with proceeds going to benefit the community programs of the APMF, Mercy Center, Jewish Family and Children’s Services, and Boys & Girls Clubs of Monmouth County (there’s also an invitation to donate new unwrapped items to the Asbury Park Toy Drive). Info on available tickets can be had at asburyparkmusiclives.org.

SPECIAL SOMETHINGS

The December yesterdays when the likes of Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Andy Williams, and The King Family aired their annual Christmas TV specials have a modern-day corollary in Asbury town, with the ever-expanding selection of special live sets hosted by performers from within and without the local scene. First out of the box (and returning to the Stoney stage on Friday, December 6) is Quincy Mumford, who joins his band The Reason Why for a 2019 Holiday Show that further features Mike Pinto and another of QM’s contemporaries among the exciting new generation of Asbury-based solo artists, Rachel Ana Dobken. Another one-to-watch act on the present Shorescape, the duo New Narratives, is among the performers helping to raise donations for the AP Toy Drive effort during a Friday evening multi-band bill at Asbury Lanes — while over at Little Buddy Hideaway (that tropic-island-nest annex to downtown AP’s Brickwall), another best-kept-secret set aims to keep the beachy vibe alive, with a tinsel-garland twang. Hosted by the folks who bring you the annual surf/ tiki/ cocktail fest Hi-Tide Weekend — Magdalena O’Connell and Vincent Minervino— Friday’s Hi-Tide Holiday session offers chestnuts from DJ Hi-Tide’s private stash of swingin’ sides, plus live and languorous sounds by Philly’s foremost purveyors of party music with a Hawaiian punch, Slowey & the Boats.

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LIVE, LOCAL & LOYAL, RIGHT HERE IN MUSIC CITY

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

 LOYALTY! It’s a concept that only truly functions as a two-way street — mind you don’t get thrown ‘neath one of those passing buses — and one that arguably attains its highest calling in that special relationship between singer/ band and audience. And, as Jeff Warshauer puts it, “in a time where 40,000 tracks get uploaded to Spotify every day and music is being relegated to the background, it is very important that we facilitate a deeper connection between artist and fan, and elevate the local music scene.”

Here along the Monmouth County Shore, that epicenter of the NJ music community (where sounds are a cash crop and principal export), the emergence and influx of new musical acts in recent years (added to an already substantial scene’s worth of veteran acts) fairly cries out for a reliable guide — and with that in mind, Warshauer developed Asbury Park-based Live Music Loyalty as a mobile app that focuses on “helping musicians connect with their fans and grow their audience” — a mission accomplished via comprehensive live music listings, detailed artist profiles, and an option that encourages fans “to check in to events so artists know who come see them play” (there’s also a recommended playlist each week, spotlighting tacts who are locally based, or who’ve paid a recent visit).

Having made its mark, with remarkable momentum, upon the scene’s screens, Live Music Loyalty takes its next quantum leap into the brick and mortar meatworld, with a pair of (concurrent but connected) multi-band “takeover” events this Saturday night, November 16. Beginning at 9:30 pm, the hallway between a pair of sister saloons on the Asbury boardwalk (Marilyn Schlossbach’s Langosta Lounge, and Asbury Park Yacht Club) is the two-way street that allows access to two stages worth of “Scene by the Sea” sounds, with Langosta serving up ace showband Secret Sound, plus the Mike Montrey Band and Matt Cook — while APYC sets sail with The Shoobies, Natalie Farrell, and The Foes of Fern. There’s no cover charge, and proceeds from purchases of products from drink special sponsors Last Wave Brewery and Shipwreck Rum go directly to the youth music education programs of the Asbury Park Music Foundation.

As Warshauer explains it, “Asbury Park is such an unbelievable community, and we need to make sure our artists don’t get drowned out by the noise” — but if ever a scene kicked up a glorious noise of its own, it’s this one; a year-round bash that spans the genres and the generations, and that anymore refuses to abide by the tired old concept of the “off season.”

Embedded within the evolution of the present-day scene is the phenomenon of the musician turned impresario/ promoter/ ringmaster of their own branded events — and the coming nights offer two exciting examples at live music venues in Long Branch. Tonight, November 14, the Freehold-based folks behind the fast-growing surf/ tiki label Hi-Tide Recordings (that’s Magdalena O’Connell and her husband, Black Flamingos drummer Vincent Minervino) return to Whitechapel Projects, as they welcome Rochester, NY’s retro pop trio The Hi-Risers (with some set-up spins by the ever-enigmatic DJ Hi-Tide). Then on Friday, the forever Home of Original Music on the Jersey Shore — that’s Greg Macolino’s Brighton Bar in wild West End — gives the floor to pioneer punk/crunch/skronk drummer Reg “Satana” Hogan, as the veteran pacesetter and recently minted promoter showcases a bill toplined by the buzzed-about band Shut Up, and featuring Reg’s own recent project, the trio 19DRT.

Another homegrown performer whose skills in both nightclub/concert and theatrical settings have served him well as a showman — the ever-industrious Anthony “Remember Jones” D’Amato — takes the Stone Pony stage on Saturday night, as frontman for the latest feather in his career cap; a little combo known as Everyone Orchestra. Under the baton of Matt Butler, it’s “a blissful, masterfully conducted, fully spontaneous explosion of live music created by a rotating cast of world renowned musicians” — in this case including such awesome instrumentalists as pedal-steel paragon Robert Randolph and sought-after session guitarist Vernon (Living Colour) Reid. Check our music listings on page 31 for particulars — and check in around town that night for no-cover sets by local lights Quincy Mumford (Robinson Ale House) and Alex English (Soundbooth Lounge at The Asbury Hotel).

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MOTION ON THE OCEAN, AT SEA.HEAR.NOW’S CLAMBAKE

Oceanport native Fred Schneider (center) returns Shoreside with The B-52’s, for a 40th anniversary tour spot in the 2019 Sea.Hear.Now Festival.

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

In that “uncompromisin’, enterprisin’, anything but tranquilizin’” place called Asbury Park — where Local Summer is practically as big a deal as everyone else’s “regular summer,” and it’s never a fashion faux-pas to wear Life after Labor Day — the season of open-air concert activity continues to expand its horizon ever closer to the flat-earth edge of autumn’s threshold. And, even as Fall 2019 officially drops ready-or-not this coming Monday, Summer saves up what’s arguably its biggest finishing-move salvo for the weekend ahead.

Going up for its sophomore edition this Saturday and Sunday, September 21 and 22, the Sea.Hear.Now Festival commandeers an ample slice of the city’s beach, boardwalk, Bradley Park, and briny Atlantic for A Celebration of Live Music, Art and Surf Culture that spills over into several circuit-satellite locales. While the born-big event has been SOLD OUT since right around tax-filing time, there’s still a chance to get in on some of the ancillary action and after-parties taking place at such local landmarks as The Stone Pony, Wonder Bar, House of Independents, and The Saint — and potentially partygoing parties are advised to check into it right now, at seahearnowfestival.com.

Unlike such hyper-local hootenannies as last weekend’s Bond Street Block Party, and next weekend’s Asbury Park Porchfest (or that downtown strolling smorgasbord AP Underground, returning on October 19), Sea.Hear.Now takes much of its cues from the national/ international profile of its founder, photographer, and fellow-traveler musician Danny Clinch. Following up on the 2018 schedule co-headlined by Jack Johnson and Incubus, Clinch’s Between the Sets and producing partners C3 Presents secured a slate of performers topped by one of the most consistently popular concert tour and festival-circuit draws of the past 25 years — the Grammy-winning, platinum-selling Dave Matthews Band — as well as by another, more recently minted (but still precious metal-plated) act: Jersey-bred, Denver-based folkrock/ alt-Americana band The Lumineers.

The rest of the schedule’s no slouch, either, representing a shuffle-mix of Hall of Fame trailblazers (Joan Jett) and punk-electronica upstarts (Matt & Kim); frequent Asbury flyers (Donavon Frankenreiter, Bad Religion, Dropkick Murphys) and occasional returnees (Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, Chan “Cat Power” Marshall, St. Paul); world-beat emissaries from other shores (Steel Pulse), and even some able ambassadors from our own big back yard — notably Ken “Stringbean” Sorensen and The Boardwalk Social Club, the blues-roots unit that boasts the distinction of generally being the first and the last band playing out of doors each extended-summer season (the latter courtesy of their still-ongoing stand outside AP Yacht Club/ Langosta Lounge every Monday eve).

Then there’s an internationally renowned act that carries with it a Jersey Shore connection that might still be a surprise to some — The B-52’s., fronted as ever by perennial party-starting toastmaster (and onetime resident of Oceanport, NJ) Fred Schneider.

In the process of gifting the world with perhaps the most epic beach bake anthem of all time in “Rock Lobster,” the alumnus of Shore Regional High School, who found community and delightfully unlikely rock stardom in the fertile music scene of Athens, Georgia, has never exactly exploited his roots in the sandy Shore soil. Drawing instead from elements of Southern culture, gay culture, thrift-shop pop culture, and the benificial-bacteria culture of infctious fun, Schneider and his cohorts Kete Pierson, Cindy Wilson, and Keith Strickland (plus the late Ricky Wilson) created something all their very own; a universal party music that breaks down all resistance in the squarest (and don’t-carest) audiences.

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JOHN CAFFERTY’S ENDLESS SUMMER NIGHTS

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), June 13, 2019

We’ve said it before, but if there was such a thing as a Mount Rushmore of Honorary Shorecats (you know, those seasoned performers “whose wall-of-sound work ethic has allowed them to make themselves entirely at home among the stars and bars of the Jersey Shore, despite being rooted in other states/ other scenes”), then surely the chiseled features of John Cafferty can stake an undisputed claim there.

A frequent fixture on the Asbury Circuit since the days when music-biz types still spoke of Bruce Springsteen as a “cult” act, the Rhode Island-bred rocker was already a veteran of countless regional bar-band gigs when, as frontman of The Beaver Brown Band, he found a spiritual home-turf on the stages of the Stone Pony and the late lamented Fast Lane. As a true contemporary of The Boss — one whose rock-star cred was also rooted in the teen-dance band scene of the mid-1960s — the lanky guy from Narragansett soaked up all of the same sonic influences; investing the mileage and the man-hours in those rowdy roadhouses up and down the Northeast corridor, while ultimately arriving at a musical place that found the stuff of epic romance and heroism in the working-dude life.

Accompanied by such Beaver bandmates as guitar lieutenant Gary Gramolini and longtime signature saxman Michael “Tunes” Antunes, Cafferty forged a hard-earned reputation as a master showman of the shot-and-beer-joint milieu; competed to catch the ear of the old-school record industry, and — thanks in good part to a mythical music-maker named Eddie — tasted success on a big-time international level, with a pair of hits (“On the Dark Side,” “Tough All Over”) that topped the charts in the 1980s. While the guys could tell tales of having gone through the major-label wringer — an experience they share with felow Honorary Shorecats like Joe Grushecky, John Eddie, and Willie Nile — the band’s path since then has been a satisfyingly centered, back-to-the-basics dedication to that live-room natural habitat, as well an enhanced level of devotion to fervent fanbases in places like Asbury Park, where Cafferty and company return to the famous Stoney stage this Saturday night, June 15.

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‘TUCCI’S BAND OF LOVE, IN THE NAME OF PRIDE

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), May 30, 2019

As Christine Martucci maintains, “the gay community sees beauty in everything…because we have to! You want your world to be filled with love, and I like to be the cup that’s half full at all times.”

A member in excellent standing of that unofficial society of Honorary Shore Rockers — those performers whose fervent local fanbases and frequent-flyer forays to coastal NJ have secured their place in the area’s pantheon — the Tacoma, WA-born singer/ songwriter/ guitarist has staked her claim as a bandleader whose classic-rock swagger and whiskey-belt vocals lend punch to original compositions that often speak of complex and conflicted emotions; of that sense of isolation that sometimes aches its way into even our most raucous tribal rituals.

It’s a “velvet glove inside an iron fist” approach that’s in evidence on signatures like the lonely plaint ”Is Anybody Out There?,” or the returning veteran’s lament “Home Don’t Feel Like Home” — and while the singer allows that “not a lot of cerebral energy goes into too many standard rock songs,” she herself hails from “that school where you write what you know.”

What she’s known, in a life that took her from the Pacific Northwest to New Jersey’s Hunterdon County (and from a bleak moment in which she contemplated closing the book on her own story, to the realization that, as she previously stated, “the repressed, angry, scared Christine died that day”) is that the power of community goes a long way toward illuminating those dark corners of the soul — and that when it comes to stoking that sense of community, few if any things can beat a supercharged rock show inside a packed nightclub.

There was a time when Christine Martucci spent the better part of a decade as an enlistee in the U.S. Army, a significant life experience (during an era that pre-dated “don’t ask, don’t tell”) that saw her rise to the rank of Sergeant, while acquiring an affinity for her fellow folks in uniform that’s manifested itself in her song lyrics, interviews, and regular charitable endeavors. There would also come a time when “Tucci” would find that community within the big, messy, extended family of musicians who worked the stages of New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey (she cites a fellow Honorary Shorecat, John Eddie, as the peer who “got me my start in Asbury Park”) — particularly in the famous seaside city where music has danced cheek-to-cheek with its social history, and where the LGBTQ community can rightly be credited with a lead role in its remarkable resurrection.

About a month ago, Christine Martucci took the stage of Asbury Park’s Wonder Bar in an intimate, solo “Pride in Performance” piece as part of the 2019 Music and Film Fest. This Saturday, she and her full-tilt combo The Band of Love return once more to that Circuit-side landmark, for a set that serves as a kick-ass keynote to this coming weekend’s Jersey Pride Festival. Here in the fiftieth anniversary year of the pivotal Stonewall uprising, it’s an occasion that marks a Martucci milestone in its own right — a tenth annual Pride Show for which the headliner has taken an active stance; securing the opening acts (cover-tune specialists The Eclipse Band, R&B singer-songwriter Stephanie Chin, and Asbury returnees Chix Appeal), and choosing the designated charity for this edition’s fundraising component (the NJ chapter of Happy Trails Animal Rescue).

That take-charge attitude is well in keeping with the “Real Christine” who emerged from those days and nights of self-doubt, to face the challenges of life as an out gay person with a fine-tuned confidence and positivity. It’s a quality that’s in evidence on exuberant originals like the “Parkway Southbound” paean “Jersey Style,” as well as on crowd-pleasing covers like the Stones standard “Honky Tonk Women” (or “Head Held High,” a contribution to a Velvet Underground tribute album that we’d love to hear her perform live; hint hint).

As a solid songsmith in her own right, Martucci (who announces that the June 1 gig will mark her first public performance of “Remedy” by the Black Crowes) has a feel for covers upon which she can put her own sonic stamp, be it the unjustly neglected Faces tune “Stay With Me,” or anything from the canonical catalog of Janis Joplin.

In fact, the Wonder Bar show represents a last (for now) and best chance to catch Tucci and company in full-fledged glory, before the singer hits the road with Glen Burtnik to perform as Janis in the 2019 Summer of Love Tour, the revue that makes its only NJ whistlestop at the Hard Rock Atlantic City on August 24.

“Glen really helped catapult me onto the scene,” she says of the Summer impresario. “People here don’t hold you back, or see you as a competitor.”

Noting that “I love the Summer of Love show, because all I have to worry about is to show up and sing,” Martucci is using that not-at-all-”down” time as an opportunity to continue writing, and to fine-tune a couple of ambitious projects — one of which is a fifth album of original songs, a set that finds the singer reunited with producer Anthony Krizan, himself a co-writer (with Cheryl Da Veiga) of “Home Don’t Feel Like Home.”

“I’ve got some songs that I’ve written but never released; ballads that would work well with a pretty voice like Eryn Shewell’s,” she says in reference to the torchy vocalist who performs these days under her married name of Eryn O’Ree, or simply Eryn. “But I’m going back to my rock and roll roots with the new album…with songs that are more suited to my smokin’, drinkin’, partyin’ voice.”

Then there’s her planned one woman show; an autobiographical mix of story and song tentatively titled My Life as a New Soul. Described as “part comedy, part real life” (with the acknowledgment that the two conceptsare hardly mutually exclusive), it’s a work in progress that’s “gonna be colorful, and awesome…we’re going on a trip, me and the audience.”

“When you’re a new soul, like me, everything is NEW to you again,” she explains. “One way to put it is, you go into a new soul’s house, right? And you know those tags that you see on furniture and mattresses…’Do Not Remove Under Penalty of Law?’…well, in a new soul’s house they are all there; still attached!”

As Martucci tells it, the two concurrent projects are vying neck-and-neck for her attentions these days, with the latter part of 2019 and early 2020 shaping up to be a launch point for that New Soul performance piece, or an itinerary for promoting that new album. In either case, expect Christine Martucci to return once more to the Shore music scene that has been “such a part of my life…it’s so cool that I can count on Asbury Park to support all that I’m doing.”

“I tell the bar owners, we’re a team…I’m gonna get ‘em rowdy, you get ‘em drunk, and at the end of the night you get paid more,” she says with a laugh. “But the payoff for me is that people come to my shows and leave feeling better about themselves, and about the world.”

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The Saturday night Wonder Bar event — and its now-traditional Sunday night bookend show featuring the band Kathouse — are part ‘n parcel of an Asbury Park weekend that’s centered around the 28th annual Jersey Pride Festival in Bradley Park and the accompanying AP Pride march. The hi-energy procession makes its way to the park, where between the hours of noon to 7 pm, the statue of Founder Bradley stands watch over a serious celebration that boasts a full slate of live music, a food court, craft and merch vendors, kids’ activities, and informational displays from an array of nonprofit community organizations. The festival stage — always a great showcase for both locally based and internationally renowned acts — is headlined this year by (pictured above) original disco-era diva France Joli (“Come to Me,” “Gonna Get Over You”) and the band BETTY, with comedian/ activist and emcee Sandra Valls introducing soul singer Dezi 5, electro-pop artist JLine, the Green Planet Band, and Virago, with that always-amazing world-music duo (who also appear at the Asbury Hotel on Friday night) augmented for the occasion by the horn section from the Motor City Revue (check the social media postings of the Jersey Gay Pride Festival for updated schedule info).

A new and novel addition to the weekend’s festivities — and a slate of activities that spans the whole three-day interlude — is Paranormal Pride, a multi-faceted event hosted by Paranormal Books and Curiosities proprietor Kathy Kelly (fresh off her recent success with the annual Jersey Devil Festival) with Adam Berry of the Travel Channel’s Kindred Spirits. With the venerable Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel as home base, the program boasts what promises to be the first-ever ghost investigation of that landmark building, along with lectures, gallery readings (with famed psychic medium Chip Coffey), and a Drag Brunch featuring special guest Pissi Myles. Participation is limited, so visit paranormalpride.com for updated info on available tickets.

There’s plenty more of interest to attendees going on around town throughout the weekend, from tea dances and poolside parties at the city’s waterfront hotels, a Friday night Pride Prom event at Asbury Festhalle presided over by the beyond-busy DJ Tyler Valentine (who also works a same-day Super Tea at the Asbury, and a Saturday night WERK dance party at House of Independents), an ABBA/ 70s dancefest at House of Indies, and a Drag Queen Storytime session at the Asbury with Miss Savannah Georgia. Check the music listings in this week’s print editions of The Coaster and The Link for the full rundown.

And in Long Branch, where city officials recently designated June as Pride Month, New Jersey Repertory Company’s West End Arts Center is the nexus for a slate of events that kicks off with Our Way: The Art of Life, Love, and Inclusion, a visual art group show that opens with a 12-4 pm reception inside the gallery space of the reborn primary school building at 132 West End Avenue (corner of Sairs Ave.).

The exhibition curated by Mare Akana remains on display Saturday and Sunday afternoons through June 9, while the Arts Center plays host on Friday, June 7 to a 5 pm screening of the Robin Kampf documentary Love Wins, with a post-film panel featuring the film’s subjects and director.

At 7 pm on that same Friday night, West End Arts goes live with Revenge of the Gays: A Night of LGBTQ+ Comedy hosted by Jess Alaimo (left), who in addition to being a seriously organizational powerhouse behind the Asbury Park Women’s Convention (and numerous other community endeavors), is also the ringmaster of the weekly So You Want to Be a Comedian open mics at the Anchor’s Bend. Admission to both of those Friday evening events is free of charge, although reservations are recommended at 732-229-3166 or njrep@njrep.org.

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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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

SHORE’S CHAMPIONSHIP BLUESBUSTER BRINGS O’REE-LY BIG SHOW

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, February 7 2019

It was some time in 2006 when Shore music fans came to the sobering realization that, effective immediately, they would have to share dibs on Matt O’Ree with the rest of the planet.

The clincher was Guitar Center’s annual King of the Blues competition for that year; a contest that the young blues-rock guitarist from Holmdel aced over a field of thousands of contenders for the throne. In addition to the instantly conferred cred, it was an accolade that netted O’Ree a cash prize, a Gibson Guitars endosement, a personal Guitar Center shopping spree — and a brand new Scion automobile, about which more in a bit.

It was a sure shot in the arm for the young veteran who’d made his rep playing in just about every indoor or outdoor setting to be found on the regional scene — from the portable parkside stages of the Jersey Shore Jazz & Blues Foundation’s summer series, to the hallowed halls of BB King’s, and pretty much every barroom, bistro, barn, backyard BBQ or boardwalk bench between.

“I was using credit cards to finance my career up to that point,” recalls the guitarist who formed his first edition of the Matt O’Ree some 25 years ago, in 1994. “So no matter how much mileage I get out of that win, being able to pay off those cards was the greatest feeling!”

That said, the single greatest thrill of Matt O’Ree’s career arguably occurred nearly a decade after that, when he was tapped by Bon Jovi to serve as an onstage guitarist for the mega-band’s Burning Bridgestour of major international markets.

“Suddenly I went from playing to a couple of dozen regulars at a local bar, to being in front of anywhere from 50 to 70 thousand people,” he says. “It was an awesome perspective to be able to experience…truly a magic moment.”

As the hometown guitar hero confesses, the aftermath of the Bon Jovi tour was an interval that “took a bit of adjustment,”while he resumed a schedule of hyper-local gigs that included a first-Friday monthly set at the music-friendly Red Bank bar Jamian’s — a tradition that he maintains to this day.

At the same time, a sold-out “homecoming” show at the Stone Pony served to “O’Ree-inforce” the fact that the guitarist was operating on a newly heightened level of play —  a fact borne out by the release of his 2016 album Brotherhood.

A followup to such multiple Asbury Music Award-winning opuses as Shelf Life, the long-player found the singer-songwriter-instrumentalist (then newly named to the NY/NJ Blues Hall of Fame) working within some rarefied company — in particular Bon Jovi charter member David Bryan, with whom he cemented his friendship and professional partnership via their co-authorship of the album’s breakout track “My Everything Is You.”

The keyboard man would go on to make several guest appearances at O’Ree gigs — and listeners would soon enough discover that the cut “Black Boots” boasted backing vocals by one Bruce Springsteen. In addition to the legendary Memphis guitarman Steve Cropper, a deeper delve into the recording sessions revealed additional collaborations with Blues Traveler harpist John Popper and Parliament-Funkadelic keyboardist Bernie Worrell— with O’Ree divulging that he’s “still sitting on”tracks featuring those artists, whose contributions were cut from the final release due to legal issues.

Even with all of that collaborative energy zinging about, the most significant partnership of Matt’s career was soon to manifest itself — and when the Matt O’Ree Band takes to the stage of Monmouth University’s Pollak Theatre this Saturday, February 9, audiences will key in on a genuine labor of love in big, bluesy bloom. Continue reading