A legendary venue is not just legendary because of the building or because of the ground that it stands on. What makes a place legendary is the people – all of them – the artists who put the place on the map to begin with, the artists playing there today, the booker, promoter, managers, sound and lighting crew, stage manager, hospitality team and, most importantly, the audience. This is why The Stone Pony lived up to its legend for me on Sunday, April 17 when we put on a family rock concert to kick off the famed Jersey Shore music hall’s Sunday Showcase.
Our story at the Stone Pony had begun last fall with a great tragedy. Our bassist, the marvelous Mr. Lou DeMartino, had succumbed to a sudden asthma attack and so his legions of friends, led by Joe D’Urso, put on a memorial concert at the Pony and invited us to give an acoustic performance of a song that had a special connection to Mr. Lou – “My Superpower,” one of the three tracks he contributed to our upcoming album.
Following the careers of the artists who shared the stage with us that day led me to connect socially with more of the Asbury Park music community, which meant that one fine day last month, an alert popped up in my Facebook feed that The Stone Pony was looking for bands to participate in a Sunday Showcase. The deal would be risky — bands have to sell a set minimum of tickets – our magic number was 30 — or face the choice of forfeiting their slot and burning a bridge with the Pony, or buying up the unsold tickets (known as “pay-to-play”) in order to save face and get on with the show.
I felt like if we chose a really good kids’ music band to partner with, that had the local following, we could meet our quota and then some – and more importantly, delight a large number of families who would love to bring their kids to a famous rock venue in their backyard.
That kids’ band was Little Rockers, a wildly popular Jersey Shore based kindie band that is also an early childhood music school. They’ve built great relations with the families that bring their children to their classes over the years. You can read more about The Little Rockers in this story by Wells Fargo Works Project where they were finalists for their small business. And my pairing with them for this show sure did help both of us resonate with the community and get lots of families interested in coming to the show.
By 9 days before showtime, we reached our magic number of 30 tickets and saw the pre-sales increase from there. We had something of a hit on our hands. The local blogosphere was reacting positively too, with rock critic’s Jay Lustig’s NJArts.net naming our family rock show one of his top 10 things to do in New Jersey for the week and Gary Wien’s New Jersey Stage web site running a full article on our show.
We still needed a solo acoustic performer to open the show and found a gem in John Arthur, now the Director of the Fairfield, NJ Public Library and also a member of Beach Boys-meet indie rock band The Deafening Colours. John’s path to becoming library director came through being a children’s librarian first. So when I recognized the blending of his musical talent with his background as a children’s librarian, my intuition told me he’d be a great fit for our show.
Usually at showcase events, one band and its audience has little to do with any other band and audience; each act and its following are in and out after doing their thing. My vision of teaming up with two other acts was a different thing entirely from business as usual; it took lots of communication and coordination between the three acts and Kyle, the Stone Pony’s enterprising and enthusiastic show promoter. As a three-act children’s concert in the beginning of the showcase, we were able to offer the audience a varied experience of 3 different acts, which really helped hold the young ones’ attention span far better than one band playing the whole time could have done. And it was a full afternoon that gave these families their money’s worth.
When we arrived, we were promptly greeted by stage manager Sid Morris, who set a relaxed but enthusiastic tone for the day. He was eager to provide us with the support we needed with the venue’s sound equipment and got us soundchecked along with the sound engineer in a very efficient and methodical way. I’ve been admiring how Kyle Brendle, the booking manager, promotes shows from the big touring acts To the up-and-coming artists playing the showcases — with an infectious level of enthusiasm that comes through on his Facebook video clips and his voice on the Stone Pony hotline. It sounded even better when he was introducing us over the PA system!
As doors opened we got the chance to greet the families making their way to the dance floor in front of the stage; people were in such a great mood, full of Jersey pride at showing their kids the legendary Stone Pony. I’d say the audience was pretty legendary themselves that Sunday too!
John Arthur gave a perfect opening performance, warming up the young audience members with a very Jersey Shore version of The Beach Boys’
Surfin’ U.S.A., swapping out names of California beaches for names of our own seaside towns closer to home. John gradually built up the interactivity over the course of his set until late in the show he had the kids teaching an imaginary monster to shout “BOO!” He closed with a beautiful cover of “Hello Goodbye” by The Beatles – a truly legendary moment in a legendary room.
It was our turn to take the stage. Chris from Little Rockers Band had agreed to play bass for us in this gig, as our steady bassist would not be available. We also knew that Chris was hustling to get from an earlier show to ours and hadn’t made it to the Pony by the time our set was due to start. He had passed the word to us that he was on his way and would be there soon. So we did what a true professional would do – we stalled for him. We played our version of “We Will Rock You” which doesn’t have a bass part until the very end of the tune. That and the beginning of our intended opener “Jam Packed” were performed in rollicking fashion until Chris entered on stage, picked up his bass and fell right into the tune, to the excited applause of his young students and their parents in the audience.
It’s hard to describe, but being in such a legendary place, with such legendary support and a legendary audience, brought out the legendary in me. My voice was free and clear, able to sing out with passion and precision from the bottom of my range to the top. My friend since childhood, Ross Kantor, was awesome for us on the drums; my wife Amy just to my left accenting the rhythm with her bongo playing and adding to the interactivity with her witty banter, made these legendary moments that much more beautiful. A real bond with the audience was formed when we played off the Pony’s most legendary performer – someone named Bruce. We sing about a much longer-ago Jersey legend – the dinosaurs that actually roamed our great garden state millions of years ago. We named our hadrosaurus puppet “Bruce” and deliver the song in pure Jersey Shore rock style, in a manner that would make The Boss proud.
The Little Rockers followed up with a truly legendary set of their own, from the driving, energetic “Hello Hey” song that they also open their classes with. Jessie was nonstop rock-n-roll motion while Chris laid down solid bass lines and crystal-clear harmonies. Bright synths, ringing lead guitar and rock-steady drums made for a really appealing sound that only deepened their wonderful relationship with their many fans who had come to see their teachers rock out.
We were graced with fans who I’d also consider legendary, starting with my parents, whose support of my music making began with my school concerts in elementary school and has never let up. A longtime friend, John “J.C.” Colyer, who was the one-man sound crew for the Jim Kilby band when I was the keyboardist in the 90s, was among the first to buy a ticket and support our effort to fill our quota. Every day he’d tweet his support. He even made a beautiful picture video to accompany our song “Day at the Beach,” invoking images of his hometown of Seaside Heights. A new friend Jean, who we’d met on Facebook because we were mutual fans of Asbury Park’s premiere country duo, Williams Honor, brought her family along and was an ardent supporter of our first band show on the Jersey Shore in the weeks leading up to the show. A surprise encounter with Pat Cashin, “The New Captain Kangaroo,” who had MC’d the album launch party of our first CD “Everyone’s Invited” 2 years ago, really showed that our message of sharing the live music tradition with the Jersey Shore’s kids and families was reaching people.
What makes people, places and events legendary in your life? I’d love to read your comments below. Rock on! – Jason