The experience of live music can make everything else fade into the background. On Sunday, March 13, nine groups ranging from gospel to rock took the stage of the Paramount Theatre along Asbury Park’s legendary boardwalk to celebrate the roots and continued life of music in New Jersey—the proceeds going toward the Asbury Park Oral History Project, a new initiative collecting the personal stories of the Shore's music greats. For three hours, the world outside faded into the background. I was lucky enough to stand backstage and see that everyone else felt the same way.
But before all that...
To kick the day off, I took a local tour of Asbury Park’s rock landmarks. The big ones—from The Stone Pony and the Wonder Bar—to the little-known gems of Asbury Park where highlighted. Of course, around every corner there was a piece of Bruce Springsteen history. It was great to be in the place where Bruce rocked with fellow New Jersey locals and began to shape his signature sound. Many of the favorite music joints and landmarks are gone, but talk to any resident of Asbury Park, and it’s obvious that the music is a central part of their identity.
Asbury Park residents love their local musical sons and daughters. Even in mid-March when a cold, fierce wind blows in your face, they still have the tunes of summer playing over the boardwalk—coming from the candy store, beach shop, and arcade. A blues guitarist entertained the passing crowd on the boardwalk. Asbury Park is experiencing a comeback, and the draw of music is tied closed to its resurgence.
Great as rock and roll, rap, rhythm and blues, and modern country are, however, it’s all thanks to roots music. So, on to the concert! Going behind the scenes for this concert, balancing both a camera and a microphone, was a dream come true. I wanted to capture the spirit and the sounds of the day. During sound check I was able to pull bluegrass musician Richard Morris aside to get his thoughts on the day. He had been through the New Harmonies exhibit at its opening. For Richard, it all goes back to Bill Monroe. Richard played rock and roll when he was younger, but once he discovered Bill Monroe, his course was set. Before I left, he picked and strummed out a quick tune on his mandolin.
The Tyron McAllister Gospel Choir opened the night and stirred our souls. Richard and his bluegrass jam band brought a touch of Appalachia to the Jersey shore. Steve Forbert was a one-man tour of force. With just a guitar and harmonica, Steve could quiet the crowd or set everyone’s foot tapping. Drummer Chico Rouse and his jazz band seemed to cover all the bases of New Harmonies—mixing traditional jazz with rock, blues, and dance. Steel Mill with Vini Lopez (one of the first drummers to play with Springsteen) played in the same spirit, showing clearly how rock is a blend of so many roots forms. Curator of New Harmonies and director of the Los-Angeles-based Grammy Museum, Bob Santelli, peeked around the curtain offstage to watch. He was drawn into the music as well, tapping his foot and bobbing along with the music like everybody else.
Long overshadowed by the rockers and singers of eastern Asbury Park are the soul and Doo-wop musicians of western Asbury Park. Sunday night, they got the recognition they desired. Nick Addeo and Friends headed up the set, and guest stars—including Billy Brown—took the stage and were asked, unexpectedly, to sing. Billy gave us a solo, hitting notes you never thought possible.
Interspersed with the performances were readings from legends in roots music, read by Carol Harsh, Mary Rizzo, Felipe Rose (from The Village People), Brian O’Halloran, Lou Libratore, Ed Johnson, and Daniel Wolff.
The night closed out with a high-spirited jam session of musicians ranging from Billy Hector to Bobby Bandiera (from Bon Jovi) to Max Weinberg (from the E Street band). They had never played together before, but you never would have guessed. When the curtain closed, the crowd left the theatre humming, and backstage was buzzing. The artists wondered aloud why they didn’t do this before. I wonder when they’ll do this again!
--Tiffany Ruhl, Museum on Main Street, Washington, DC