Jersey Beat Music Fanzine


Post-Sandy, The Scene Picks Up The Pieces

by Jim Testa

When Bruce Springsteen spoke at the 121212 Concert about Asbury Park, he got it all right – how the arts and gay community invested in that godforsaken, empty place and turned it around; how Asbury’s music scene reflects the inclusiveness of the Jersey shore itself. The 2012 Asbury Music Awards, coming just a few days after 121212, hammered those messages home.

It was my first visit to Asbury Park since Sandy and I wasn’t sure what I’d find. Ocean Avenue looks fine – the Empress Hotel lost a letter in its neon sign (it now same mpress Hotel) but otherwise seems fine. The businesses along that stretch – the Stone Pony, the restaurants, the Wonder Bar, Asbury Lanes – seem none the worse for wear. But the boardwalk is all fenced off, and even in the twilight of early evening, I could see there’d been a lot of damage, mangled benches and chunks of undulating boards that had once stood flat and firm. You can’t get close enough to see the ocean, so there’s no way to know yet how much of the beach washed out to sea. Twelve or thirteen years ago, when I first started coming down to Asbury to see shows at The Saint, it wouldn’t have mattered; those beaches were empty all summer anyway. But now, it’s a different story; every summer weekend, the place fills up, with "bennies" down for the day from north Jersey, black families from the west side of town, the gay community with their speedos and rainbow-hued beach umbrellas. You want inclusiveness? Welcome to Asbury Park.

And it was the same story at the Asbury Music Awards. There really is a music scene here, and it really is different from anywhere else in the state, because it’s really a myriad of scenes rolled into one. The one thing you always hear musicians say about their hometown is that there’s nowhere to play; well, there is in Asbury Park. There are the teenage punk bands who play Asbury Lanes, a still-thriving blues scene composed of hoary veteran musicians who were playing here back before the teenaged Bruce Springsteen rolled into town. There are indie rockers and hipster kids, jam bands with dreads and saxophones, a surprisingly vital metal scene, DJ’s and dance clubs, bars and lounges that host live music, and a small army of singer-songwriters and poets who congregate weekly at the many Jersey shore open mics.

The Asbury Music Awards even had to create a special category called Beyond Asbury because the town kept sending its best bands out into the world to seek fame and glory, from April Smith and the Parlor Mob to hungry, young touring bands like River City Extension and Outside The Box.

The Stone Pony was packed, attendance up from the last few years. Several people told me it was their first time back at the Pony since Sandy. Some come for the awards, others for the performances, which always seem to present a cross-section of the area’s best artists. But for me, it’s a chance to see familiar faces who have become synonymous with Asbury Park: Singer/songwriter Rick Barry and bluesman Sandy Mack, Asbury legends like Ken Shane and Tony Pallagrossi, journalists like Gary Wien and newcomer Chris Rotolo (whose excellent music website Speak Into My Good Eye won two awards this year,) and radio personalities like Jeff Raspe and Maria Mar.

As always, Scott Stamper of The Saint and Asbury Music Company booked a diverse night of entertainment that provided a nice slice of Asbury's diversity -- blues from Sandy Mack, acoustic pop from Charlotte Something, cutting edge indie rock from Elevator Art (the only band I think I've ever seen with a harmonica playing drummer), sturdy rock 'n' roll (mixed with some finger-plunked banjo) from The Amboys...

I can’t even count the number of bands I’ve discovered at the Asbury Music Awards, but in just the last few years, the AMA's ntroduced me to Thomas Wesley Stern, Outside The Box, Accidental Seabirds, James Arlowe & The Ruffian Circus, Elevator Art, Emily Grove, Quincy Mumford, and Matt Wade. I watched some of those people vie for the Top Young Artist (Under 21) award not that long ago, and this year they walked away with awards for Top Rock Band, Top Keyboardist, Top Vocalist, Top Acoustic Act. I remember when Rick Barry was the up-and-coming young buck in town; now he’s an elder statesman of the scene, and there’s another batch of kids lining up to win these awards a year or two or five from now. It seems like a million years ago when the only thing people looked forward to at the AMA's were the zany antics of Kid With Man Head.

Chris Rotolo is presented the Top Music Journalist award

But it’s not just about being handed a trophy, or even being nominated. It’s that slap on the back, that recognition from other musicians and clubowners and sound techs that you’re doing good work. For me, it’s having a band come up to me and thank me for a review I’ve written, or mention that they discovered a new band from something I wrote. That’s worth a lot more to a little plastic trophy.

There are things you could quibble with; I always do. There are probably too many categories and too many nominees in each; what exactly is the different between an Indie Band and an Avant-Garde Band, or a Rock Band and a Pop Band? But if you take the point of view that this whole thing isn’t about the individual awards so much as the overall recognition of the people making music here, then it all kind of makes sense.

So thank you Scott Stamper and everybody else who puts this thing together every year. To Scott, and the bands, and my friends, I’ll see you on the boardwalk, come hell or (more) high water. I have a feeling it’s going to be a great summer.

The 2012 Asbury Music Awards

Top Acoustic Act Female – Emily Grove
Top Acoustic Band Male – Thomas Wesley Stern
Top Female Vocalist – Tara Elliott
Tom Male Vocalist – Quincy Mumford
Top Rock Band – Only Living Boy
Top Pop Band – Quincy Mumford & The Reason Why
Top Blues Band – Sandy Mack Band
Top Ska/Punk Band -
Top Jam/Groove Band – Waka Chan
Top Avant Garde Act – Accidental Seabirds
Top Indie Rock Band – Brick & Mortar
Top Americana – River City Extension
Top Guitarist – James McCaffrey, Karmic Juggernaut
Top Bassist – Brandon Asraf, Brick & Mortar
Top Drummer – John Tacon, Brick & Mortar
Top Keyboardist – Matt Wade
Top Instrumentalist/Other Instruments – Stringbean, Stringbean & The Stalkers
Top Local Release – River City Extension – Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Your Anger
Song Of The Year – Elevator Art, “Tent City”
Top Young Band – The New Royalty
Top Live Performance – River City Extension
Poet Laureate – Josh “Dogmatic” Matson
Top Club DJ – DJ Jack The Ripper
Top Radio Personality – Maria Mar 95.9 The Rat
Top Music Journalist – Chris Rotolo,
Top Music Website –
Top Radio Station – 90.5 The Night
Top Heavy Rock Band – Toothgrinder
Beyond Asbury Record of the Year – Arlan Feiles – “Weeds Kill The Wild Flowers”
Top Hangout Bar & Lounge – Johnny Mac
Living Legend Award – John Eddie
Best Thing To Happen To Asbury Park 2011 – The Bamboozle
James McDonald Lifetime “Behind The Scenes” Award – Tommy Riley is an independently published music fanzine covering punk, alternative, ska, techno and garage music, focusing on New Jersey and the Tri-State area. For the past 25 years, the Jersey Beat music fanzine has been the authority on the latest upcoming bands and a resource for all those interested in rock and roll.

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