(OCTOBER 15, 2008) -- It isn't always easy to get people involved in causes, but the reason for a meeting held at the Hot Dog House on October 15th struck a chord with many local musicians. The gathering was the result of an email thread started by Dr. Geena regarding a noise complaint filed by a neighbor that led to several hours in court mediation. It was there that she realized she wasn't the only target and this was a problem that affects all of the local musicians.
Over 15 musicians from the area gathered to discuss a wide range of topics from the recent rise in noise complaints and fliers posted around town to the emergence of Live Nation and what that means to the local music community. At times, there appeared to be too many issues being brought up, but the conversation eventually settled down and evolved into the idea of creating an organization for the local musicians in the area.
"We need representation for ourselves," said Dr. Geena. "We can't keep fighting our own little battles. We need one voice."
Asbury Park musicians are in a rather tight spot here. For years (decades even), music was the only thing other than drugs to bring people into town. You could even go as far as say that music actually kept the town on the map until the redevelopment really took hold. Now that progress is being made, the music community is being threatened in the same way that gentrification always seems to push artists out of areas which the artists themselves helped make desirable. One of the biggest problems is that Asbury Park's idea of creating an entertainment district has yet to emerge. Between the lack of an entertainment district and the emergence of Live Nation, it's becoming harder and harder on local musicians and forcing them to play in venues where sound levels becomes a problem with local residents.
Both Madison Marquette and Live Nation are thought to be good for Asbury Park by many; however, neither seems to do much for the local artists. Is it really too much to ask for Live Nation to include at least one local artist on their big shows? The town is still being marketed for its music history, but nothing much is being done by the powers that be to further the current music scene. This is an area that still has an abundance of talented musicians, but not many places where they can build up a good following - especially when one company runs the Stone Pony, Wonder Bar, Convention Hall, and Paramount Theatre (in other words, the major venues in town).
The problems for local musicians increase when you look at the Cookman Avenue situation. There are a few venues on the street - a nice mix of coffeehouse cafes and bars - but also a mix of residential and commercial. I still recall the city council meetings of a few years back when people repeated over and over about how difficult it is to have commercial/entertainment and residential live alongside each other as neighbors. Those words are certainly ringing true today. While it is hard to sympathize with people now moving into Cookman Ave apartments or condos (with the clubs and cafes already established as having live music) an argument can easily be made for those who purchased condos BEFORE Cookman Ave became a live music area. They were not aware of any possible sound problems in areas such as above the Brickwall - an area that has run into problems with tenants above. One such incident occured during the Wave Gathering on a Friday night at 8pm. This is why there needs to be some give and take between the musicians, businesses, and residents. Nobody should be complaining about noise violations on a Friday night during the summer while it is still the dinner rush for restaurants. I imagine the problems that day started long before and were never settled. Nevertheless, that forced the musicians to play acoustic during a music festival that attracted many to town and brought much revenue to local businesses.
So, what to do?
Well, I think the idea of musicians organizing is a very good one. The local musicians already offer a lot to the town from performances on First Night, attracting people to Asbury Park on a regular basis, and even the money they themselves bring to the bars and restaurants. What they need to do is show the businesses how important they are to the success of Asbury Park. An organization can help do that.
An important first step would be to look for guidance from ArtsCap, a local arts organization that already has made good inroads with the town and local businesses. The organization has never really been utilized well with the local mainstream music scene, but has a good reputation in the area. There should be some synergy or even a possible partnership to find there.
The musicians agreed to meet again on Wednesday, November 5th. That meeting will again be held in Room 10 of the Hot Dog House. It is open to all local musicians or music fans.
Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.