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A Jersey Tradition: Southside Johnny On New Year’s Eve

By Gary Wien, JerseyArts.com

originally published: 12/27/2016

 A Jersey Tradition: Southside Johnny On New Year’s EveFor decades, New Year’s Eve has meant two things: Dick Clark and Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. Dick Clark may have passed on his torch, but Southside and his band are still rocking in the new year – and they will be doing it again at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank.

“Southside on New Year’s Eve is just about as Jersey as it gets,” said Jon Vena, VP, Marketing & Public Relations at Count Basie Theatre. “This is the 17th time we’ve done this, and the Basie is always excited to see Johnny, the band and their fans as we ring in the new year.”

Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes were one of the most popular bands in New Jersey in the mid 1970s. They went from being the house band at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park to a national act with the release of “I Don’t Want to Go Home” in 1976. Since then, they have taken their signature blend of rock ’n’ roll with rhythm & blues – always featuring a stellar horn section – around the world.

And from the very beginning, the band has owned New Year’s Eve in the Garden State. They’ve played NYE shows at venues from the old Capitol Theatre in Passaic to the State Theatre in New Brunswick to the Count Basie Theatre, which has been their NYE home for most of the last two decades.

Even though Southside grew up in Ocean Grove near Asbury Park’s legendary Convention Hall, he remembers seeing a few shows at the Count Basie Theatre as well. One show instantly comes to mind.

“You know who I saw there?” laughs Southside Johnny Lyon. “Count Basie!”

Southside’s parents were big fans of jazz music and he grew up hearing artists like Count Basie and Jimmy Rushing in the house. Before the theater was renamed after the great jazz artist from Red Bank, he saw Count Basie himself perform there. He remembers guitarist Freddie Green with him and Count Basie on stage in a wheelchair. He says the acoustics weren’t nearly as good back then as they are in the theater today.

Playing New Year’s Eve has been a tradition for Southside even before The Jukes became a band. In fact, he struggles to remember when he wasn’t on stage to close out a year.

“The one day off I think I’ve had in the last 40 years of New Years is the year Stevie Van Zandt decided to marry Maureen in New York on New Year’s Eve,” recalled Southside. “I had to go to New York City on New Year’s Eve instead of sitting home with my wife by the fireplace, probably asleep by 10:30 p.m. So, I figure I might as well work the night!”

 A Jersey Tradition: Southside Johnny On New Year’s EveAccording to Southside, the tradition just sort of happened on its own. New Year’s Eve was always a good night for bands to play and earn a nice paycheck. As the shows took place year after year, venues took notice and began locking the band in. This made it easier on the band and helped the tradition grow.

“It meant I didn’t have to sweat where I was going to be on New Year’s Eve!” continued Southside. “I knew where I was going to be and I knew what I was going to be doing. For a musician, it’s such an iffy business to know whether you were going to be popular or not or be booked anywhere. When – way back in the 70s – we started getting these regular gigs, there’s a certain comfort level that comes with it. Of course, you always want to expand it, to play all over the world, but it’s nice to know that on certain days like 4th of July weekend we’ll be in Asbury Park and New Year’s will be at the Count Basie. It’s just great to have steady dates.”

Many band members plan vacation time around the steady dates. They will play the New Year’s Eve show and then leave on the 1st or 2nd. But on that final night of the year, it’s all business.

They have people watching the clock who will give Southside a nudge when the time starts creeping close to midnight. Even though the band has performed on New Year’s Eve for as long as they have, when the music gets going they get lost in the moment.

The audience is bound to hear fan favorites from classic albums like “I Don’t Want to Go Home,” “This Time It’s For Real” and “Hearts of Stone,” as well as from “Soultime” – the band’s latest release.

One song the audience can definitely expect is the band’s legendary cover of Sam Cooke’s “Havin’ a Party” — that, along with the title track from the Juke’s first album, are almost guaranteed.

Feeding off of the energy of the night, the band always manages to put on one of their best shows of the year, even though Southside says they don’t try to do anything different.

“I’ve done different things in different years, but it turns out what people want the most is just a fun night of the Jukes and all the crazy stuff we do on stage,” he explained. “That’s what they really want. And so it finally dawned on me that all of the thrills and the bells and whistles weren’t important. It makes it easier for us and I think it makes it easier for the audience too. They don’t have to get bogged down into liking some crazy experiment that I want to try. But I’m still learning how to do it – I’ll give it another 20 years!”

Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes perform at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank on Saturday, December 31. The party kicks off at 9 p.m. and includes special guests Des and The Swagmatics on the bill. Tickets range from $39 to $99. For more information, visit www.countbasietheatre.org.

PHOTOS BY DANIEL GONZALEZ




About the author: Gary Wien is a music journalist from Belmar, NJ. A three-time winner of Asbury Music’s Music Journalist of The Year, his writing and photographs have been seen in publications like Upstage Magazine, Backstreets Magazine, Gannett Newspapers, and Princeton Magazine. He is the also the author of two books: Beyond The Palace (about the history of rock music in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? (his picks for the Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists) and is the publisher of New Jersey Stage magazine.

Content provided by Discover Jersey Arts, a project of the ArtPride New Jersey Foundation and New Jersey State Council on the Arts.




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Event calendar
Friday, Feb 22, 2019


MUSIC

CHARLIE MARS @ The Saint, Asbury Park - 6:00pm

ALAN PARSONS LIVE PROJECT @ Bergen Performing Arts Center (bergenPAC), Englewood - 8:00pm

David Bromberg Quintet @ First Congregational Church of Montclair, Montclair - 8:00pm

SWITCHFOOT THE NATIVE TONGUE TOUR @ The Wellmont Theater, Montclair - 7:00pm

Todd Dennison at the Minstrel @ Morristown Unitarian Fellowship, Morristown - 7:30pm

DISCO OF LOVE - TRIBUTE TO DONNA SUMMER & BARRY WHITE @ Mainstage @ Union County Performing Arts Center (UCPAC), Rahway - 8:00pm

LESS THAN JAKE @ Starland Ballroom, Sayreville - 6:00pm

"Panama Dead" New Riders of the Purple Sage tribute band @ Debonair Music Hall, Teaneck - 8:30pm

Jersey Jazz Collective (JJC) @ Classic Quiche Cafe, Teaneck - 7:00pm

An Intimate Evening with Rickie Lee Jones @ Jay & Linda Grunin Center For The Arts At Ocean County College, Toms River - 8:00pm

James Day & The Fish Fry @ Lizzie Rose Music Room, Tuckerton - 7:30pm







THEATRE

Mamma Mia! @ CDC Theatre, Cranford - 8:00pm

An Enemy Of The People @ Centenary Stage Company - Sitnik Theater of the Lackland Center, Hackettstown - 8:00pm

Intimate Apparel @ Burgdorff Center for the Performing Arts, Maplewood - 8:00pm

The Meeting @ Middletown Arts Center, Middletown - 8:00pm

My Very Own British Invasion @ Paper Mill Playhouse, Millburn - 8:00pm

Little Girl Blue: The Nina Simone Musical @ George Street Playhouse, New Brunswick - 8:00pm

Fun Home @ Wallace Theater at Lewis Arts Complex, Princeton - 8:00pm

Legally Blonde – The Musical @ Count Basie Center For The Arts, Red Bank - 8:00pm

Psychodrama @ Oakes Center, Summit - 8:00pm

Cornerstone Playhouse Presents Almost, Maine @ Cornerstone Playhouse, Sussex - 7:30pm

A Midsummer Night's Dream @ Kean University Wilkins Theatre, Union - 8:00pm

Roan at The Gates @ Luna Stage, West Orange - 8:00pm


FILM

New Jersey Film Festival Spring 2019 Screening @ Voorhees Hall #105, New Brunswick - 7:00pm


POETRY

C.K. Williams Reading Series: Tina Chang @ Labyrinth Books, Princeton - 6:00pm

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