(ASBURY PARK, NJ -- December 17, 2005) -- Not only were there over a dozen people dressed as Santa Claus, but the Wonder Bar was filled with toys as 90.5 The Night's Benefit for the Boys & Girls Club of Monmouth County brought people out in droves. In fact, it was literally a who's who of the local music scene.
The show featured a lineup of artists who had all won Asbury Music Awards in 2005 including Matt O'Ree, Rick Barry, April Smith, Days Awake, and the Wonder Bar's own Lance Larson. Matt O'Ree kicked things off and 90.5 was right when they promoted the show earlier in the afternoon saying that if you wanted to see Matt to be sure to come early since he had another gig that night. Not only did he go on first, but if you blinked you probably missed him. His set was limited to just two songs due to a late equipment setup by another band. Matt did his best to get the most out of his limited time, but many in the audience wished they could have seen more. Thankfully, this was the only snafu of the night.
Rick Barry followed with a set largely comprised of recently written material. He was battling a problem with the stage monitor so he couldn't hear hardly anything except the crowd, which got pretty loud at times. The noise from the bar appeared to upset him and led him to ask Joe Harvard (the Wonder Bar's soundman) to turn things up a bit. It's a shame that there were those who kept talking throughout his set because he's really on top of his game right now. Rick's good when he's fronting his rock and roll band, but as a solo artist his work is something else. He makes folk music cool again in the way that Matt Witte can turn you on to bluegrass. Even if you're not a fan of folk music, Rick's lyrics and delivery will win you over. It certainly did for many of the people at the Wonder Bar who were seeing him for the first time. People were actually cheering and clapping wildly as his sang through the lyrics of "A Stupid American Song" and blasted our president. The song went over so well, in fact, that someone bought him a shot. It was the first time I've ever seen him rewarded like that for playing that song!
April Smith, who joined Rick Barry on stage for one tune, was up next and played several songs from her recent release, Loveletterbombs. Standouts included excellent versions of "The Bells", "Bright White Jackets", "California" and her cover of "Unchained Melody". While playing, a group of people dressed in Santa suits started approaching the stage illiciting a "What the fuck is going on?" from April. After regaining her composure, she said "So, while we're in the holiday season I'm going to play a stalker song. It's called PS". That was the type of night it was - anything goes.
The craziest moment of the night had to be immediately after April when the group of "Traveling Santas" got together to sing "Deck My Balls". Nobody quite knew where the group came from, but apparently anybody with a Santa suit can join.
Days Awake, the headliner, followed the Traveling Santas. They were announced by WBJB DJ Jeff Raspe as "the next band to break from the Jersey Shore. You can say you knew them when." The crowd moved close to the stage for their set and the band was in full rocking mode. They blasted through a set filled with numbers like "Magic Carpet Ride", "Day After Day", "Thanks But No Thanks" and "Living A Lie" often sticking the microphone out to the crowd to sing along.
Eric Safka, the keyboardist for Days Awake, stayed on stage (probably because his B3 takes so much time to move) and guested with the Lance Larson Band. Unfortunately, they kept the set to cover tunes because Eric didn't know Lance's originals. I'm pretty sure Eric could have faked it well, but the set was great anyway. It's always good to see Lance having fun on stage and he certainly was last night.
The Wonder Bar is quickly becoming the best spot in town for large shows as the club is big enough to hold several hundred but not as large as the Stone Pony, which can be difficult to fill. The benefit last night had a very good sized crowd - it was large enough that it got the job done (raised money & lots of toys) but not wall to wall packed to the point of annoying people. In the crowd was virtually every member of the 90.5 staff from the DJs (Jeff Raspe, Leo Zachary, Rich Robinson) to the staticians. Local musicians that came out to support the station included Janey Todd, Jay 420, Mark Prescott, Divine Sign, and Brian Saint. AERIA RECORDS was in attendence as was Lazlo of Blowupradio.com and Maureen Nevin of Asbury Radio.
It's always great to see so many people come out to support the local artists and good causes like this one. The night raised a ton of toys to needy kids. 90.5, the Wonder Bar, and all of the artists involved should be very proud.
Here are links to photos from the night:
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