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Asbury Park - Where Music Is On Life Support

By Gary Wien (an editorial)

The words and thoughts that follow are strictly my own. I don't usually like to post things like this on the web, but as someone who has been going to Asbury Park for more decades than I'd like to admit, I feel I'm entitled to my opinion on this matter...

(AUGUST 11, 2012) --A few days ago, The Sand Witch got word from the Asbury Park Police Department that their boardwalk establishment could no longer offer live music outside. I spoke with a town official who had no knowledge of why The Sand Witch was told this. "The restaurants are allowed to provide music on the boardwalk as long as they are permitted to operate on the boardwalk," was the response I received via email.

This was the third season for The Sand Witch on the boardwalk and they had already made the decision that they weren't going to come back. The tiny eatery has to pay for the space in front of their store along with a very sizable amount of rent with a large rent increase (practically double their current rent) due in 2013. It's just not a good financial arrangement for them.

"They've never bothered me before," said Marnie Wisenheimer Mitchell, the owner of The Sand Witch. "And to be completely honest... I don't make money off the live music being there, I'm a lunch place. There are too many nice restaurants down there for me to do any dinner business, but its in my contract that I have to stay open till 9 weekdays and 10 weekends so I figured I'd host live music to give the local musicians a scheduled place to play. With all the boardwalk traffic it's great exposure for them.

"I can't tell you how many people thank me for having live music. People park themselves on the benches and listen...sometimes we have people dancing on the boardwalk. It's entertainment which IMO the Asbury Boardwalk is lacking," she said.

As with many businesses throughout Asbury Park, The Sand Witch has noticed a huge drop in the numbers of people walking along the boardwalk and through the downtown since the parking meters were installed. For many of us, this was a case of moving too quickly. It's almost as if the town didn't realize the opinion many people around the state still carried of Asbury Park. People had been afraid to go to the town for years. In fact the beaches were completely empty just seven or eight years ago. The town shouldn't have instantly jumped to install meters once people finally returned to the beach.

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"They're really ruining what could have been a great thing," said Marnie.

Marnie mentioned the success the boardwalk had last year with a makeshift New Jersey Hall of Fame photo exhibit. It's ironic because I was one of several people who knew a museum like that would be a great attraction for the boardwalk. In 2005, we announced plans to create a New Jersey Music Hall of Fame in Asbury Park with a side addition specifically for Jersey Shore artists. The Hall of Fame was going to attract visitors from throughout the state to learn about the world-famous artists like Count Basie, Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen, Dionne Warwick, and a hundred others that called the Garden State their home. The project attracted media attention around the world including media outlets like the New York Times, NPR, and the Associated Press. It was clear that the project made sense to a great many people on a large scale.

The Music Hall of Fame was going to cover every style of music from the State's earliest colonial days when many of the country's firsts took place here to the current day; it was going to highlight inventions like the phonograph and electric guitar that shaped the music industry; and it was going to go inside the legendary stories of the artists and famous shows to take place in New Jersey's history. Yet, the Tri-City News blasted the project as being another Springsteen rock and roll idea for the town. The publisher's editorial was so nasty in tone and so wrong about the facts that I actually had writers from the paper call me to apologize. One person involved in the music industry would write a letter to the editor the next week thanking them for helping Asbury Park avoid such a travesty. When that person learned the real facts about what we had planned, he changed his direction 100% and became an advocate for the cause.

Unfortunately, the people who actually read Tri-City at the time somehow felt it was the "arts & news" paper it listed on its masthead. Nothing could be farther from the truth in my opinion though. The people who run Tri-City NEVER wanted Asbury Park to be a musical mecca. They took pride in helping to squash a project that would have established Asbury Park as the site of one of the country's top music tourism destinations. People who honestly believe Tri-City supports the arts should ask themselves, "how often has Tri-City been a sponsor of any of the arts-related events in Asbury Park over the past decade?"

It took several years, but the state finally has a "virtual" music hall of fame thanks to the Star-Ledger newspaper. Someday I hope someone with money will be inspired to create a real museum for the state. If they do, I hope they consider Asbury Park. It's the perfect location for such a site -- center of the state, great boardwalk, great beach, great musical history, and great live musical entertainment in place. For those reasons -- and the fact that people still come from all over the world to see Asbury Park because of Springsteen, Bon Jovi, and Southside Johnny -- we fully expected the museum to work here.

Music and Asbury Park go together. They always have. It was music that helped launch the seashore resort into national prominence with Arthur Pryor's big band at the turn of last century. And it was music that helped keep the town together in the years following the 1970 riots and the lean years of the 80s and 90s. Yet, as with so many other towns, Asbury Park chose to simply follow the same worn out script -- let musicians and artists come into an area through the enticement of cheap rents, watch them bring life back into desolated parts of town, watch those areas soon cost more and more to live in, see the artists kicked out of those areas, and ultimately, watch those areas soon die because people have lost interest in being there since the arts are no longer present.

Artists tried pushing the creation of an arts district back in 2005 as the redevelopment plans began taking shape. You can read about it at https://www.newjerseystage.com/articles/getarticle.php?ID=738 -- Unfortunately, the town council chose to go the condo route instead. A poor decision, in hindsight, considering that Asbury Park needed to create jobs which the arts district would have done, and the real estate market would crash in the next few years creating a glut of available housing throughout the town and several unfinished projects -- most notably the big, ugly skeleton building which replaced the long-standing skeleton building at its same site across from the boardwalk.

Asbury Park needs to be very, very careful in my opinion. To this observer, it appears as though the movement to get rid of FREE live music goes hand in hand with the idea of increasing the amount of PAID entertainment offered throughout the town by the main redeveloper. What makes the Asbury Park beach and boardwalk so interesting is the live performances that don't take place in other towns. If the plan is to turn the town into a seashore casino-like entertainment village, you can count me out. Even though I practically live at The Saint, my time there will be reduced dramatically as soon as parking meters rear their ugly faces on Main Street. At least in Red Bank and other towns, the meters are enforced until midnight. Asbury Park soaks as much as they can from you and during poor economic times a little thing like paying for parking might make you go somewhere else.

If you care about the local music scene, please tell Asbury Park town officials how you feel about the movement to silence venues like The Sand Witch. We've already seen many establishments like the Twisted Tree on Cookman Avenue forced to stop offering live music in the downtown area, can we sit back and watch the town do the same to the boardwalk as well? Music will never die in Asbury Park with places like Convention Hall and Stone Pony in business, but free music should be available as well. I understand the town's decision to require street performers to get a permit to play on the boardwalk and force them to be at least 20 feet from a business front, but they went too far with this one. It's somewhat ironic that all of this is happening a few years after the town's adopted slogan, "Asbury Park - Where Music Lives" was coined. Maybe Tri-City had it right all along. Say you're for the arts but really don't be. It certainly looks like Asbury Park may be adopting that attitude.

I still love Asbury Park, but it's not the town I fell in love with many years ago...

"We reached too high... too far... too soon. You saw the whole of the moon" -- The Waterboys

In a post on Facebook, Marnie said goodbye to everyone with this message, "I want to thank all of the musicians for making the Sand Witch (and for a lot of you…The Twisted Tree) a better place. My hope was to end our last season with a big party with lots of music but I guess I'm forced to leave quietly…not really my style though."

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"Whole of The Moon" -- The Waterboys

I pictured a rainbow

You held it in your hand

I had flashes
 you saw the plan

I wandered out in the world for years

While you just stayed in your room

I saw the crescent

You saw the whole of the moon

You were there in the turnstiles

With the wind at your heels

You stretched for the stars

And you know how it feels

To reach too high

Too far
Too soon

You saw the whole of the moon

I was grounded

While you filled the skies

I was dumbfounded by truth

You cut through lies

I saw the rain dirty valley

You saw "Brigadoon"

I saw the crescent

You saw the whole of the moon


, I spoke about wings

You just flew
I wondered
, I guessed and I tried

You just knew
I sighed

And you swooned

I saw the crescent

You saw the whole of the moon

The torch in your pocket

And the wind on your heels

You climbed on the ladder

And you know how it feels

To get too high

Too far

Too soon
You saw the whole of the moon

Unicorns and cannonballs

Palaces and Piers

Trumpets, towers, and tenaments

Wide oceans full of tears

Flags, rags, ferryboats

Scimitars and scarves

Every precious dream and vision

Underneath the stars

Yes, you climbed on the ladder

With the wind in your sails

You came like a comet

Blazing your trail

Too high

Too far

Too soon
You saw the whole of the moon

originally published: 08/11/2012



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