New Jersey Stage
New Jersey Stage on social media

BIG NEWS! Here's the latest Issue of NJ Stage Magazine -- Click here

Billy Bragg Preaches to the Choir

By Gary Wien

(OCTOBER 19, 2008 -- WEST LONG BRANCH, NJ) -- Man, did I need this! Part folk-rock show, part storyteller show, and part Barrack Obama rally - it was my first time catching Billy Bragg live and it was definitely worth the wait!

Bragg made a stop at Monmouth University's Pollak Theatre on Sunday night as part of the first gigs on his U.S. tour. The UK folk rocker's political views are well known and it was so refreshing to see an artist unabashedly putting politics into a set. In a time when artists like Bruce Springsteen get criticized for taking 5-10 minutes out of a 4-hour concert to reveal a political message that is personal to them, Bragg throws politics out there from the first song until the end. He's one of the few people in the world that grabs the Liberal title and runs with it, unafraid that Americans have been told to fear and hate the word. He wants to show people the power and positive message of liberalism.

And, for the most part, he was preaching to the choir.

Through the course of two hours and four cups of tea, Bragg performed roughly twenty tracks. I'll be honest when I say I don't really know all of the names, but I'm pretty sure I heard the following, "Shirley","A New England", "Levi Stubbs Tears","Waiting for the Great Leap Forward", "I Keep Faith", "Ain't Got No Home In The World", "Farm Boy", "O Freedom", "Ingrid Bergman", "Save The Country", "Way Over Yonder In The Minor Key", "Old Clash Fan Fight Song", "NPWA", "To Have and Have Not", and "Help Save The Youth of America".

Favorites of mine included "Waiting for the Great Leap Forward", "I Keep Faith", his cover of Laura Nyro's "Save The Country" and songs from the Mermaid Avenue collection of tunes written by Woody Guthrie but never recorded (which Bragg recorded with the band Wilco) including "Ingrid Bergman" and "Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key".

Regarding politics, Bragg reminded the audience that the entire world not only was watching the American presidential election, but should be considered in the process as well. Even though the United States is the undisputed leader of the world, all nations will have to deal with the United States on many issues. As Bragg put it, Britain was exactly worried about the Canadian elections since Canada won't be dragging them into a war anytime soon. Of course, the entire world is hoping that Obama wins and Bragg is as well. He said that Obama basically opens the doors of possibilities for change to happen, but it's up to the people to keep on him (should he be elected) and make sure he holds his end of the bargain. Bragg himself apologized for helping to elect Tony Blair as Britain's Prime Minister after decades of Conservative rule. He was a big believer in Blair, but watched as power change him and lead to policies unforeseen by Blair's early supporters. He warned that the same thing could happen to Obama ? especially with the major problems that exist right now with the financial crisis.

Change would take place, said Bragg, if Obama shuts down Guantanamo Bay within his first 100 days in office. That would be a signal to the world that America was truly changing.
He advised us to keep faith in the political process, to not be sucked into cynicism. "Faith is the antidote of cynicism," Bragg said.

Bragg also couldn't help but take a few shots at John McCain and Sarah Palin. He joked about the way McCain's facial expressions looked during the final debate by giving McCain the nickname, "Jack O' Lantern" and admitted he and his crew could no longer go to Cracker Barrel restaurants because he was afraid of waitresses that winked at them!

Billy played half the set with an electric guitar and half acoustically, moving through a set list of long-time fan favorite tunes, songs off his latest album, a couple from songwriters he admires like Laura Nyro, and several by Woody Guthrie from the Mermaid Avenue project.

It seemed as though the majority of people in the audience probably had political views along the same lines as Bragg; it certainly was not the type of show you'd want to go see if you were a Conservative as Bragg really loves to talk and mostly he talks about politics. One rather touching story was told during the encore when Bragg recalled his love of bands like the Four Tops and artists like Sam Cooke. He then spoke about Levi Stubbs (leader of the Four Tops) and followed with the song "Levi Stubbs Tears" as well as one by Levi himself.

Once again, the sound in the Pollak Theatre was terrific. This really is a hidden gem of a venue in Monmouth County. While the university likes to think that the venue is well known, I constantly find music fans who have never heard of it. If you fall into that category, do yourself a favor and check out the venue sometime. I've seen only a handful of shows there through the years, but the sound has always been very good. This year?s season doesn't have many shows for the mainstream music fan, but the calendar does include:

Richard Shindell & Glen Phillips
with Antje Duvekot

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Ribbon of Highway Endless Skyway
A Tribute to the Spirit of Woody Guthrie

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Roger McGuinn & John Sebastian
Saturday, May 2, 2009

Opening for Bragg was The Watson Twins, a popular folk rock group who are probably best known for the hit, "How Am I To Be?" While I enjoy their album, I found their live show a bit too mellow. They seem like the type best enjoyed in short doses ? such as through their appearances on David Letterman or Tonight Show. They have some good songs, but not enough variety in their set to really keep interest of those seeing them for the first time.

For more by this author, click here

State Theatre New Jersey presents Cirque Dreams Holidaze
(NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ) -- State Theatre New Jersey presents Cirque Dreams Holidaze on Friday, December 7 at 8:00pm, Saturday, December 8 at 2:00pm and 8:00pm, and Sunday, December 9 at 2:00pm. Cirque Dreams Holidaze, a division of Cirque du Soleil, has become a critically acclaimed, state-of-the-art Broadway musical, and a fun-filled, holiday family show. Tickets range from $35-$98.
NJSO presents 2019 Winter Festival, 'Music Speaks'
(NEWARK, NJ) -- A trio of renowned guest artists with distinct musical voices—pianists Emanuel Ax and Daniil Trifonov and soprano Dawn Upshaw—headline the NJSO’s Winter Festival, “Music Speaks,” in January 2019. The Orchestra’s signature artistic event takes place across three weekends, January 10–27, in six New Jersey venues.
RVCC Chorale to Perform Annual Holiday Concert on December 8th
(BRANCHBURG, NJ) --The RVCC Chorale will give its annual holiday concert on Saturday, December 8 at 8:00pm in the Welpe Theatre at Raritan Valley Community College’s Branchburg campus. The program will feature Johann Sebastian Bach’s cantata, Das Neugeborne Kindelein, as well as a cappella pieces from by Sergei Rachmaninov, Zoltan Kodaly and Giuseppe Verdi. The program also will include an audience singalong of traditional carols.
Classic Stones Live! The Complete Rolling Stones Tribute Show Comes To SOPAC
(SOUTH ORANGE, NJ) -- The Rolling Stones, the greatest Blues band of all time, couldn’t make it to SOPAC on their 2018 tour. Instead, the acclaimed tribute band Classic Stones Live! makes an appearance on the SOPAC stage December 15 at 8:00pm for those who like to hear their Rolling Stones hits live.
Tony Trischka Presents "Of a Winter's Night" at the Morristown Unitarian Fellowship
(MORRISTOWN, NJ) -- Of a Winter’s Night is Tony Trischka's acoustic celebration of the holiday season. Based on his CD release of the same name, this concert features Trischka’s considerable melodic inventiveness on a wide variety of seasonal tunes. He turns his inventiveness loose on bluegrass and Americana music for the holidays. This one of a kind concert will take place at the Morristown Unitarian Fellowship on Saturday, December 8 at 7:30pm.

"An Amazing Musical Genius!" Brian Wilson LIVE! at the State Theatre
In the music room in the back of our house, there’s an electric bass and amp, two acoustic guitars, a microphone and PA speakers, several pieces of music recording equipment, and a bookcase filled with books on music, not to mention a slew of assorted music memorabilia. But, perhaps, one of the most highly prized items in the room is hanging directly above the piano next to the college music diplomas.
Jazz Saxophonist Don Braden LIVE! at Toms River’s Grunin Center
It’s a breezy day for a new installment of the Jazz On a Sunday Afternoon concert series at Toms River, NJ’s Grunin Center of the Arts this Sunday Oct. 27, 2018 afternoon. Today’s special 3pm performance is entitled Earth, Wind and Wonder and is presented by jazz saxophonist Don Braden.
Charlie Thomas’ Drifters, The Classics IV, and The Brooklyn Bridge LIVE! at The Strand, Lakewood
The stars are out this Saturday Oct. 26, 2018 evening in Lakewood, NJ for a “Golden Oldies” concert featuring Charlie Thomas’ Drifters, The Classics IV, and The Brooklyn Bridge!
PODCAST: Grammy Winner Terri Lyne Carrington At TD James Moody Jazz Festival
Drummer, leader, and composer Terri Lyne Carrington made history as the first woman to win a Grammy for Best Instrumental Jazz for her album “Money Jungle: Provocative in Blue.” Now, she brings her interpretation of Duke Ellington’s “Money Jungle” to the TD James Moody Jazz Festival at NJPAC on November 11, 2018, as part of a program called “Jazz Vinyl Revisited.” Producer Susan Wallner talks to Carrington about her connections to the jazz greats Clark Terry and Max Roach; her newest project, the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice; and why she thinks drummers make natural leaders.
Sha Na Na LIVE! at the Newton Theatre
The audience is streaming into the Newton Theatre auditorium in Newton, NJ this Friday, Oct. 19, 2018 for a live concert starring Sha Na Na!

Event calendar
Thursday, Nov 15, 2018


New Politics @ House of Independents, Asbury Park - 8:00pm

THE REPUTATIONS @ The Saint, Asbury Park - 7:30pm

TOTO @ Mayo Performing Arts Center (MPAC), Morristown - 8:00pm


An Actor's Carol @ Cape May Stage, Cape May - 7:30pm

ANNIE, The Musical @ Axelrod Performing Arts Center, Deal Park - 8:00pm

Apples In Winter @ Centenary Stage Company - Kutz Theater of the Lackland Center, Hackettstown - 7:30pm

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat @ The Levoy Theatre, Millville - 7:30pm

Spring Awakening: The Rock Musical @ Black Box PAC, Teaneck - 8:00pm


PARSONS DANCE @ State Theatre New Jersey, New Brunswick - 8:00pm


Crybaby Matinee: March of the Penguins @ Hopewell Theater, Hopewell - 11:00am

View all events

New Jersey Stage © 2018 by Wine Time Media, LLC | PO Box 140, Spring Lake, NJ 07762 (732) 280-7625 |

Images used on this site have been sent to us from publicists, artists, and PR firms.
If there is a problem with the rights to any image, please contact us and we will look into the matter.