(ASBURY PARK, NJ) -- February 11, 2006 - As the season's first major snowstorm barreled through the tri-state area, the benefit for Upstage Radio took place at the Wonder Bar in Asbury Park in front of a crowd of die-hard music fans who were treated to an exceptional night of music.
The show started shortly after 5pm with "Jersey Storytellers", a special look at several artists in an acoustic setting. One by one, the artists took turns telling stories and playing tunes. The set kicked off with Joe Harvard who proceeded to tell an amusing but very long story about his past in Boston and Ohio and how he came to Asbury. Afterwards Smiles Again (formerly of Green Machine) joked about setting up a short story instead of a book. When Joe's turn came around again he promised to try keeping it to a novella that time!
The "Jersey Storytellers" segment featured Joe Harvard, Smiles Again, Jason Mather, Brian Amsterdam, Tommy Anton, and JPAT. It was set up somewhat in the style of the popular "Writers In The Raw" series and managed to evoke many of the old WITR memories - especially during moments like when JPAT interrupted a Brian Amsterdam story. The two musicians share a long history together and it was moments like that which made the segment truly special.
Mike Black gave the introductions for the Jersey Storytellers and served as host for the night. He also took tons of great pictures throughout the show.
At 7pm, the night kicked into full band mode with a wonderful set by the Jon Caspi Band - one of the most popular artists played on Upstage Radio. He was followed by Meagan Brothers who did a solo acoustic set. Divine Sign was up next and showed why they're starting to make a great name for themselves in the scene.
An incredible stretch of music was led off by Cool Days End into Steven Baggs and his band. Steven Baggs was making his first appearance in Asbury Park and we thought he might be the surprise hit of the night and he did not disappoint. The New York City performer is shopping around for a label and with the way his band played on Saturday night, I'd say they just might find themselves in a bidding war shortly.
Tony Tedesco, one of four Upstage Magazine writers to perform during the night, was up next and played several of his recently written tunes - some of which are currently being played in rotation at Upstage Radio.
After Tony came the headliner of the night - Val Emmich. It was a hybrid band of sorts for Val with another guitarist and a drummer using a very basic drum kit. Val's set showed why so many people around New Jersey have their fingers crossed for the artist. He was totally on! Val played several cuts from his debut record for Epic and was brought back for an encore where he played "Absolutely Still", one of his newer songs. I've seen Val about a dozen times now, and this was one of my favorite performances by far.
Aeria Records, Agency (formerly known as Republic) kept the music going with a high energy set comprised of songs from their soon-to-be-released debut record. Brian Saint and the boys continue to show that the Jersey Shore has a much more diverse mix of sounds that it gets credit for. The band will return to the Wonder Bar on March 4th for the official record release party.
After Agency was supposed to be The Successful Failures, a side project for Mick Chorbo of the Dipsomaniacs, but the snowstorm forced them to cancel. The band is was coming from the Trenton/Philly area, which had the storm long before the shore did. Amazingly, the benefit only had one cancellation on a bill of nearly 17 artists!
Maybe Pete followed with an explosive set - something that has become the norm for them. It had a little of everything from the classic Maybe Pete tunes to Frankie playing guitar on the merch table (and breaking one of the tables!) to setting up the highlight of the night - a closing cover of Neil Young's "Rocking In The Free World" with a mini-all star jam. On stage along with the band was Rick Barry, Smiles Again, Brian Saint and Meagan Brothers. You really had to see and hear Meagan's blistering guitar work to fully comprehend just how awesome it was. Neil Young would not only have been proud but would have bowed his head in awe.
Rick Barry stayed on stage to close out the night with a wonderful set as the snow began really falling. The crowd had thinned out quite a bit, but there were still dozens of people as Rick took us to bar closing time. The Asbury Music Award winner's set was a great way to finish 7 hours of music. All in all, the benefit was a tremendous success. The show was set up to help raise money for Upstage Radio to pay for construction and electrical costs associated with a fire at the end of 2005. In addition to those who came to the show and those who purchased raffle tickets, funds are still being raised as people who wanted to see the show but could not due to the storm have been mailing checks and sending money through Paypal. If you would like to make a donation, here is the information to do so:
Mailing address: Upstage Magazine, PO Box 140, Spring Lake, NJ 07762
Click here to see photos from the show by Mike Black. And click here for photos from Maureen Nevin of AsburyRadio.com.
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.