(ASBURY PARK, NJ) -- There was a mixture of pride, elation, celebration and exhaustion as people strolled into the Wonder Bar after midnight on Sunday, May 21st. It was a crowd of musicians, Wave Gathering crew, and serious music fans who were closing out the remaining hours of the festival. Joe Harvard provided a toast to the festival crew and the look on everyone's faces told the story.
The festival was a success.
For a first year festival, the Wave Gathering had its share of highlights but just taking place at all was the most important. The past year saw a different music festival planned for Asbury Park cancelled two or three times, but this festival not only took place but set the stage for an annual event. And I think part of this was because the Wave Gathering people looked to work with lots of different people while the other festival tried doing it on its own. The Wave proved that the entire community could help put something special on.
The Wave Gathering took place on May 20th and 21st in venues throughout Asbury Park. Over 80 artists performed with the majority being from the New Jersey music scene. The festival proved that the local scene is as strong now as it has ever been and the touring acts that came to town saw a music community that is truly supporting one another.
On Saturday, I did the traditional festival thing of hitting as many different venues as I could. The day started at the Tiki Bar where Upstage Magazine sponsored a stage. Up first was The Successful Failures, a band from Trenton led by Mick Chorbo of The Dipsomaniacs. My favorite tunes by them included "Letting The Terrorists Win" and their cover of "I Am A Rock" (although, it was by Simon and GARFUNKEL - not just Paul Simon, Mick!).
Then came The Commons, who also come from Trenton. One thing I think that might work for future Wave Festivals is to have showcase nights from the various music scenes like Hoboken, New Brunswick, Trenton, etc. The bands from each scene generally know most of each other and can get their fans out to see a group of bands that they know while encouraging them to see the rest of the festival as well. Highlights from The Commons included a pair of tunes that should show up on their next record - "Hey Josephine" and one of the best versions of "Kate & Joe" I've heard yet. Of course, "Jesus Had A Brother" was a crowd favorite as well.
Our stage then had one of the festival's special moments as Jason Stanley (formerly of The Outcry) came out of semi-retirement for a great solo set. Members of his former band were in the audience and one came up to help with backing vocals on the band's big hit "On & On". It's stuff like that which make weekends like the Wave so incredible.
Boston's legendary Joe Harvard was up next and was originally going to close out the day at the Tiki Bar but Jeff Austin Black from Los Angeles asked if he could do a short set and we put him on after Joe. This was another one of the many great moments we had at the Tiki Bar. Jeff Austin Black made a lot of fans during his set which included originals and a spectacular cover of "Across the Universe" by The Beatles.
One thing I absolutely loved seeing over the weekend was artists hanging out all over the place taking in as much music as they could. Jeff Austin Black's set was a good example of this. Guys from Status Green were on hand (actually many hung out quite often at the Tiki Bar - thanks guys!) and liked Jeff's set so much they made a point to catch him on Sunday at the Wonder Bar - as did many people who saw him at either the Tiki Bar or his show at the Saint later Saturday night. Jeff himself was a musician that I ran into at several places during the weekend. It was definitely cool to see guys just having a blast at the festival and roaming around everywhere. Props go out to the musicians that were hanging out and checking out the various venues and bands. They helped make the weekend so special.
After Jeff Austin Black's set, the Tiki Bar segment was over for the night so we headed over to the Oak Room (Berkeley Carteret Hotel) to see a great set by Arlan Feiles, one of the best songwriters around. It was a bit disappointing that the crowd was largely musicians and writers (Jim Testa and Lazlo from Blowupradio.com were in attendance) so most people missed out on the performance. Same with Steven Delopoulous' set. I think the Berkeley lounge was the only place I went to during the festival which just seemed out of place. I'm not sure how many music fans really know how to find the lounge or simply don't expect music to be there but I've seen many a great show play in front of empty chairs there.
Afterwards I zipped over to the Wonder Bar for some dinner with guys from The Commons. I'm totally loving the menu at the Wonder Bar. They are doing such a great job with that place that I'll personally lead the protest to save the joint when the bulldozers start lining up. During dinner we caught sets by Friends of Bill Wilson and part of Stacy Smith's set before heading across town to Be Green to catch the second half of Rick Barry's set. I'd say this was one of the highlights of the festival. Not only did Rick have a standing room only crowd at Be Green, but there was about a dozen people hanging outside listening. It was such a great night weather wise that I chose to stay outside as well. My favorite moment was during some of the lines in "A Stupid American Song" when this one guy kept howling in agreement at lines like "right-wing lunatics!"
One of the most difficult choices of the festival for me was the 10pm slot on Saturday night. The Deep had Hero Pattern, The Saint had Val Emmich, the Lanes had April Smith, and the Wonderbar had Spiraling. We decided to check out Val Emmich at the Saint. Still wondering how a record label can screw up Val from becoming a star - he seems to have everything it takes. I know I'm a little bias though... he was on the cover of the first issue of Upstage (and that goes a long way with a publisher) after all.
From there it was back to the Oak Room to catch the show by Cool Days End. I was hanging out with Robbie from the band during the day (thanks for the brews man) and always dig seeing those guys. Unfortunately, the Oak Room curse continued as the crowd was pretty thin there. Still, the guys played a good set of originals and a pair of Springsteen covers, which I think were the only Springsteen songs I heard live all weekend. Imagine that! I think that was one reason I really loved the idea of the Wave Gathering festival; the idea was to show the current and future New Jersey scene rather than simply go over the history again as some other festivals in recent years tried to do. With so much great talent here today, there's no reason to force the past into every festival.
I closed out the night by returning to the Wonderbar for Status Green and one of the best sets of the festival. These guys are the real deal and seem to get better each time I see them. The crowd refused to let them end and brought them back for three encores! I'm pretty sure they were getting close to have played just about everything in their repitoire! It was an incredible way to end the first night.
The next day was our big day at the Tiki Bar. We started at 1pm with Hesh singing Asbury Park inspired tunes of the boardwalk and thrust into overdrive with Predator Dub Assassins at 2pm. There is simply NOTHING better than live reggae music in a setting like the Tiki Bar. If you've never been to the Tiki Bar, it's located right next to Convention Hall and overlooks the ocean and the beach. I think the club should really consider getting Pdub booked for a weekend afternoon gig all summer as they were not only very good but everyone in the crowd was totally digging their set.
Up next was a very special acoustic set by Temporary Grace which featured one of my favorite festival moments. The band did a mixture of originals and covers in a totally acoustic setting. What was really incredible was having a crowd so large that when the band asked people to sing along to "Days Uncounted" the response was large enough to give you chills. Awesome moment guys. Simply awesome.
Woodfish followed with one of my favorite sets of the weekend. We really lucked out getting these guys at the last minute. A late scheduling change opened up the spot and thankfully they wanted it. After all, what's an Asbury music festival without a couple of bands with some horns? The place was jumping so much that people were calling their friends to come over and check it out - that's a mark of a successful festival in my opinion. When people start dragging people over to make sure they catch a set you know something is going right.
We closed out the night with a trio of great singer-songwriters. Up first was the elusive Bobby Strange who plays live shows these days about as often as the groundhog sees his shadow. Always the brilliant live performer, Bobby had an interesting way of starting his show after following three bands. He mentioned how the singer-songwriter normally opens for the bands so this would be a little weird; however, he did have a band for the gig - they just got in a tragic car accident earlier in the day... and all were killed. Only Bobby could pull off an opening like that! In fact, only Bobby would think of an opening like that!
Closing out the Tiki Bar was Jon Caspi with Tommy Anton on percussion. The two showed so much chemistry together it was another great festival moment. They started off doing a few songs by Jon and then switched over to some by Tommy. Highlights for me include Tommy's "Puff Me One Down (Before the Bus Comes)" with Jon providing wonderful backing vocals and Jon's cover of "Blister In The Sun" which sounded incredible with Tommy's percussion work.
Sometime after this set the long hours of the weekend started to hit me, so I decided to hang in the Wonderbar for a few sets and ended up spending the rest of the weekend there. Caught most of Jeff Austin Black's third show, saw Maybe Pete (with an incredible cover of "Just My Imagination" that really rocked), Bob Burger and Jody Joseph & The Average Joes.
There were many things that went right during the festival and a few that didn't work so well. Thankfully, the things that didn't work so well could be easily corrected. I think Sunday night might have been a little too much. I could see the festival having its best success with a Friday night - all day and night Saturday - and Sunday afternoon mix. There were a lot of people who simply couldn't make it through the 2nd full day/night of shows, so some of the last sets were sparshly attended.
One of the most popular items for a future wish list is to have trollies or shuttle buses running all weekend to help people get back and forth to the venues. This is not only a great idea to make it easy for people to see the various places but as some people pointed out not everyone who comes to Asbury knows where all of these places are. There are people who only know where the Stone Pony is or know where the Saint is - a shuttle would make finding spots like Be Green, the Tides Cafe, and Sunset Landing a lot easier.
A second popular wish for the future would be to have the schedule set weeks in advance. Some things are always going to be affected at the last minute (for example, Justin Glanville having to cancel due to a death in the family) but schedules need to be known well in advance to make the newspapers. The schedule that was printed in the Asbury Park Press was several weeks old and had tons of changes since that time. I think scheduling will be easier next year now that the festival has its first year under its belt, but having a set schedule weeks in advance is a must. When you're dealing with 80+ bands and a dozen venues, you really need to be able to plan out your own schedule before you get to the festival.
As the final hours ticked away, I was hanging out with Frankie McGrath of Maybe Pete while we waited for the After Party to begin. Due to scheduling, the final events were all running late and it didn't look like the after party would ever happen. But slowly people started rolling in and by 12:30 or so there was a sizeable crowd. Many were the musicians you saw roaming all around during the weekend. Gotta give credit to Scott Stamper and Gordon Brown for creating the Wave Gathering. I think it not only showed the great talent in the area but it did wonders for helping to build the community around here.
There is no doubt of the festival returning, the only question is how big can it become. The sky is the limit...
Click here to view photos from the Wave Gathering festival by Mike Black
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.