(ASBURY PARK, NJ) -- Back in the day, I used to judge how good Dramarama shows were by how much my body hurt the next night. I think I'm going to start judging Wave Festivals that way as well. In this case, my body really, really hurt for two days after the festival, which meant I had a pretty good time! The Wave Festival has been a favorite of mine since it made its debut four years ago. Each year seems to get better and better. I remember thinking last year that the festival had arrived when people still hung out despite an afternoon of rain... well, this year people hung out in spite of rain throughout Saturday and Sunday. An impressive feat if you ask me.
The rain changed things a bit as networking seemed a bit less than in previous years and the focus on music seemed a little higher. The outdoor stage on Saturday was a new twist and would definitely have had bigger crowds with sunshine, but, if nothing else, the rain showed just how important the Wave Festival is to many of us who stood out in the rain for hours enjoying the music.
I spent much of the festival with my friend Lazlo of Blowupradio.com - while, we have different tastes in music, I think there were a few bands we both enjoyed seeing. I know he really liked catching The Amboys, one I think is one of the best bands in the area. It sounds like he also was glad to catch some of the artists performing at the Twisted Tree Cafe's open mic - many of whom were alumni of my Twisted Covers shows.
All in all, I think I probably saw roughly 50-60 artists including 20 I had never seen before. Of those, there were only two acts that I was really disappointed in; the rest were well worth my time. I guess my scouting report before the festival was spot on as I had an incredible three days. There was a lot of walking up and down Cookman Avenue and across to the Saint for me. I never made it to the boardwalk or the Lanes, but still managed to see shows in roughly 15 different venues. The multiple venues all within walking distance is one of my favorite things about this festival. I sort of agree with those who suggest the festival simply focus on the Cookman / Saint areas to make everything walkable. I think that makes for a very good experience, if you don't like an act just head to a different venue.
For me, the Wave is always a blend of artists I love from the local area, great touring artists I don't get a chance to see very often, plenty of artists I'm seeing for the first time, and simply getting a chance to hang out with musicians, music fans, and industry folk that rarely get a chance to see each other. It's something I look forward to each year.
Highlights from Friday for me include the Highlines - a tremendous band out of Los Angeles that closed out the night at the Saint; catching Cara Salimando for the first time and Roland Eckstein, a local artist that I hadn't heard of before; Chris Ayer from New York City who blew everyone away with his set (and who reminded me of Sean Penn through my camera lense); Domenick Carino and Laura Warshauer at Synaxis; Howard Jennings and Joe Whyte at Old Man Rafferty's; and Keith Monacchio in front of an amazing crowd outside Market in the Middle with a mini Commons reunion.
Saturday's highlights include the outdoor stage where Christine Martucci, Matt O'Ree, Outside The Box, The Reveling, Val Emmich, and Red Wanting Blue all had great sets. The rain held off from Outside the Box until the last song or two by Red Wanting Blue, but then poured so much that they moved Status Green into a wall-to-wall packed Mattison Park.
Other highlights on Saturday included Lisa Bianco and Agency at Market In The Middle and Mike Errico and Ari Hest at Synaxis. Synaxis is a pretty big venue that can be disappointing with a sparse crowd, but there was a good crowd for both of these artists. Unfortunately, the sound for Alex Brumel and Janel Elizabeth (who followed Ari Hest) did not do justice to the duo. On Sunday when I heard the Writers In Progress show at The Showroom I realized that The Showroom would have been the perfect venue for them. The sound within that place was superb.
Sunday began with brunch at Market in the Middle and the sweet sounds of The Soul Project. From there I caught many of my favorite local artists - The Amboys, Tunnels to Holland, Arlan Feiles, Eryn Shewell Band, Jerzy Jung, and Tommy Fuller. I also caught Stacie Rose for the first time after spinning her tunes on the radio station for several years. And the biggest treat had to be seeing The Queen Killing Kings, a high-energy band from New Haven, CT that features two keyboards playing extremely fast pop/rock tunes.
I'll never forget watching Keith McCarthy's excitement as Outside The Box pulled out a classic rock cover that's rarely heard on stage; Jo Wymer fighting through an emotional song about the passing of her parents as the bus roared by with a bellowing "Asbury Park" yelled by the driver (ironically, that didn't screw her up but the sight of Cook Smith did!); Matt O'Ree apologizing for the rain from the outside stage by saying, "Sorry about the rain. It's probably our fault somehow, it always rains when we play outside."; Alice Leon stopping in the middle of her set to have everyone look outside where the sun had begun shining for the first time; Gordon Brown with a guitar in his hand again during the closing party set of Jerzy Jung; and the surprise sets that filled the TBA spots like Anthony Fiumano and Tommy Strazza playing at Synaxis or Arlan Feiles during the open mic at Twisted Tree Cafe. Sometimes the things not on the schedule were among the coolest things.
There were a lot of bands I wanted to see but couldn't for one reason or another. That's always the problem with festivals - just too much good stuff going on at the same time. Still, part of the fun is trying to see as much music as you possibly can. I'd say I saw just about as many artists as I was planning to see.
The one really disappointing thing for me was the closing party. It just didn't seem as fun at the Saint as it was in previous yeasr at the Stone Pony or Wonder Bar. It seemed too much like just another show night rather than the networking wind down / celebration that we've had in the past. Regardless, I'm hoping that the Wave continues to grow and get better each year, it's definitely well on its way to being a top notch festival and I'm already looking forward to next year!
Best bands you didn't see: Highlines & The Queen Killing Kings
Best singer-songwriters you probably missed: Cara Salimando & Roland Eckstein
Best original songs: "Alibi" by Red Wanting Blue & "I Don't Know" by Eryn Shewell Band
Best cover songs: The Amboys with a blistering take on "Road to Nowhere" by The Talking Heads & Joshua Van Ness with Springsteen's "Mary, Queen of Arkansas"
Best venue/band combinations: The Eryn Shewell Band at Mattison Park & Red Wanting Blue on the outdoor stage
Best outdoor show: Keith Monacchio outside Market in the Middle (the set and the crowd were what the Wave is all about imo)
Best new venue: The Showroom (without a doubt)
Favorite overall moments: Seeing Red Wanting Blue on the big outdoor stage & watching Gordon Brown back on stage with Jerzy Jung
And on the flip side...
Worst scheduling: - Having "Writers in Progress" & "Songwriters By The Sea" both scheduled at the same time
Worst supplies: - Cheap paper wristbands that weren't supposed to come off for three days...
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.