(ASBURY PARK, NJ) - Writers In The Raw made its debut at the Wonder Bar in Asbury Park on July 16th with a show fitting for long-time fans of the series. The national act portion of the show featured three of the original members of 4 Way Street - the popular band from Philadelphia that became favorites of the Jersey Shore largely due to their appearances in the first few Writers In The Raw shows. Rounding out the group was Tom Gillam, the newest member of the band who is replacing Jim Boggia. It was the band's first appearance in Asbury Park under the new look and provided a nice sense of d?j? vu as well as a reminder of just how far the Writers series has come.
In addition to the members of 4 Way Street, the local portion of the show featured some of the best talent of any Writers in the Raw grouping. The lineup included Lou Montesano of Status Green, Chuck Schoonmaker of Days Awake, Rick Barry, and Christine Martucci.
The guys from 4 Way started off the show taking turns playing tunes and telling stories but the entire band lend a hand to each number. It was kind of like a stripped down concert - almost like an MTV Unplugged - more than a traditional Writers show. The artists played many cuts from the band's upcoming CD as well as 4 Way favorites "Change Gonna Come", "Maze", and "Shoot The Moon" from their first album.
Newcomer Tom Gillam (who has been part of Joseph Parsons' band for years) showed how he not only fits in with the band but also adds a nice blend of country-tinged flavor to the mix. At times, 4 Way Street seemed to effortless move from CSN inspired music to more of an Eagles sound as Tom's vocals echoes Don Henley's a bit.
There's just something magical and pure about the artists in 4 Way Street. Not only do their vocals and melodies complement each other wonderfully but their friendship and love for each other clearly comes across. They generally like playing on stage with one another and it shows. As good as each of these artists is on their own, the sum may exceed the individual efforts. They bring out the best in each other and it's great to see them back!
When it came time for the covers round, Joseph Parsons brought out "Jokerman" by Bob Dylan; Scott Bricklin did a wonderful "God Only Knows" by the Beach Boys; Tom Gillam brought out "How Could You Want Him? (When You Know You Can Have Me)" by the Spin Doctors; and Ben Arnold gave us "Angel From Montgomery" by John Prine.
Some highlights included the band comforting Scott Bricklin when he introduced a song by saying "I got two friends? isn't that sad?" and Joseph replied, "You've got three up here!" Ben Arnold casually asking for some whiskey that finally shows up just before the band's final song. Joseph Parsons talking about how the entire band has been involved with writing the songs for the next CD including one by drummer Matt Muir and Ben Arnold yells out "we're not doing that one!" And Joe Harvard guesting with the band with an electric banjo.
Up next was the local lineup and it was definitely one of the best local lineups for any Writers show. Not only that, but the setup at the Wonder Bar made this one of the best listened to local segments. Unfortunately, one of the things that has marred WITR shows in the past has been loud talking during the local segment. It's something that is probably always going to be a problem since people will have been listening to music for several hours and drinking during that time. So, by the time the locals take the stage there are more than a few people feeling pretty good and talking it up; however, for the Wonder Bar show you couldn't hear the talking if you were anywhere near the stage. People have told me the talking was present, but neither the artists nor the people listening to the locals could hear it. So, that was a giant plus tonight.
The locals started out with one depressing song after another - almost trying to top each other. The seriousness was broken up a little when Lou Montesano stopped halfway through his second song. "Oh shit!" he said. "I forgot the words! I knew I would because Gordon (Brown) said, ?hey, if you fuck up it's cool because it'll be funny!'" After restarting, he made it completely through the song he dedicated to a friend of his. It was yet another sad, depressing number.
"I guess this is the downer version of WITR with Chuck and his brother and Lou's friend," sad Rick Barry. "So, I'll do this one. Next round will be happy songs? Wait, I don't think I have any happy songs."
Some highlights included Chuck Schoonmaker doing the Days Awake numbers "My Life", "Devil In Disguise"; Lou Montesano doing "City Streets" off of his solo album of a few years ago; Rick Barry doing "Courage For A Rainy Day" and "Stupid American Song" and Christine Martucci with "I'm Here For You".
I hadn't seen Martucci in a while and was very impressed. She has a powerful voice sort of reminiscent of early Melissa Etheridge and the stripped-down-ness of WITR suited her wonderfully.
All in all, this was definitely four artists to keep an eye on and a great night overall. The only complaint was in having a special menu for the night rather than the regular Wonder Bar menu. Several people wanted to simply have some appetizers rather than the complete meal, but that wasn't an option. Still, food is an important part of the WITR experience in my opinion. It's one of the things that makes the show a special night, so it was nice to have the show back in a setting where one could make a complete night out. The special menu was a nice idea, but it backfired. Stick to the regular menu and the Wonder Bar succeeds in every way as a setting for future WITR shows.
As Rick Barry said, "I knew this would be a good night when ESPN wasn't on!"
** You can view photos from the show at:
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.