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Tearing Down The Upstage Club

By Gary Wien

(ASBURY PARK, NJ — December 18, 2005) — It was a bittersweet day for the history of rock and roll music as musicians and music fans paid their last respect to the Upstage Club today. The short-lived, but greatly remembered place on top of the old Thom McCann building on Cookman is slated to be gutted for the arrival of a new condo building.

The Upstage Club is famous for helping to launch the careers of such legendary Jersey Shore artists as Bruce Springsteen, Southside Johnny, Bill Chinnock, Little Steven, David Sancious, and many more. Artists were known to jam all night long until the club closed at 5am.

A film crew led by Tom Jones of the Halo Group was given permission to film inside the old club. Interviewees included former Upstage regular Vini "Mad Dog" Lopez; Robert Santelli from the Experience Music Project in Seattle; and Carrie Potter, the Granddaughter of Upstage founder Tom Potter. Long-time regulars to the club like David Mieras and Eileen Chapman were also on hand as people came in and out all day.

In between the interviews, a slideshow of photos from Tom Potter's extensive collection of Upstage photographs was projected on to the wall creating a ghost-like image that seemed to strike just the right chord for the occasion.

Although much of the club has long been picked apart, several pieces of the Day-Glo psychedelic artwork remain in excellent shape on the walls and the framework for the famous stage littered with speakers in still in place.

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In recent years efforts were started to save or preserve the club, but the real estate market boom for Asbury Park pretty much killed that idea.

Robert Santelli, once said that the Upstage Club "was really the birth of the whole Asbury Park scene, the whole idea that the Jersey Shore had something to say musically."

Bruce Springsteen wrote about the club in the liner notes for Southside Johnny's first record. "That club brought out everybody's talents. The kids at the Upstage were each in their own way a living spirit of what, to me, rock ‘n' roll is all about. It was music as survival, and they lived it down in their souls, night after night. The guys were their own heroes and they never forgot."

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 gary@newjerseystage.com.

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originally published: 12/18/2005



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