James Dalton is an Ocean County-based artist who has described himself as "of the scene, but not part of it", but anyone who has performed with as many artists in as many local venues as James is most certainly part of the scene. He created a show called "Asbury Park & Me" last year for the Brighton Fringe Festival and is bringing it to venues in New Jersey. James has performed around the world and wherever he goes the Garden State is always with him, whether in his lyrics or stories he tells on stage. NJ Stage caught up with him to learn more about his plans for the show.
On January 9th, you posted on social media: "This past weekend, I’ve felt more like a musician and a performer than I have in a LONG time.” I know you had a lot of shows that week from Thursday to Sunday, but was it something more as well?
What had you feeling that way?
Well, it was a combination of things. While I did have a busy summer after a few years of little to no performance opportunities, playing more bar and restaurant gigs as well as private parties than ever. There was a huge jump forward after such absence which is good, but has started to wind down a bit. But as far as that weekend went, it did feel different and a lot of had to do with the particular shows that I was doing. Just above I mentioned bars and restaurants, and they are great “work” gigs, shift pay stuff that has a value and I enjoy them. But even still, I was playing concerts that particular weekend, concerts with full capacities and audiences that were fired up and engaged.
I reunited with my old bandmates in Secret Sound for a special David Bowie Tribute at the Asbury Lanes. This is a concert venue, with a stage that will make ANYONE feel like a rock star. I also, participated in a big fundraising concert at the Albert Music hall in Waretown, a space dedicated to historic preservation with a mojo and a vibe and a legacy with folk and Americana like no other place in New Jersey. These days, I’m honored to say I’m playing there about once a month with a revolving lineup backing me up and on this particular afternoon, the place was sold out, the crowd was fired up and engaged. That same day, I opened my one person show Asbury Park & Me at the Stephen Crane house in AP and things couldn’t have gone any better with the response I got.
You were hesitant to present "Asbury Park & Me" in the local area, but it went well and you're going to be doing more. Why didn't you want to do the show here? And what led you to do it?
Without laying down too much backstory, I created AP&Me for the audiences overseas. I’ve been trying to rebuild myself over in Europe and beyond and I’m not sure I have the energy to be going back into the grind of bar gigs over there. They are fine, but I’m looking to really connect with audiences, and would rather that occur in a listening space. The beauty of doing a show telling stories about New Jersey’s music scene FAR from NJ is that there is less chance of someone heckling and disputing the stories in real time. In England where the show premiered, I could say “I once had a job working at the Stone Pony and…” and the audience would be like “that’s amazing and what happened next?!” If I say the very same line in Asbury Park, half the room is going to bark at me “SO DID WE…AND?!”
That said, Tom Chesek from the Steven Crane House approached me at Porchfest in Asbury this past Fall after hearing about the run I did with the show this past June at the Brighton Fringe Festival and pitched the idea we do it at the Crane House but try to get in included into this year’s Light of Day festivities. I said, “ok, but just this once”.
Famous last words….
Tell me where and when you'll be doing the show in the future? (Is there a place you'd love to perform it?)
So, as of this week, it’s looking like we are back in AP on March 3rd at the Showroom Cinema, which has recently changed around their format. Still a movie theatre but adding live events of all sorts to the mix, which I find really exciting. AP has started getting into theatre again, but it’s the bigger stuff, the musicals and more mainstream shows. Having a handful of smaller performance spaces like the Showroom has really creates an opportunity for Asbury to develop some new creative voices in the medium.
Also, on April 14/15 I am opening downstairs at the Soho Playhouse in Manhattan. How wild is that? Im not sure how far “off Broadway” that venue is, whether it’s “off, off off, or off off off.” Doesn’t matter. As far as places I’d like it to run, honestly, I just want the show to play in some cool towns and cities where audiences are ready to not just listen, but get engaged.
You've been digging around in your past for new things to add to "Asbury Park & Me" - what are some of your favorites items/memories you found?
There are SOOO many treasures buried in these boxes that just hang out waiting for me at the storage unit, but since I mentioned the band Secret Sound earlier, let me say this. I was lucky in 2001 and 2002 not only able to work at the Stone Pony, one of the most famous rock clubs in the world, but also to be a regular performer there. Secret Sound wasn’t an official house band or anything, but we were there supporting classic rock icons and national act jambands. Over the years, I have been serious about keeping all sorts of stuff, from posters and flyers, to setlists and tickets. Out of the entire band, I was the most meticulous and just the other day, I was able to assemble a little packet of advance tickets for another member of the band. For people that don’t know, local acts are often asked to sell tickets to the shows when they open for somebody big and after the show is over and we’re all settled upon with the venue or the promoter, a lot of times the venue tells you you can keep a few or all of the tickets that didn’t get sold. I have requested unused tickets from venues I’ve played all around the world and I don’t have piles of them, but I do have a bunch and the ones from the Pony, are definitely some of my favorite.
I'm guessing this means you're changing or updating the show a little, right? Do you see this as a show that will always change a little or maybe like two or three shows with different stories?
As a matter of fact, yes, there is going to be updating. Honestly, regardless if the show came to AP or not, it’s really a shoot from the hip kind of thing. I have decades worth of stories numerous hours bantering in front of audiences. When the show went from this exotic tell all for the European Asbury Music fans to the local people that also have their own exotic tell all stories, I had to shift the themes to something larger. I was less of a tour guide for the town and the town itself because more of a second character in the show. Know what I mean?
Could you see yourself doing this show or something similar on a regular basis if there was a venue that wanted it?
Dude, if I can find the venue that would host this on the regular and we could continually engage the audiences, I’d be all in. Hear that, Dear Readers? If you’ve got the venue, get in touch :)
It looks like you had some fun during Light of Day this year. Would you say this one felt more like it did before the pandemic?
I did have fun this year and yes, things felt more like years past, but I’ll also say that there were less events going on than in the past. The shows were all full, and solid, don’t get me wrong, but this year there was a great balance. Just enough shows and just enough people to catch them.
It's kind of crazy that Light of Day takes place around the world, but many people still think of it as an Asbury thing. In a way, that's kind of like the spirit of your show wouldn't you say?
Maybe? This guy (me, I think) is trying to talk about his life as a performer, as a guy that grew up playing in one of the more famous music towns. He’s all alone out there, but maybe he’s even all alone back home. One thing is for sure, you can take the guy out of Jersey, but you cant take the Jersey out of our guy!
You've performed all around the world. During your travels what have you learned about what music fans think of Asbury Park?
The people that know, as REALLY into it, which is why I came up with the show in the first place, really. There is a certain crew of music fan that just loves this town, they fly in for Light of Day every year, take pictures and they all cant wait to get back. I remember one evening in Dublin, after a show I was part of on the north side in a place called the Voodoo Lounge, a young Irish guy, I think it was Keith Burke, who happens to have just released a really great single over there, who had also played with his band that evening, invited me to his table for a chat and a drink.
“You’re from New Jersey” he says with cinematic Irish accent “do you know Bruce?”
I don’t, dear readers, though we all have our stories, but I don’t. So I says…
“I don’t, but I just did a show the other night before I flew over with Clarence’s son, Nick…”
And before I could say anything else, this guy’s face lights up and he shouts across the bar to his band mates, who all must’ve been waiting for some sort of Asbury revelation, “HEY LADS!! THIS GUY KNOWS THE BIG MAN’S SON!!!”, and they all came running…
What does being part of Asbury Park's music history mean to you?
You know, it’s funny, I do this show that talks about my time in town, working in venues, playing stages, this that and the other thing. I talk the ups and downs. I leave the town and talk Jersey to people across three continents, from stages and back rooms, to radio shows and the odd tv appearance. I check all the boxes, but I feel like so many others do, that I’m just some anonymous part of it all. Barely a footnote. Other musicians will be remembered and that’s fine, because I know what I’ve done and where I’ve been. I just like reaching the audiences. That’s all I need.