On the world-famous boardwalk in Seaside Heights, NJ this Monday, July 11, 2022 evening, visitors stroll the boards enjoying ice cream, pizza, and other treats. Others play games of chance, shop in stores which offer everything from salt water taffy to T-shirts, and enjoy amusement rides designed for adventurers of all ages.
Still others, however, are on the boardwalk for tonight’s free Monday Night Concert event, a performance by up-and-coming singer/songwriter and guitarist, Billy Wilkins. Wilkins, a TikTok and YouTube sensation, has amassed hundreds of thousands of followers who enjoy his unique cover versions of pop, rock, and indie classics in addition to his original musical compositions.
Before tonight’s show begins, as Wilkins and his band complete a soundcheck on the boardwalk’s Franklin Avenue stage, we chat with members of Billy’s family who are here to help make tonight’s performance a success.
Says mom, Jessica, “Billy is the sweetest person I know. At eleven years old, he got serious about music and started playing guitar. He wanted to get into the jazz band at middle school, so over the summer break he told me, ‘I’m going to practice ten hours a day,’ and he did just that. When I asked him, ‘Don’t you miss your friends?’ Billy pointed to his guitars and said, ‘See those? Those are my friends.’”
If practice makes perfect, there’s no doubt it helped Wilkins to jumpstart his budding musical career. After being accepted to Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music, Billy studied instrumental performance at the school before leaving to collaborate with multi-Grammy award-winning producer, Jerry Wonda, known for his work with The Fugees, Whitney Houston, Shakira, Lionel Richie, Justin Bieber, Mary J. Blige, Jennifer Hudson, Melissa Etheridge, Ne-Yo, and many more.
Says Billy’s sister, Victoria, “Billy’s an inspiration to me. He taught me to never give up on your dreams. He stuck to his and now he’s doing what truly makes him happy.”
Billy sums up his own musical history by explaining, “My dad put a guitar in my hands when I was little and showed me how to play it. Later on, I studied with Karl Cochran and my uncle, Mike DeFellipo.” As far as his musical influences over the years are concerned, Wilkins acknowledges, “My guitar idols include Eddie Van Halen, Carlos Santana, Steve Vai, Shawn Lane, and Buckethead along with jazz players including Django Reinhardt and Pat Metheny.”
From his background studying the world’s greatest guitarists, Wilkins went to work with Wonda playing on hip-hop recordings but, as he explains, “over the last couple of years, I started posting on TikToc and YouTube and now I have 650,000 followers on one platform and 200,000 on the other, in addition to having my music available for everyone to hear on Spotify.”
Wilkins takes the stage along with his bandmates — guitarist Jake Brown, bassist Anthony Bianco, and drummer John Loree — and opens tonight’s show with his original song, “Monsterz.”
Crooning, “How do you sleep with these monsters under your bed?” Wilkins makes his instrument sing on this hip-hop inspired number, his fingers flying around his guitar’s fingerboard.
People on the boardwalk stop to listen as Wilkins continues with the upbeat rocker, “Bright Lights,” where toes tap and heads bop to Billy’s accomplished guitar playing as he solos with style and precision.
Wilkins welcomes the crowd to the boardwalk exclaiming, “Seaside Heights! What’s going on? This is the first time we’ve played live in two years. It’s a thrill to be here!’
Additional highlights of Wilkins’ set include his upbeat rendition of The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Dani California,” an appealing rock shuffle which has audience members singing along prior to Wilkins playing a “wah-wah” guitar solo to whistles and cheers.
Acknowledging, “This is the first song I ever learned how to sing,” Wilkins and Co. perform The Neighbourhood’s “Sweater Weather” where Wilkins croons, “And all I am is a man/I want the world in my hands,” before shredding a guitar solo which inspires cheers and applause.
Following a cover version of “Summertime Sadness” by Lana Del Rey — one of Wilkins’ “favorite artists” — seagulls fly and glide in the wind over the dunes behind Billy and the band as they perform Weezer’s power ballad, “Say It Ain’t So.”
The crowd sings along to Wilkins and Co.’s interpretation of The Police’s “Message in a Bottle,” and several audience members make their way up to the front of the stage and dance to the infectious rhythm of Cee Lo Green’s “Forget You.”
Instantly, an impromptu dance party breaks out on the boardwalk with men doing backflips and the worm to Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love” and women doing the electric slide to Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart.”
The dance party continues to the backbeat of Kings of Leons “Sex on Fire,” and the dancers happily join in again on the upbeat Kiss rocker, “I Was Made for Loving You.”
Before he wraps up his set with tunes including Chris Stapleton’s “Cold” and Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” we ask several audience members to share their thoughts about tonight’s Monday Night Concert by Billy Wilkins.
Declares Linda from Mayopac, NY, “I’m a rockster! I grew up with the music of Steven Tyler and Aerosmith, so I like this music. Live music is the best, and Billy Wilkins is very good. It’s his sound which makes me want to dance, and it absolutely keeps me feeling young.” Linda’s friend, Maria from Nutley, agrees, adding, “Billy Wilkins is pretty cool — I want to look him up on social media.”
Kaitlyn from Allentown comments, “I like the covers and Billy’s guitar playing. He’s so good, and his voice sounds really good, too.” Notes Kaitlyn’s friend, Nicole from Allentown, “I especially liked it when he did The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ ‘Dani California’ and The Neighbourhood’s ‘Sweater Weather,’” before adding, “I really like his guitar solos, and I love that he plays music from every decade.”
Remarks octogenarian JoDina from Seaside Park, a former punk rock singer who was the first in the crowd to start dancing, “Billy Wilkins is very good. His show tonight reminded me of one of my first gigs I did back when I was 40, so I brought some of the young people up front to dance with me — all the kids here wanted to party! ”
Lastly, we chat with Mary and Diane from Saddlebrook, two audience members who also joined tonight’s dance party. Acknowledges Mary, “The band has a big bass sound, which is what attracted us to them in the first place,” and her friend, Diane, agrees giving Wilkins and his group “Two big thumbs up!”
To learn more about Billy Wilkins, please go to billywilkins.com. For information on future free Monday Night Concerts on Seaside Heights’ Franklin Avenue stage — including Julian and Dominique on July 25, October Rose on August 1, and Stiletto and the Saxman on August 29 — please click on exit82.com.
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