Article 2001-08-18 Asbury Park, NJ

A Revival, Musically at Least, Sparks Asbury Park

ON any summer night, a stroll here reveals boarded-up buildings, trash-strewn empty lots and deserted streets. But here and there, the dark and the silence are interrupted by a building pulsating with rock or blues, or a downtown shop where guitar strumming can be heard from inside and people crowd the sidewalk outside.

Though little may be coming of the endless talk about revitalizing Asbury Park, there are signs of life in the nightclubs that helped make this city famous and in new downtown shops that, for the first time this summer, are featuring live entertainment for beginning artists or ones much better known outside the United States.

One recent Tuesday night, enthusiasts spent the night outside the renovated Stone Pony waiting for tickets to go on sale for a Labor Day weekend concert and live recording session by Clarence Clemons, saxophone player for Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band.

''There was an abandoned car on fire down the street but people were camped out on the sidewalk here for tickets that didn't go on sale until noon the next day,'' said Domenic Santana, the Stone Pony owner who renovated and reopened the club Memorial Day weekend 2000 on the premise that successful clubs can help bring the city back. ''It was surreal.''

''The entertainment brings everything else together,'' he added. ''People come here expecting a creative musical edge they cannot find in other cities and then they become cheerleaders for the city. The music becomes part of the push to bring the city back.''

Although Asbury Park is famous for creating the special sound of Jersey Shore rock 'n' roll in the 60's and 70's, the history of music in the city goes back much further. Christina Eliopoulos, a filmmaker who grew up here, is trying to explain the city's history while and promote its future in a documentary film.

''You can't talk about Asbury Park without talking about music,'' Ms. Eliopoulos said. ''It started at the turn of the century and included everybody from Sousa to Artie Shaw to Springsteen to Incubus. Broadway lyricists used to vacation here and there were no less than 10 elegant supper clubs and jazz joints on Springwood Avenue.''

Now, in addition to the Stone Pony, the Saint and a few other clubs are regularly bringing in everything from rock to ska to punk, attracting middle-aged to teenage music fans. The Asbury Park Music Awards — Aug. 8 at the Stone Pony this year — have become a staple of the concert scene for nine summers.

''As a club owner, what you have to do is get the big-name acts that people cannot see without going to New York City or Philadelphia,'' said Scott Stamper, owner of the Saint. ''Then you have to fight the negative press that makes people think it is dangerous to come here. It is a depressed city, but it is not dangerous.''

One of those big-name acts, Nils Lofgren, guitarist for Mr. Springsteen and a noted solo act, was scheduled to play the Stone Pony last night with Joe D'Urso, a local singer and songwriter opening for him. The Clearwater festival, held last night, featuring folk singers and country dancers, moved this year from Sandy Hook to the Asbury Park beachfront. Convention Hall, which once played host to the biggest names in rock 'n' roll, is not as busy as it once was, but after its reopening in 1996 — it had been periodically closed during the 80's and totally closed since 1990 — it draws people for concerts by rock groups like Everclear, Green Day and Indigo Girls. The Paramount Theater next door is being renovated by the city.

Outdoor concerts have also become standard, including an annual jazz festival, said Chico Rouse, director of special events for the city. Earlier this month, the Vans Warped Tour, one of the largest gatherings of rap to hard-core punk, was staged in the parking lot of the Berkeley-Carteret Hotel.

Just as important to the city's future are the stores opening in the nearly deserted downtown area that stay open late and provide entertainment.

Emeralds and Pearls coffeehouse, the Pink Note cafe and the Be art gallery are among the places opened this summer.

Michele Schaeffer, owner of Be, it had sofas and a casual, uncrowded atmosphere to encourage people to hang out.

''We had six singer-songwriters from Ireland here the other night,'' Ms. Schaeffer said. ''We try to encourage anyone who is not on a major record label to come in, plug in and play. This type of place is important because Asbury has not had a lot of people hanging out on the street.''

Dan Jacobson, a former state assemblyman and owner and editor of the Tri-City News, a weekly in Asbury Park, has become one of the city's biggest boosters.

''The new scene is great because people travel through downtown and all of a sudden they come upon crowds hanging out on a street corner and they are shocked. It's a positive shock value,'' he said.

''The owners of Be did not know that the Upstage, an after-hours club that helped make this city famous in the early 1970's, was located right above where they opened the art gallery,'' he added. ''You have the well-known clubs and then you have this emerging scene coming in under the radar.''

By Karen DeMasters via The New York Times.
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