Upstage (The), Asbury Park, NJ

General Info

The Upstage Club was a legendary coffee shop, music venue, and afterhours club located in Asbury Park, New Jersey, United States and featured in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Influential musicians such as Bruce Springsteen, Bill Chinnock, Southside Johnny, David Sancious, Steve Van Zandt, Garry Tallent, Vini Lopez, and Danny Federici first honed their live performance skills at the club. It was where The Asbury Jukes, Steel Mill and The Blackberry Booze Band were formed.

Source: Wikipedia

Early History

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The husband and wife team of Tom & Margaret Potter opened the now legendary club “The Upstage” on or about February 19, 1968. The couple had been operating the folk orientated “Green Mermaid” teahouse for the previous 6 months or so. They decided to expand that concept to incorporate rock, blues and soul music. The Potter’s renovated the 3rd floor, above the Green Mermaid’s 2nd floor location, to create the new venue. Joe Cadora has recalled 'they had a wall of amps behind the players, you just brought your guitar and plugged in to one of the amps.'

A ‘house-band’ called “Margaret & The Distractions” (led by Margaret Potter) provided all the advertised entertainment during the initial couple of months of the club’s existence. The Upstage was quite unique for the time in that it was open until 5am, several hours after the bulk of other clubs in the area had closed. This provided a perfect environment for local musicians, having completed their own paid gigs elsewhere, to congregate at the Upstage, which in turn soon led to informal jam sessions, which the Potter’s encouraged and nurtured.

Some of the then members of popular shore region group THE JAYWALKERS were among the first to frequent and jam informally at The Upstage during the spring and summer of 1968. These included Jaywalkers lead guitarist Billy Ryan and organist David Heth (who tragically was killed in a car accident on his way to The Upstage in May 1968).

During the summer and autumn of 1968 Vini Lopez, Danny Federici and Bill Chinnock (all three then members of the DOWNTOWN TANGIERS BAND) began frequenting The Upstage. A group called SPEED LIMIT 25, which included (among others) Billy Ryan, Rick DeSarno, Donnie Lowell and Garry Tallent, formed in the early autumn of 1968 as a direct result of jamming taking place at the club. The Potter’s actually placed ad's in local newspapers during Oct 1968 promoting the group under the moniker ‘SPEED LIMIT 25 (featuring Billy Ryan)’. In late 1968 and into 1969 Steve Van Zandt, then a member of THE SOURCE, jammed occasionally at The Upstage with an informal group that he dubbed ‘THE INTERNATIONAL SILVER STRING SUBMARINE BAND’ (a name pinched from the kids’ band in ‘The Little Rascals’ films series).

Springsteen and other members of his 1968 outfits (THE CASTILES and EARTH) were not among the musicians that frequented The Upstage during 1968. This has been verified to Brucebase in discussions with members of both The Castiles and Earth. Springsteen’s primary “hangout” in 1968 was some distance inland at the ‘Off Broad Street Coffee House’ in Red Bank. The Upstage and the Off Broad Street were two quite separate “scenes” at the time.

Springsteen’s first visits to The Upstage were in early 1969, after Upstage regular Vini Lopez invited him to come down and jam after Lopez went to see Springsteen in action at a February 14, 1969 EARTH gig. Lopez was looking to start a new band. It was after turning up to The Upstage that Springsteen was first introduced to Danny Federici. After only a couple of Upstage jam sessions the three of them, along with Vinnie Roslin (ex-MOTIFS bassist, who Springsteen and Lopez had known since 1965), formed CHILD in early March 1969. Joe Cadora recalls watching Springsteen play in the club, recalling that he was 'such an encyclopedia of rock, that at some point you would just unplug, sit down, and listen to what he was doing. I learned a lot of what I still play from watching him.'

The Upstage would end up operating for about 44 months in total (mid Feb 1968 to late Oct 1971). During 1969 and early 1970 the club gradually became more and more popular. The “golden era” for the venue (and the period when there were the most frequent Springsteen related live performances) was during a 12 month period from mid 1970 to mid 1971.

Remembered

The Upstage was one of the original Asbury Park clubs. From 1968 through 1970, Bruce Springsteen, Garry Tallent, Danny Federici, Davey Sancious, Vini Lopez, Miami Steve Van Zandt, and Billy Chinnock jammed here.

In the late 1960s the Upstage Club in Asbury Park was one of the first places Bruce Springsteen began to build up a huge reputation as a guitar wizard. The club was started by Tom and Margaret Potter. The Upstage became a place that allowed the musicians to jam together as late as five a.m. Along with Bruce, "Miami" Steve Van Zandt, "Southside" Johnny Lyon, E Street Band members Danny Federici and Garry W. Tallent, and E Street alumnus "Mad Dog" Vini Lopez were among the others jamming in the club. Robert Santelli, education director of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and former Jersey resident, stated, "The Upstage was really the birth of the whole Asbury Park scene, the whole idea that the Jersey Shore had something to say musically."

The Upstage stood at the corner of Bond Street and Cookman Avenue in the business district of Asbury Park.
Credit http://www.beyondthepalace.com/newjersey/upstage.html

The Upstage (702 Cookman Avenue) according to Bob Santelli writing for Backstreets Magazine "ranks with the Stone Pony as the most popular and most important club, historically speaking, of all the Asbury Park and Shore clubs." Its lifespan was short - 1968 through 1970. Jam sessions lasting 'till dawn on weekends included the likes of not only Springsteen but E Streeters Garry Tallent, Danny Federici, Davey Sancious, Vini Lopez, and Miami Steve Van Zandt as well as Southside Johnny, members of the old Asbury Jukes, Billy Chinnock and others too numerous to mention. (See Bruce's liner notes on the back of Southside's first album, "I Don't Want To Go Home.")

The Upstage used to be located atop a Thom McCan shoe store. It has since been subdivided into a series of stores, most (if not all) of which are closed. The store with the sign "OK Shoes" used to be part of it. Next door is a small door which leads up the stairs to a rehearsal studio called the Music Booth, which used to be part of the Upstage's upper level.

What used to be the "mythical Asbury Park" that fueled so many of Bruce's songs and experiences is no longer. At least the tangible part of it.

There's still an intangible feeling, a spirit if you will, that's still there and easily helps one draw the conclusion that the stuff Bruce wrote could only have come from here.
Credit: http://members.aol.com/sooshii/asbury.htm

The Last Jam

By Uncle Mike

ON A COLD and cloudy Sunday afternoon in January 2006, a small group of musicians and fans made their way up the narrow staircase that leads to the third floor of 702 Cookman Avenue to participate in a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Sunday, January 29 was The Last Jam at one of the most important clubs in the musical history of Asbury Park - the Upstage. When local musician Margaret Potter and her husband,Tom, opened a second story coffeehouse called The Upstage Club in 1968, they could not have known that they were helping to plant the seeds of a music movement that would influence the history of rock 'n' roll, but that is exactly what they did.

While The Stone Pony would grab all the glory, The Upstage was the true birthplace of what would become known as the Asbury sound, and the beginning of an incredible journey for a skinny little kid from Freehold named Bruce Springsteen. Tom and Margaret envisioned The Upstage as a sort of musicians' club, a place where local talent could gather and share their music, thoughts and experiences.

The club soon became so popular that they had to expand to the third floor just to accommodate the musicians and all their fans. The Upstage not only became a safe haven for local musicians to ply their craft and hone their skills, but the third floor would become the home of the jam, where musicians like Springsteen, Vini Maddog Lopez, Miami Steven Van Zandt, Southside Johnny Lyon, Danny Federici, Bill Chinnock, Sonny Kenn, Billy Ryan, Joe Petillo and Gerry Carboy, just to name a few, would be exposed to all types of music and influences.

From 1968 through early 1971, if you were a musician down the Jersey Shore, The Upstage was the place to be. Though short lived, The Upstage was a seminal club in the growth and development of rock 'n' roll music as we know it today.
The Last Jam at the Upstage was organized by Carrie Potter, (granddaughter of The Upstage owner Tom Potter), Joe Petillo (Asbury native, local musician and former Distraction),Tom Jones (California filmmaker from Rumson ) and Mark Olsen (building manager), the impromptu, unrehearsed last jam featuring Upstage alums, Joe Petillo and Sonny Kenn (lead vocals/electric guitars), Billy Ryan and Ray Satch Sorrentino (electric guitars), Cliff Bloodgood (acoustic guitar), John Luraschi (bass/vocals), Gerry Carboy (bass), Vini Maddog Lopez (lead vocals/drums) and Kevin Kavanaugh (keys/vocals) was something that all those present won't soon forget. With a picture of Margaret and Tom Potter taking center stage and the ghosts of musicians past swirling in the air, the old club was restored to its former glory with an eclectic mix of tunes representative of the true spirit of The Upstage.

Featuring vintage renditions of Robert Johnson/Cream's Crossroads (Luraschi nails lead vocal), Chuck Berry's You Can't Catch Me (Sonny gets down), the Stones' The Spider And The Fly (Vini, Sonny and Gerry rock), the wicked Pickett's Mustang Sally (Joe P. steps up to the mic), Cream's Strange Brew (Vini shines on vocals/Sonny rules on guitar/John and Gerry rip it up on bass duet), the classic Stormy Weather (whole band swings) and an all-out band jam closer, the boys not only shook the paint off the walls and put big smiles on the faces of all those in attendance, they gave The Upstage a most richly deserved and heartfelt send-off. And as if all that wasn't enough, the boys moved across the street to Red Fusion (formerly Harry's Roadhouse) bridging the gap between the old and the new Asbury by performing two very well received sets featuring such favorites as Key To the Highway, Hey Joe, Little Queenie, Great Balls Of Fire, Blue Moon Of Kentucky, Act Naturally, In The Midnight Hour, and a repeat performance of Strange Brew.

Thanks to a handful of very caring, giving and talented musicians, Margaret and Tom Potter's Upstage was given a most proper farewell. The best of The Upstage is alive and well in the hearts, minds and talents of all the musicians who graced her stage for one last jam. As Joe put it, What better way to send the old girl off?

Rest well Margaret and Tom — your efforts have not been forgotten

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Don't forget - visit The Upstageclub.net and The Upstageclub Blog.

Springsteen did 1 performances, excl. rehearsals, at this venue.


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