Danny Clinch Led Sear.Hear.Now Festival Leads Cool Musical Entourage Including Incubus, Social D (Springsteen Sit In), Deer Tick, Carl Broemel (FESTIVAL REVIEW/PHOTOS)

Asbury Park got to strut its stuff this past weekend (September 29-30) at the inaugural Sea.Hear.Now Festival in Asbury Park. The festival took place on the last weekend in September and checked off all the boxes – three stages of music featuring a mix of local bands and big-name acts, beautiful weather in a beautiful beach setting, a surfing competition, mostly regional food vendors, an art installation and, oh yeah, a surprise sit in by Bruce Springsteen. The festival was put together by a group headed rock photographer Danny Clinch who grew up at the Jersey Shore.

One of the most amazing things about the festival was that it went off almost without a hitch. One would expect a fledgling festival to start small and gain momentum over the first few years, but Sea.Hear.Now seemed to be all grown up on its first day. It had big name acts, big stages with big-time lighting, great sound, big crowds and all the other trappings of large festivals including IRFE wristbands, sponsors, hydration stations and even storage lockers. It didn’t feel like a start-up festival at all. It must have taken a lot of planning, but I suppose with so many festivals out there to copy ideas from, the trial and error bumps and bruises are no longer a fledgling festival’s rite of passage.

What really made this festival unique was the location. Two of the three stages were on the beach, which made for amazing views and a very chill vibe. It was the only festival this reviewer has been to where the jumbotron routinely cut from a shredding guitar solo to a surfing contestant shredding a wave – humorously, both got applause. Most artists commented on what a beautiful scene it was as they got to look out at their fans in the foreground balanced by the backdrop of breaking waves and nourished by refreshing ocean breezes. It didn’t hurt that the weather was perfect.

The cost for a two-day pass was only $120 which was a great value as the lineup boasted some big names: Jack Johnson, Incubus, Blondie, Ben Harper, Social Distortion, Milky Chance, The English Beat, Brandi Carlile, and Kaleo; some mid-sized acts: Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Soja, Lettuce, G. Love & Special Sauce, the Menzingers, Deer Tick, The Original Wailers, Rayland Baxter, Twin Peaks, Frank Turner and Langhorne Slim; and some local/starting out bands: Nicole Atkins, Carl Broemel, Jesse  Malin, The Parlor Mob, The Battery Electric, Deal Casino and the Tangiers Blues Band.

Carl Broemel

So, what were the best performances turned in on Saturday? Here is this reviewer’s opinion.

  • Carl Broemel – best known as the guitarist for My Morning Jacket, Carl played a searing alternative rock set with his solo four-piece band. He mostly played songs from his new release, “Wished Out”, but the versions were much more potent with fiercer guitar solos and growly, yearning vocals. He’s on a pretty substantial tour, so catch him if he comes to your town.
  • Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals – although he doesn’t bounce around the stage a lot, his guitar work and powerful lyrics kept the audience’s eyes glued to the stage. He started out the set with a solid version of Bruce Springsteen’s Atlantic City, but he did his best work on the lap steel during an intense three-song mini-set (Keep It Together, Call It What It Is, and How Dark Is Gone) that demanded a focus on racism and social justice.
  • Soja – Everything about a mostly white mostly reggae band screams run the other way, but there is no denying that DC-based Soja brought their compelling “A game” to the festival. They didn’t just play tired reggae covers, they brought their high energy, guitar-focused take on original reggae-based tunes. The songs that most stood out were the ones lead by the high kicking bassist, Bobby Lee and the dred shaking lead guitarist Trevor Young.
  • Deer Tick – The Rhode Island-based alternative jam band really broke out of their shell by playing a blistering set on the Park stage. They played mostly upbeat numbers with solidly improvised solos. They finished their set with a campy version of Joe Cocker’s “Up Where We Belong” with the vocal help of Asbury Park resident Nicole Atkins.
  • The Preservation Hall Jazz Band – Ben Jaffe’s ragtag New Orleans outfit is an amazing combination of seminal road warriors like Charlie Gabriel and talented newcomers like Clint Maedgen. They always have energy and seem to prove that they are greater together than the sum of all their parts.

Other solid performances were turned in by:

  • Blondie – Deborah Harry still can command a stage and so can her longtime drummer, Clem Burke, who didn’t mail one second of their afternoon set in
  • Brandie Carlile – She had a pretty big contingent and played an engaged set that ranged from country to indie rock.
  • Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls -The English folk singer/songwriter played a fun twangy set.
  • The Battery Electric – The local Asbury Park punk band with a sprinkle of pop played a fun set and while their music was good, their stage banter was unsurpassed. Lead singer, Ron Santee, had the best lines of the day. He said, Welcome to Asbury Park, we live 5 blocks from here. It is a beautiful place, but don’t move here – my rent is still kind of cheap.” And he closed the set saying, “Thank you very much, I have to go now and find Deborah Harry and propose to her.”
Preservation Hall Jazz Band

The crowd was pretty consistent and had no problem hanging around through the closing set by Incubus. Aside from some painfully slow bar, food and merchandise lines – they had enough bars, just not enough bartenders – the first day of the first Sea.Hear.Now festival went off with barely a hitch.

Sunday brought more beautiful weather, some smaller waves and some more great music. Unlike Saturday, there was no line to get in at opening – perhaps the security detail was more organized, or more likely, Saturdays’ eager festival revelers were a bit less eager on Sunday morning after a full day of sand, sun, food, drink and music. But as the crowds trickled in, the stages began to fill and before you knew it, the festival was at full tilt again.

The Sunday lineup featured a heavy dose of local bands (Parlor Mob & Deal Casino from Asbury Park, Nicole Atkins from Neptune, The Front Bottoms from Woodcliff Lake, and G Love and The Menzingers from Philly) which brought a strong contingent of loyal fans that seemed to know every word to every song (many of whom were sporting Eagles attire). The best performances this reviewer saw on Sunday where:

  • Kaleo – this Icelandic rock quartet did a great job connecting with their audience with their catalog of blues-based rock numbers. The band is fronted by triple threat (voice, guitar and looks) JJ Julius Son, who doesn’t move around the stage a lot, but manages to still convey passion and intensity. The opposite is true for bassist Daniel Kristjansson who conveys his passion by literally bouncing all over the stage and helps the audience join Kaleo in kicking it up a notch as they move from ballads like “All The Pretty Girls” to more raucous tunes like “Hot Blood.” The two songs that stood out as examples of the band’s range were the desperate blues number, “Broken Bones” and the beautiful folk ballad, “Vor I Vaglaskogi”, the only song the band does in their native tongue.
  • Social Distortion – the 80’s rockabilly/punk band from LA filled their hour-long set with old favorites like “She’s a Knockout”; new fast play offerings like “Born To Kill; and, yes, a three song mini-set with Asbury Park hero Bruce Springsteen of “Bad Luck”, Misery Loves Company” and Social D’s version of Johnny Cash’s “Ring Of Fire”. The band sounded good, with Mike Ness’s clear and growly voice occasionally punching through the guitar cover laid down by Ness, and Johnny Wickersham. Although they were known as an cutting edge punk band that was pushing the boundaries of rock in the early 80s, the band sounds as it has mellowed, but the more likely explanation is that the cutting edge has actually moved, in large part because of bands like Social D, which makes them sound more mainstream. In any case, the fans were psyched to spend an hour of their musical evening (including one fan from Denmark who travelled to Asbury Park just to see them) with Social D. They were even more psyched when the whisperings and rumors that Bruce would sit in with them proved to be true. Bruce, true to his reputation, fit in nicely with the band, both deferential to Ness as a guest of Social D, and taking enough of the spotlight to satisfy his fans and help increase Social D’s name recognition. He played hard-strumming guitar and sang with the rock and roll fervor that he is famous for. It was a nice penultimate set of music for the festival.
  • Lettuce – helped bridge the afternoon into evening by doing what they always do, bringing the funk! The crowd seemed unfamiliar with the band that grew out of the Berklee College of Music, but it didn’t a difference. Lettuce soon had the whole crowd – old and young – shaking to the funk oozing off the stage. The band is driven by the amazing rhythm section of Adam Deitch on drums and Eric “Jesus” Coombs on bass, who dispels every stereotype of funk bass players with his sinister playing. The band is rounded out by Adam “Schmeeans” Smirnoff on guitar, Nigel Hall on keys and occasional vocals, Eric “Benny” Bloom on trumpet and Ryan Zoids on sax. The band has lost a half step with the departure of guitarist Eric Krasno and keyboardist Neal Evans – Karasno afforded them the ability for one guitar to focus on pushing the solos, while the guitarist sustained the rhythm, and Neil is just a creative savant on organ. But the verdict from the crowd and this reviewer is that they are still very worth seeing.
  • Deal Casino – This young Asbury Park rock quartet brought their alternative rock game and their tee-shirt toting fans to the Park Stage to open Sunday’s festivities. The had good energy and were tight enough to be good, yet sloppy enough to still feel like rock & roll. The only two unfortunate things about their set were 1) they were only allotted 30 minutes; and 2) they were playing up against another local favorite, Parlor Mob.
  • Parlor Mob – this Asbury Park alternative rock trio made a strong impression, but as I had to split the 30-minute set between them and their neighbors, Deal Casino, there wasn’t enough to form a concrete opinion. They are definitely worth seeing again.
  • G Love & Special Sauce – there is something so simple and honest about G Love’s blues with hip hop highlights that draws you in. His music (and stage presence) lacks pretense and even sophistication, but that is exactly what makes it so compelling. Truth be told, he does pretty good guitar work with an innate appreciation for the space between notes in his solos. The trio was able to share an hour’s worth of songs with the Philly-leaning crowd including the crowd favorite “Baby’s Got Sauce” which is still stuck in this reviewer’s head.
Frank Turner

Other notable acts included:

  • Nicole Atkins – The band came out dressed in matching long-sleeved tee-shirts that said “Goodnight” in reference to her new album “Goodnight Rhonda Lee”. She had many songs throughout the set that showed off her strong and lush voice, but had others that made her seem more ordinary.
  • The Menzingers – a Philly band that feels like they bring the party with them played a fun 60-minute, upbeat set
  • Rayland Baxter – was only given 45 minutes, but used it well playing a good “big crowd” selection of his growing singer/songwriter musical portfolio.
  • Langhorn Slim And The Lost At Last Band – played a fun, set of mostly blues inspired numbers.
  • Milky Chance – had a strong following and played many of their pop tunes that are getting some air play.
  • Jack Johnson – it seemed fitting that Jack Johnson who has such ties to surfing and surfing culture closed out the festival that included a surfing contest. His easy listening music was a nice way to ease off into the warm Sunday evening, but wasn’t the way this reviewer would have capped off the festival.

All in all the festival was a great success – most of the merchandise sold out (some tee-shirts were gone after the first day), there were no incidents or accidents that this reviewer was aware of, and almost all of the performers voiced how much they enjoyed playing Sea.Hear.Now. The Danny Clinch tent gallery near the Park Stage was a nice bonus as it featured, not only Clinch’s work but also artwork from other musicians performing at the festival. There was a trusting communal spirit about the festival which may have been best illustrated by the piles of flip-flops and sandals left at the foot of the steps that led from the boardwalk to the beach – once I even came back to find my hastily kicked off slides re-arranged neatly by some anonymous festival-mate. I think the sentiment can best be summed up by the one -sided phone conversation I overheard from an over-tanned local with a thick Jersey accent while I biking over on Sunday morning, “There’s something going on here, you should come check it out.” Turns out he was entirely correct … see you all next year!

 

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