Pearl Jam’s First Show In Two Years & Patti Smith Lead Sea.Hear.Now Day 1 (FESTIVAL RECAP/PHOTOS)

There were a lot of tasty treats at this year’s Sea.Hear.Now festival in Asbury Park, NJ, but make no mistake about it, the main course on almost everyone’s plate was a large helping of Pearl Jam. The band hadn’t toured since 2018 and as Eddie Vedder said from the stage, they had planned a massive tour in 2020 to promote their new album “Gigaton”, but then the world shut down. That album title was an inside joke because they were planning to Gig-A-Ton to support new songs: boy did that plan get interrupted.

As a quick backdrop, Sea.Hear.Now 2021 is a festival that takes place over two days on the beach at Asbury Park. There are only three stages – two on the beach and one on a grassy area in the park – and it comes with all the trappings of a modern, large-scale festival – lockers, a diverse set of festival merch, water refill stations, food vendors, and a large number of places to purchase alcohol. It is ironic how many festival bars there were given how hard it is to obtain a liquor license in New Jersey.


There are three components to Sea.Hear.Now. that makes it unique: a large art component as one of the festival’s creators is rock photographer Danny Clinch; a surf competition, which attendees ignore for the most part until stunning images are put on the jumbotrons for all to cheer at. And of course, the setting on the beach in a city that was saved by music. Although this is the third year the festival has been put on, it felt different. Attendees had to show proof of vaccination to get in, and for the first time, the majority of the attendees were there to see one band – Pearl Jam.   

The crowd that sold out the festival in record time didn’t know what to expect from Pearl Jam as it had been over two years since their last full concert. Would Pearl Jam be rusty? Would it be weird to be packed in a crowd even though it couldn’t be more outdoors? Would Vedder’s voice still be there? What would the crowd be like? The attendees were of all ages, much to the dismay of the airplane banner carriers which advertised AARP in expectation of a far older crowd. They hit the gates early and snapped up a prodigious amount of Pearl Jam merchandise to the point where it felt that every fifth person was wearing a Pearl Jam concert tee shirt of some type.

White Denim

The band played from 8:30 to about 10:45 and although they got off to a slow start by playing three newish numbers, “Dance of the Clairvoyants”, “Quick Escape”, and “Seven O’Clock”, they soon scratched the crowd’s itch with favorites like “Corduroy”, “Given to Fly” and “Better Man”. By the third song, most of the band members were so moved to be performing that they broke free from their assigned spots on stage and paced or even ran back and forth across the stage, Vedder’s voice was steller, as good as it has sounded in thirty years, and McCready’s guitar solos approached “rock god” levels, particularly on his ripping solo during “Better Man” 

There were several touching moments in the show with Vedder almost preaching unity. One came when he dedicated “Wishlist” to recently deceased comedian, Norm MacDonald. He wished he had stayed in better touch with his friend and urged us all to keep reaching out to our friends, particularly those who are struggling. Another moment was when he brought up a local Asbury Park quartet consisting of Alexander Simone, Michelle Rushing, Joshua Rivers, and Jason Rogers to join him in a beautiful acoustic version of Bruce Springsteen’s “My City of Ruins”. They ended the night with another highlight when Lenny Kaye, from Patti Smith’s band, bounded onto the stage and launched into a heartfelt and raucous version of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ In The Free World” which sent the crowd home. Also of note was that Pearl Jam added former Red Hot Chili Pepper Josh Klinghoffer as a touring guitarist to their line-up. While the band may not need three guitarists, much of the newer material was planned earlier to have him on board for their 2020 tour, but of course, other things came up.

Pearl Jam

The two-hour set might have been best summed up by a conversation I overheard walking out of the gates in which a woman was excitingly talking into her phone and said, “I was never really a fan of Pearl Jam, but I loved every minute of that show and wished they had kept playing for an hour or two.” I suppose we all felt a little more normal after that set.

There were 13 other acts that “opened for Pearl Jam” and like any festival, there were some sets that really stood out. “Black Flamingos” played a nice set of instrumental surf music which matched the scenery and the spirit of Sea.Hear.Now. Briston Maroney played a great 45-minute set to the delight of his young followers. His four-piece band was thankful to get a slot at such a major festival and proved they had the goods to justify it. The band won over a lot of new fans, these reviewers included, with their alt-rock sensibility with a lot of sonic parallels to The Districts. The crowd was particularly enthused with their songs “Freaking Out On The Interstate” which featured a great solo by his lead guitar player, and “Caroline” a ballad delivered with the appropriate amount of yearning to convey the angst in the lyrics.

Reignwolf may have turned in the most spirited set of the day that oozed rock and roll as he played himself into a frenzy with several blood and guts numbers like “Are You Satisfied”. His trio, especially him and his drummer, capture the pure essence of about-to-go-off-the-rails rock, which left the audience impressed and, ironically, satisfied.

Patti Smith

The other truly special performance of the day came from Patti Smith who had the crowd in the palm of her hand. She started the set with “Redondo Beach” and worked her way through her catalog reminding attendees and musicians alike how she paved the rock and roll ground for so many of the acts that played that day: Pearl Jam included. Her gritty voice, poetic lyrics, and impassioned singing kept the audience riveted on her every word and gesture.

There were other strong performances as well. The Avett Brothers brought their multi-stringed package to the main stage. One would think that the guitar, fiddle banjo, cello, and bass configuration wouldn’t hold the interest of the throngs who were well into their fifth hour of claiming their territory for the Pearl Jam set to follow, but the band held their attention and enthusiasm. There were other strong sets by upstart, Goose, who have been proving to fans over the past few years that they have the goods to claim a coveted festival spot like this. Their guitar-based jams speak to the sensibilities of prog and dance rock fans, but have a little more punch to please the rock crowd. As one attendee put it, they may have had the best pandemic of any band as their rise in popularity and stature seemed to be unaffected by all the havoc that the last 18 months created.


Lastly, Lord Huron and his band put on a solid set. Even though most of the festival had migrated to the north end of the beach to prepare for Pearl Jam, there were a surprising number of Lord Huron devotees who stayed for every note of their richly textured set. Extra kudos to the road crew and set designers who transformed the stage into a futuristic, desert-themed landscape complete with sand dunes and electric cacti.

Although Saturday was a great day at Sea.Hear.Now, there were some negatives as well. It was surprising how white-male-dominated the acts were. There was only one headliner of color and two that were female. Surely the festival can do better than that. In addition, the food was a large problem. The food vendors were tucked into a remote corner of the festival with no signage pointing the way toward them. You couldn’t walk 30 feet without running into a place to buy booze, but many people spent a significant amount of time looking for food and many of the festival workers had no idea where the food was located. Perhaps this is due to Covid, but I heard many complaints on this subject.

All-in-all, Saturday was a near-perfect day in Asbury Park filled with sunny skies, cool ocean breezes and one of the more beautiful settings a festival could ask for. Let’s hope Sunday’s lineup featuring The Smashing Pumpkins, Ani DiFranco, Billy Idol, and others delivers too.

Photos by Nancy Lasher

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2 Responses

  1. If you weren’t close you couldn’t hear Pearl Jam… the sound was awful we ended up leaving… hopefully they fixed it.

    1. There were three sets of speaker towers on the beach – I found that you could be pretty far back, but could hear perfectly – the space behind the third speaker tower wasn’t too tightly packed – not sure what it sounded like from the boardwalk

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