Recommended: Rockin’ New Jersey

Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes at Stone Pony (Photo by Tim Van Schmidt)

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Tim Van Schmidt


I’m on my way to one of American rock’s most famous cities. I’m not talking about Memphis or New Orleans. I’m talking about Asbury Park, New Jersey.

My wife originally comes from West Long Branch, a town near Asbury, so I’ve visited the Jersey Shore many times — and we’ve got another trip coming.

Clarence Clemons memorials at Stone Pony (Photo by Tim Van Schmidt)

One of my destinations this time is going to be the Bruce Springsteen Archives & Center for American Music. It’s located on the campus of Monmouth University in West Long Branch. I’ll be reporting on that experience in an upcoming article.

Springsteen, of course, is mostly responsible for making Asbury Park famous — worldwide — ever since his 1973 album release, “Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.”, announced his arrival on the rock scene.

Fireworks on the beach (Photo by Tim Van Schmidt)

But it wasn’t just Asbury Park that spawned Springsteen, it was the whole rocking New Jersey Shore. Maybe you’ve heard of Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, another great New Jersey product?

If there is a specific Asbury Park rock and roll landmark it has to be the Stone Pony, which was made famous by storied surprise club gigs — on his home turf — by Springsteen.

Band on the shore (Photo by Tim Van Schmidt)

I haven’t seen Springsteen there, but I have been to the venue. One night was a packed nightclub experience with reggae superstar Jimmy Cliff. Another time was to see Who bassist John Entwistle play with his own band. Only about 100 lucky fans and I got to hear “The Ox” thunder.

In recent years, the Stone Pony has added a huge outdoor stage and I enjoyed a sound check by Southside Johnny one afternoon while visiting the boardwalk area — and one by G Love on another occasion.

Fourth of July sand castles (Photo by Tim Van Schmidt)

My most memorable visit to the Stone Pony was when the news broke that longtime E Street sax player Clarence Clemons had passed away. I happened to be in the area and went to the Stone Pony on a hunch. Bunches of flowers, candles, homemade memorials, and posters were lining the sidewalk that was buzzing with television crews outside the venue.

I’ve seen some other top-notch concerts on the Jersey Shore. That includes a feisty set by Blondie at an oceanside nightclub.

Just a few exits up the New Jersey Turnpike from Asbury is the big outdoor venue, the Garden State Arts Center. I saw a warm reunion show there by Peter, Paul, and Mary, a rare and raw evening with Frank Zappa, and an excellent solo show by Paul Simon — just his voice and his guitar.

But some of my best rocking New Jersey discoveries have come from checking out the local news for cool events. Thanks to area listings, I had a great afternoon in the park at the Asbury Park Jazzfest one year — featuring a memorable band called the Voodudes.

At the park in West End, West Long Branch, I saw a scorching set by top-notch rocker Matt O’Ree one night and some rough-and-ready blues by Chuck Lambert on another. 

But let’s get back to Springsteen. You’ve maybe heard one of his great early tracks, “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)”? Well, I’ve been there on the Fourth of July. During the day, I saw bands and sand castle competitions and at night it was fireworks on the beach.

Fireworks, indeed. The Jersey Shore was rocking.

I hope I’ve whetted your appetite for more rocking New Jersey news. I’ll be back soon with another column on my visit to the Bruce Springsteen Archives.

See “Time Capsules by Tim Van Schmidt” on YouTube.