The legendary Stone Pony. You can’t reference the concert hall located on Ocean Avenue in Asbury Park, N.J., with out calling it as “legendary.” The club, which opened in 1974, is celebrating its 40th Anniversary this month, so Pop-Break.com asked its staff and its friends from the music industry (journalists, promoters, radio personalities and band members) to regale us with their favorite tales from the famed stages of “the house that Bruce built.”
Bill Bodkin (Pop-Break editor-in-chief): I’ve seen a ton of great performances at The Stone Pony — sold-out shows from They Might Be Giants with my friends, Jason Newsted of Metallica’s first solo tour, being nominated for an Asbury Music Award, but none of them compares to a cold-ass night in March of 2011. It was Saint Patrick’s month at the Jersey Shore and the Pony was celebrating with a Thursday night show from iconic Irishmen, The Saw Docs and a Friday night show from the Virginia-based Irish tribute act The Fighting Jamesons. Having interviewed the Jamesons earlier that week, my wife and I were invited to the show as special guests of the band. While talking to the band prior to the show, they told me they would need my help later in the evening. So, about mid-set, lead singer Mike Jameson calls me onstage to take part in their one of their famed onstage rituals — one fan must do “shots with the band” during one of their songs. Can I remember the name of the song? No. I was totally hammered by the time it was done. So, my job was to, at the beginning of every chorus, to take a shot of Jameson.
Now, while this might sound like a good “drinking story,” it was so much more for me. There I was, on stage at The Stone Pony, doing shots of whiskey. It was surreal. Here I was, a beardy blogger with no musical talent standing on stage, the same stage Bruce Springsteen made famous. And while maybe it was the distilled Irish gold coursing through my veins, I felt awash with awe and wonderment. This was a moment, this was special. Not everyone could say they were onstage at The Pony and yet, this was my moment. It’s one I’ll never forget. Now if I can just remember the name of that song …
Nick Hexum (lead singer, 311): I remember it fondly when 311 played there many years ago. There is a lot of excitement around that show in particular and it’s nice to be up close and personal, and have that compact energy of a club.
Pop-Break.com interview, January 2014
Audra Tracy (editor-in-chief, The Waster): My favorite memory from The Stone Pony will probably always be seeing Weezer there in the summer of 2000. They had only two records out — The Blue Album and Pinkerton, so the set-list was basically perfect. I was a starry-eyed 18 year old, and it would be years before I got all wrapped up and jaded with the music industry. It was just me and my skater boyfriend leaning up against the monitors, singing our little teenage hearts out on Ocean Ave …
Gerry Perlinski (lead singer, Lost Romance): It was about 1990 or so, and I went to see Buddy Guy perform with a friend attThe Pony. This was great in itself to see a legend like Buddy tear it up at a smaller-sized venue than he normally played. Buddy was jamming on a song and decided to jump into the audience with his guitar which had a wireless system so he could walk around. He was soloing and getting the audience all worked up when he jumped on top of the front bar! He continued to solo, walk around the entire length of the bar all to the roar of the crowd. Now, if that wasn’t bad ass enough, he then jumped off the bar and proceeded to walk out the front door of the Pony into the street. All while soloing and having the entire audience follow him outside and bow to him in a “we’re not worthy” Wayne’s World style, Buddy did not miss a beat. It was quite possibly the greatest live performance I’ve ever seen.
Lauren Stern (Pop-Break assignment editor): I’ve been to only a handful of shows at the Pony, but I think if I had to pick my all time favorite, it would be seeing Jack’s Mannequin, Ra Ra Riot, and Guster in August 2011. Not only was this my last time seeing one of my favorite bands of all time, Jack’s Mannequin, but it was my boyfriend’s first visit to The Stone Pony. It was such a special experience being able to show him around one of the most iconic music venues in New Jersey. I will never forget singing and dancing along to these great acts while watching the sun set along the coast of the Jersey Shore.
Adam Bird (lead singer, Those Mockingbirds): My favorite Stone Pony memory was going outside after a set we played there, just to cool off ya know? And there was a famous former wrestler smoking hash and told me about the proper way to blade yourself in a wrestling match so the blood loss doesn’t kill you.
Vincent Minervino (lead singer, The Brigantines): Some of our best band memories are from The Stone Pony. We were hustlin’ merch after our set supporting Southside Johnny in July 2012 and I asked a lady to dance with me to ‘Walk Away Renee.’ That was our first dance and I’ll be meeting her on the dance floor after our wedding in Asbury Park this coming summer. We’re stoked to have been a small part of The Pony’s history. Looking forward to the next 40 years!
Al Mannarino (Pop-Break staff writer): My first experience at The Stone Pony will always be my favorite. Peter Frampton was playing a free show as a thank you to his fans and I was able to grab some tickets. It was the first show I ever caught a drumstick at, and I’m not ashamed to admit I might have swiped it out of some poor women’s hand. Frampton played a excellent show. The most memorable moment was when he did a cover of ‘Black Hole Sun’ by Soundgarden. It was awesome for him to play a free show, but it was even better he chose The Stone Pony as his venue. The Stone Pony is unlike any other venue I have ever been to. Having gone to most of the major venues in the tri-state area I can honestly say none of them compare to the Pony. Obviously it’s the house that Springsteen built, but it’s more then that. It’s New Jersey’s CBGB, everyone who’s anyone has played there and if they haven’t they are still trying to. It’s historic. It’s a landmark. It’s one of the best parts of New Jersey.
Bret Morgan (co-founder of Bands On A Budget, co-founder of CoWerks): I think the first time I ever was at the Pony was in 1996 for a Mighty Mighty Bosstones show. I was working for the radio station at Montclair State University and managed to get some free tickets and came down with the station manager at the time. I wasn’t 21 and that was when they had the “cage” for the bar so the station manager camped out there for most of the show – to the point that she couldn’t drive home. She had a stick so we practiced in one of the abandoned lots before i flew up the parkway back to Montclair and pretty surely burned out her clutch …
Nicole Atkins: The Stone Pony is such a rock ‘n’ roll bar. Venues across the whole country that are the same size — The Stone Pony is the most rock ‘n’ roll of them all.
Pop-Break.com interview, August 2012
El Diablo (drummer and lead singer, The Mystery Men): To us, The Stone Pony is not a Church, but its Holy Ground. When playing on that stage you can literally feel the spirit of all of the Legends & Amazing Musicians that have played there during its long & storied history. To play a room that was once patrolled by Bam Bam Bigelow on security detail is truly something special we hold in our hearts. Every time I’ve ever been lucky enough to play there with The Mystery Men its a special. magical, inspiring experience you just can’t find anywhere else.
Anthony Toto (Pop-Break staff writer): Whether I saw a friend’s band in High School or covered a show, The Stone Pony feels like home as a frequent concertgoer from central New Jersey. Regardless of the act, I always appreciated the venue’s ability to welcome everyone to the stage. The venue helps local artists gain experience while bringing in talented acts from across the world. The venue maintains the storybook aura of vintage rock galore. In March 2013, I covered my first concert as a music writer for a Stone Pony show featuring Flyleaf, Drowning Pool, and Stars In Stereo. In fact, I interviewed Jared Hartmann from Flyleaf and Jordan McGraw from Stars In Stereo. This show will always hold a special memory in my heart because it gave me the confidence to pursue my dream as a music writer. From a professional perspective, the experience opened my eyes as an interviewer. Looking back 11 months later, I pinpoint to this moment specifically because it helped me land where I am today.
DJ Prime (nationally syndicated DJ): I used to DJ the Monmouth College Night. We would easily do 800-1000 kids on a Thursday. It was 18 to party and 21 to drink but it seemed like 21 to drink and 18 to get wasted, but obviously that wasn’t true!!
Gregg Pirillo (program director, SaveAlternative.com): My greatest memory of the Stone Pony was when my band, Mynuskris, had the opportunity to open for Johnny Marr of The Smiths in May 2003.
Growing up in New Jersey, there were very few places that held such allure as the Pony. If you were a musician from NJ, the Stone Pony was our mecca. It’s the Fillmore West or the CBGB of New Jersey — a venue where the legend is just as big as any band that has ever played it. It sounds almost silly, but the energy that you feel when taking that stage is something that can’t be properly explained. For 4 young dreamers from North Jersey, being the band that graced this legendary stage in front of a full house, right before one of our idols, was almost like being trapped in a beautiful dream. I remember feeling as if I was floating across the stage, barely able to focus on the sea of faces in front of me. Every light & every sound magnified, it was a bit of sensory overload, but there was never a feeling before (or after) that seemed to reach this level of bliss. It was the natural high that I’d always heard musicians speak about. That feeling you can only get while on stage performing in front of a captive audience. It’s still is, and always will be my favorite venue of all time.
Matt Haviland (Pop-Break staff writer): When something is legendary, it feels far away. Even when it’s standing in front of you (or in my case, erected three towns away). I’ve taken a tour bus through Wisteria Lane. It was magical. I’ve walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty. It wasn’t. While the Desperate Housewives set felt infinitely far away, the symbol of American freedom merely bore a disconnect. It’s not legendary when you ask, “What am I supposed to feel?” Growing up down the street from Asbury Park makes The Stone Pony feel like a bubble waiting to pop. This is not to say I don’t support the legend. When my friend Jack skipped work at a retirement home to play at The Stone Pony, and our manager told him he would be fired for having another no show, all I could say was, “But it’s The Stone Pony.” Jack was invited to Hogwarts! You don’t ignore the owls and resume washing dishes. You don’t say no when Bruce stands outside the screen door promising open roads and sputtering engines. You go.
But if Bruce lives down the street, in a loud house the early seventies, and he hasn’t made Born to Run yet, you don’t go to his house. Not to party or call the police for a noise violation—neither one. Do you want to mess up the works? To tangle legends in the common threads of biography? I’ve never been to The Stone Pony. I may never go there. To visit the building in Asbury Park would cash a savings bond that promised millions—if you only kept it in the bank until you went to college. The Stone Pony is still a legend for me. Since I grew up within shouting distance of the ghosts in the eyes of all the boys she sent away, that feels special. But somewhere in the dusty streets of my memories, Jack had always made the right decision. For a different venue, I might have suggested he put on the apron instead.
Brent Johnson (Pop-Break managing editor, lead singer of The Clydes): Playing The Stone Pony is an honor for any band. But if you’re a band from New Jersey? It’s a rite of passage.
It’s not much to look at: a modest, white-stone building on a nondescript corner of Asbury Park. For years, the streets around it were marked by the rusted frames of a never-finished development project. And until the last decade, the nearby boardwalk was colored by shadiness.
But a step inside is a step into history. The walls are covered with posters and guitars autographed by the legends who’ve played there. The stage has been graced by Bruce Springsteen’s boots dozens of times. If Asbury Park is one of the great music towns in the U.S. — which it is — The Stone Pony is its Mecca.
Especially if you’re a Garden State musician. One of the first goals a New Jersey band makes is to play the Pony. If only so you can boast that you’ve stood on the same stage Bruce has. I imagine it’s the same way for Liverpool acts to play the Cavern or Los Angeles rockers to book a gig at the Whisky.
But it’s more than that. The Pony is also a fantastic venue. It’s oddly shaped — a little boxy and narrow, so your fans have to pack in. The stage is high enough to make you feel vaunted and wide enough to allow you to run around. The sound is stellar.
I’ve played there twice — most recently with my band, The Clydes. And both times, I snapped a bunch of pictures and took a moment to stand there and look around. It’s a venue you want to feel, not just play.
The music scene in New Jersey is shrinking. Another classic venue — Maxwell’s in Hoboken — shuttered last year and cities like New Brunswick, once a bastion of rock talent, has been stripped of all but one club. But Asbury Park breathes on with a string of artists who still make incredible — and original — music. And the city gives them gritty, colorful places to share it: the Wonder Bar, The Saint, and above all, The Stone Pony.
The world needs more clubs like them. Not only to preserve music history. But to allow more to be made.