HomeMusicHow Sea Hear Now 2019 Became a Local & National Phenomenon

How Sea Hear Now 2019 Became a Local & National Phenomenon

Sea Hear Now 2019 in Asbury Park, New Jersey

Photos by Al Mannarino | Words by Bill Bodkin

Sea Hear Now 2019 accomplished a feat that seems rather counterintuitive, if not nearly impossible. The festival, in its second year, was able to simultaneously solidify itself a must-see national music festival, as well as tradition of the local, thriving Asbury Park music scene.

This seems completely ridiculous. Big time music festivals more often than not see its original vibe, mission, or point devolve into a big, corporate event that lacks soul, and heart. That de-evolution usually begins in its sophomore year. Sure the music is absolutely killer, but the intent, the heart, the spiritual side of things begin to evaporate into the ether.

Last year, Sea Hear Now was the fulfillment of a dream of nearly everyone who cared one iota about the Asbury music scene, had — a big festival on the beach that brought in big time artists, but also put a spotlight on local Asbury musicians, and the city itself.

Festival organizers Danny Clinch and Tim Donnelly, while revered across the country, are at their hearts two local dudes, who many of us have rubbed elbows with in shows around the city that Bruce built. That first year felt like a local show these two cats would throw, but with a massive upgrade in production, and star power.

While many were hyped about the festival’s return in 2019, there were questions if the magic of year one could be recreated, or would it succumb to the pitfalls of other new festivals before it?

The poetic waxing has come to a conclusion now, let’s get into some tangible reasons why Sea.Hear.Now 2019 became not only a national, but local institution.

DAY 1: Saturday September 21

The Music, the Sweet Sweet Music:

When Sea.Hear.Now concluded its initial run, speculation ran wild of just who the guys would get to perform in in 2019. I can assure you, no one was expecting Dave Matthews Band or The Lumineers. The shock of having these two mega bands headlining the festival had people buzzing like crazy, and both DMB and The Lumineers absolutely delivered on the hype. Their energy was undeniable, and the execution of the crowd favorites grabbed everyone from the front of the stage to the near mile away that fans were stacked in order to sea (pun intended) and hear their set.

For those wondering, despite the tens of thousands of people who came to the festival, this never once felt like you were jammed into a sea of sweat, and claustrophobia. The cool breeze kept everyone cool, while the spacious digs of Asbury’s North Beach, and the expansiveness of the Bradley Park stage allowed you to be in your own world. You had the space to dance, or just let the music wash over you like the sun.

The first band we caught on Saturday was Work In Progress — the band fronted by Jersey native, and Stranger Things star Gaten Matarazzo. The band, who performed at The Park Stage, is no stranger to Asbury as they sold out two shows post-Christmas 2017. The band is known for their cadre of covers, however, on this day they put together a number of original tunes, which their frontman nervously copped to the true “newness” of the songs. The misconception of Work in Progress is that Gaten’s fame is the only reason they get around. This could not be further from the truth as this outfit is tight as hell, and we even got a cameo on their cover of Pearl Jam’s “Porch” with Mike McCready…of Pearl Jam. It was killer.

The Park Stage featured a stellar line-up on Saturday. Philadelphia’s Low Cut Connie, a beloved band in Asbury, brought their piano-driven rock ‘n’ roll to the festival, and rocked people’s worlds. The sweet funk of singer/surfer Donavon Frankenreiter got toes tapping and butts shaking — even if people were a mile away from his stage. Cat Power closed the stage out with an ethereal performance that was absolutely enchanting.

Speaking of ethereal, Jersey native Sharon Van Etten had the festival completely spellbound with her set at The Sand Stage. The epic set combined her earlier, guitar driven songs with her current darkly synth pieces. The singer remarked this was her first performance in her home state in well over a decade — a timeframe we hope she does not repeat.

Joan Jett and The Blackhearts ripped into their set immediately following SVE. Joan Jett has not lost a single step in her live performance. You bet your sweet behind that she ripped through “Do You Wanna Touch,” “Bad Reputation,” and “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” with the same snarl and swagger she did when she first dropped these anthems. Jett, like many on the festival, would drop a Springsteen cover. She did “Light of Day” which is ironic since she starred in a movie of the same name with Michael J. Fox. Locals will know this would become the title of the famed multi-day, multi-state music festival held in January that benefits the Light of Day Foundation which benefits Parkinson’s Disease research.

The Struts sauntered onto the Sand Stage, and showed everyone why they are the premier, true, pure rock ‘n’ roll band of 2019. The band is joy personified. Their unabashed embrace of the spirit of rock grabbed everyone by the face, and Luke Spiller and the boys placed a big ol’ kiss of rock ‘n’roll on everyone’s foreheads. Their set proved that this band has been quietly churning out hit after hit. Their stage show was electric, and they tore the house down with an epic cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark.” They brought a young girl on stage so she and Spiller could recreate the famed music video for the song featuring a pre-Friends Courtney Cox. This young fan blew the audience away when she broke out the worm in the middle of the song.

Punk icons Bad Religion closed the Sand Stage on Saturday night. It seemed fitting. Asbury Park’s deep punk traditions — ranging from The Clash walking the boards in the 80s to punk night at (the original) Asbury Lanes — are an undeniable part of the city’s musical history. Having Greg Graffin sing his iconic anthems while his band ripped it out just felt…right. To the shock of no one the classics, particularly “21st Century (Digital Boy)” had the circle pits swirling.

The Lumineers strolled onto the Surf Stage as a cool breeze blew through the packed crowd. If there were ever a band that captured both the fun and frivolity of summer, and the crisp nostalgia of autumn — it’s The Lumineers. Lead singer Wesley Schultz’s voice pierced through the heavens on the high notes, and the soul in his voice reached the soul of the audience. For he and drummer Jeremiah Fraites, this was a homecoming of sorts as the band got their start jamming in Ramsey, NJ back in 2005. Mega hits like “Ophelia,” “Gloria,” and “Cleopatra” were the obvious crowd pleasers, and rightfully so — the band is more than a mirror image of their album sound — they transcend what they’ve put on wax. When the band brought out their 2012 hit “Ho Hey” the crowd was transported to the days of banjos, beards, and bands in vests for a nice bit of recent nostalgia. However, the showstopper here was Schultz’s acoustic cover of The E Street classic, “Thunder Road.” The singalong was massive, and The Boss would’ve been proud.

DAY 2: September 22

As the next day began, the electro duo Brick+Mortar, two guys who we’ve loved on this site for years, came out and delivered another dynamite show on the Sand Stage. Flanked by their frequent collaborator Richie Brown, the stage show for Brick+Mortar killed, and was the perfect way to kick off the second day.

Across the beach, Steel Pulse brought the “irie riddims” and had the entire Surf Stage grooving to their brand of reggae — including cuts off their new joint, Mass Manipulation (released in May). Dave Hause and The Mermaid may be originally from Philadelphia, but Asbury Park has certainly adopted them as one of their own. The Loved Ones singer brought his patented good time to the stage, and reminded everyone why they fell in love with him when The Loved Ones first rolled into AP. RIPE followed up next over at the Sand Stage and made a lot of converts with their wild, undeniably infectious sound. The band made a damn impression the night before at Wonder Bar (located right outside the festival grounds) for an official SHN after-party, and that impression continued on the big stage.

Speaking of break out performances, the young guitar god Marcus King came, saw and conquered the damn festival. King has spent the last year plus making his way through every town, city, and festival and just ripping it up with his red hot, guitar-driven sound. On this day, he threw down a gauntlet — just try and top him. That gauntlet was tossed on the stage when he brought E Street Band member Jake Clemmons on stage, and he jammed on Jersey’s national anthem “Born to Run.” Not gonna lie, might’ve been the best version of this song, outside of Bruce, I’ve ever heard.

On the other end of the spectrum, and the beach, The B-52’s brought a wildly fun show. A cynic might question their placement on this festival given their pop sensibilities. Those people must lead sad, sad lives because this band was perfectly at home at this festival. Most people probably don’t realize lead singer Fred Schneider is from Long Branch, so this was a homecoming for him. The band had the audience eating out of the palm of their hand through their set. Don’t believe it? I have never seen a more diverse crowd — from soccer moms to hardcore punks singing “Roam” — louder and prouder. It’s a damn good song, people.

If there was one band that blew the doors off the entire festival, made a sea of new fans, and needs to return to Asbury Park immediately — it was St. Paul & The Broken Bones. Sweet Baby Jesus, this band was amazing. Lead singer Paul Janeway, adorned in a SHN colored cape, might be one of the best soul singers out in the scene today. The band brought the Sunday service to Asbury Park, and lordly lord we felt the Holy Spirit soul of bless our souls. Sure, this sounds like hyperbole, but St. Paul & The Broken Bones is a legitimately amazing experience. Not a band, an experience. They will change your entire perspective on music (and maybe life) after one set.

Dispatch hit the stage on the opposite end of the beach. On a personal note, I never thought I’d ever see Dispatch in person. This was the band I personally was looking forward to seeing the most. Did they deliver. Oh. They Did. To be honest, Dispatch came out and rocked much harder than most people expected (yes, we asked members of the audience). Chadwick Stokes’ wild curly mane banged around stage like he was in Metallica, but his beautiful voice reminded everyone in the audience why they fell in love with Dispatch in the ‘90s and early ‘00s, and honestly throughout the past 20 years. This set was absolutely electric. Their new interpretation of “Bats in the Belfry” which incorporated reggae riddims, and some flat out heaviness with the original vibe of the song was pure brilliance. The band also banged out a brief interlude of Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” as well as a full on cover of Rage’s “Wake Up.” Dispatch’s reunion is a damn blessing.

Dropkick Murphys closed out the Sand Stage with a blistering set of pub punk. Bagpipes blared. Punk lyrics were screamed. Guitars thrashed. Drums thundered. God, it was good to be at Sea Hear Now 2019 on this breezy Sunday night. Dropkick played all their hits. Yes, “The Boys are Back,” “Rose Tattoo,” and “Shippin’ Up to Boston” were played, and they had everyone losing their minds. A cover of The Cars’ “Just What I Needed” was a bittersweet tribute to the late Rick Ocasek. The entire audience’s Irish was turned up to 11 during this set, and thousands stood their ground, and did not care what their “seat” for Dave Matthews closing set was because they wanted to see Dropkick. This visceral, pint-rising set was a stark contrast to the rest of the soul, funk, and jam oriented line-up (minus Bad Religion), but given Asbury’s and the Jersey Shore’s Irish backbone, Dropkick made all the sense in the world to have on the show.

Speaking of Dave Matthews — the crowd for the Virginia born singer and his band was in a word, immense. This came as no surprise, since DMB has always been an absolutely beloved band in the Garden State. No matter when Dave and the boys come to town, Jersey represents strong. Hearing Dave for the first time, it’s so obvious why people adore him. His uncanny charisma got the crowd moving from the first strum of his acoustic guitar. “What Would You Say” was the perfect opener for the set as it set the tone for a 90 minute singalong for Dave and tens of thousands of his closest friends. Like his fellow fest mates Dave threw in a number of covers like “Sexy M.F.” by Prince, “Sledgehammer” by Peter Gabriel, Steve Miller’s “Fly Like an Eagle” and their staple “Jimi Thing.”

In short: the wide array of music heard at this festival reflects both the history and current scene of Asbury Park, making it an honest, heartfelt lineup.

The Art, The Surfing, The Experience

Sea Hear Now 2019 wasn’t just about damn good music. It was about the culture that has made Asbury such a vital part of life here in New Jersey.

The surfing was just a sight to behold. Watching the artists of the waves ride the giants of the Jersey beaches has always been special to watch. However, watching them catch a killer point break while The Struts, or Joan Jett, or countless other bands perform is magic. It’s always been rad that the SHN crew has celebrated Jersey’s oft overlooked (in a national sense) surfing scene. If you’re not familiar with dudes like Sam Hammer, or Rob Kelly, or women like Autumn Hays and Cassidy McLain — readjust your knowledge on surfing and get acquainted with these legends. Speaking of surfing, watching the masters create boards at the Shapers Gallery was utterly mind blowing.

Of course, the food and drink were on point all weekend. But, credit must be given to the fest for having true locals like MOGO, Brando’s and Mud City (amongst others) serving up the eats. This wasn’t a sea of generic food vendors serving up generic food — this was straight from the heart Jersey food served to the crowd. That added to the locals vibe created by the festival.

Art was another huge part of this festival. The Danny Clinch Gallery tent was located in the heart of the park area. It allowed you to the see art of the artists, something many of them like Chris from Blind Melon, Adam from Low Cut Connie and Renee from Lowlight, had never put on display before. Also, to see work from Dave Matthews was pretty rad as well. The tent allowed for fest-goers to also catch exclusive Q&A’s as well as intimate jam sessions. We were lucky to catch Danny Clinch, Mike McCready and Luke Spiller do special performances.

On the final days of summer, Sea Hear Now 2019 was able to create an experience that appealed to a national audience, yet was so inherently Asbury Park. The undeniable spirit that has pulsed through the Asbury music scene long before Springsteen even set eyes on The Stone Pony permeated every being on the festival grounds. The communal love of music, and the purity and joy it can evoke brought out the best in literally everyone at Sea Hear Now 2019. The bands played harder, the fans unfolded their arms and sang and danced to every band, and even the staff who sweat their faces off in the Indian Summer weather never let the smiles be wiped from their faces.

Everywhere you walked in Asbury Park the infectious energy that was generated from the festival reverberated throughout the city. And that not only cemented Sea.Hear.Now as a “local thing” but a national thing. Its positivity, its energy, and its loving embrace enveloped locals and tourists alike. It converted newcomers to lovers of the 1.6 square mile beach town, and reminded even some of the most jaded residents of the scene, that music in this city can be pretty great.

It’s this vibe, amongst many other reasons, that helped Sea Hear Now 2019 be a major success. Smiles were on faces. People were just flat out happy, and you could see they were having a blast. In a world riddled with very important, very intense issues, moments of fun can be fleeting. This festival provided a two day respite from all this, and allowed people to not only revel in the bands they love, but have their minds blown by bands they’d never heard before.

So in closing, Sea Hear Now 2019 not only lived up to the hype but it established itself as a national force, and a local legend. We’re very stoked to see what they have in store for 2020.

Pop-Break Staff
Pop-Break Staffhttps://thepopbreak.com
Founded in September 2009, The Pop Break is a digital pop culture magazine that covers film, music, television, video games, books and comics books and professional wrestling.

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