Inaugural Sea.Hear.Now Festival Day One (Sea)
Inaugural Sea.Hear.Now Festival
Collaboration by David Zeck and Diane DiMemmo
Asbury Park, New Jersey is without a doubt the capital of the NJ music scene, and this year it played host to one of the new and, in my opinion, most exciting festivals of 2018. The inaugural Sea.Hear.Now Festival took over the beach, boardwalk, and surrounding areas of Ocean Avenue to deliver a one of a kind festival experience for lovers of music, art, and surf culture.
Sea.Hear.Now is a collaborative effort between renowned music photographer and filmmaker Danny Clinch and C3 Presents, who are responsible for massively successful music festivals like Lollapalooza, Austin City Limits, Shaky Knees Music Fest, and Voodoo Music + Arts Experience along with many more.
Aside from music, the festival also included surf expression sessions and board shaping demos for surf fans, along with morning Wanderlust Yoga Sessions both days featuring Eoin Finn to start the day on a relaxing and healthy note. As for art, there was plenty thanks to Danny Clinch’s Transparent Gallery which featured artwork from artists playing the festival.
Day 1 featured surfers from across the globe and on the music side an impressive line up that included Incubus, Blondie, Highly Suspect, Soja, The Tangiers Blues Band, Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls, Ben Harper and The Innocent Criminals, Brandi Carlile, and more.
Check out all the action from day one below:
PRESERVATION HALL JAZZ BAND
I started my day at the Surf Stage being entertained by New Orleans’ infamous Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Founded by tuba player Allan Jaffe in the early 1960’s, the group is now directed by his son, Ben Jaffe who also plays tuba and bass.
A staple in the French Quarter music scene, this group has twenty one albums to their credit, including their 2017 cuban-influenced release So It Is. The band members have changed throughout the years but currently consist of Branden Lewis (Trumpet), Charlie Gabriel (Clarinet / Saxophone), Walter Harris (Drums / Percussion), Kyle Roussel (Piano), Ronell Johnson (Tuba / Trombone), and Clint Maedgen (Saxophone).
The crowd on the beach at Surf stage seemed to swell to over one thousand or more when this experienced jazz ensemble took the stage.
There’s something to be said about having your toes in the sand while relishing the sounds of a double bass, tuba, baritone and soprano saxes, trombone, trumpet, keyboards and percussion mixing it up superbly. Cool jazz on a warm 70 degree beach day.
Near and dear to this group’s heart is The Preservation Hall Foundation, which was founded in 2011. Its mission is to protect, preserve, and perpetuate the musical traditions and heritage of New Orleans through education, outreach, and historical archiving.
TANGIERS BLUES BAND
Next I was off to the Park Stage to sink our teeth into the Tangiers Blues Band. This bluesy rock punk band formed in 1998 when guitarist Chris Scianni and drummer Dave Borla connected with photographer/harmonica player Danny Clinch.
Their combined love of blues music and desire to share it with the masses prompted them to perform regularly in NY and include many different musicians and special guests in their jam sessions. Their current lineup includes King, Chris Scianni, Danny Clinch, Dave Sellar, Peter Levin, and Eric Brown.
One of the band’s most unique qualities is their ability to modify non-traditional blues songs and revise blues standards so that the music appeals to a wider fan base. They did just that with their first song which was an interpretation of Prince’s single, “Kiss”. It was arranged in a slow, sexy tempo with artful harmonica accents by Danny Clinch, the visionary of the Sea.Hear.Now Festival.
They also played favorite “Waiting On The Man” with classic jams throughout. The twenty years this band has played together shows.
They are perfectly in sync with other and the music that emanates from them is such a natural expression. Fans – young and seasoned – were relaxing on the lawn; those that stood were swaying and dancing. The music was exquisite and I hoped to stay longer; however it was on to the next band!
I kept a fast pace and raced back to make sure I caught Soja perform at the Surf Stage. Formed by a group of friends in middle school, band members include Jacob Hemphill (lead vocals, guitar), Bobby Lee (bass, vocals), Ryan Berty (drums), Kenny Bongos (percussion), Patrick O’Shea (keyboards), Hellman Escorcia (saxophone), Rafael Rodriguez (trumpet), and Trevor Young (lead guitar). They jumped right in with a very high energy and enthusiasm and grabbed the crowd immediately. This group is as unique as they come, blending a wide variety of musical styles such as reggae, go-go, D.C. hardcore, Latin, rock and hip-hop.
They played their popular single “She Still Loves Me”, which highlighted a gorgeous trumpet solo by Rafael Rodriguez. His notes soared over the beat of bongos, rhythmic guitars, and softly rapped lyrics. This complex, layered musical style forms a most pleasing sound and is a true feast for the ears. Their performance of “Bad News” touched upon the current political climate which seemed to resonate with the crowd who raised their hands in unison and clapped furiously. Soja has a massive, dedicated fanbase that follows them from show to show much like the deadheads did for The Grateful Dead.
The primary intention of their 2017 studio album Poetry In Motion was a personal one. Jacob said of the album, “I want to speak for people who don’t have microphones. Our goal as a band is to stick up for the human race. We see the world and we try to make it better in the limited time we have here.” Soja definitely seemed to make that type of connection at the festival today.
SURF EXPRESSION HEATS
When proposing the idea of the Sea.Hear.Now Festival to promoters, Danny Clinch said, “The festival itself is about musicians who surf, and surfers who play music. That was our riff from the very beginning.” Well, if Clinch wanted to create a festival that was a step above, he most certainly achieved it by including surfing as a formative component in Sea.Hear.Now.
During and in between music sets, surfers competed in front of judges to see who could get the best air or carve up a wave in the most entertaining way. The bright, sunny day was a perfect backdrop for the surfers who competed for a cash prize as concertgoers cheered from the beach. The heats took place on the sparkling Atlantic Ocean between the Surf and Sand stages. One of the greatest visuals was a surfer who repeatedly pumped his fist in the air while waiting for a wave on his surfboard as Blondie was singing “Call Me” during her set. How awesome is that?
As the sun began its descent, American rock band Blondie commandeered the Surf Stage much like they did in the 1970’s and 80’s … with visceral energy and passion. It may have been 44 years since singer Debbie Harry and guitarist Chris Stein formed the group in the early new wave and punk scene, but fans of every age pushed on to the beach to hear the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers … to the point where we could barely move in the sand.
They began with favorite “One Way or Another” as Harry gracefully moved around on stage in a flowing black top that had the words “Stop Fucking The Planet” written on the back. Band members Chris Stein, Clem Burke, Leigh Foxx, Matt Katz-Bohen, and Tommy Kessler were locked in and tight behind her still silky smooth vocals. Harry commented on the beautiful backdrop of the ocean and told the crowd, “All of this salt air is making me feel really healthy. I want to jump right into the water!” She was the first of many artists who made comments today about the incredible feeling the ocean setting provided as they played.
Blondie’s most recent album, Pollinator, shows that the band is still evolving as they chose to collaborate with various artists (Sia, Charli XCX to name a few) on most of the tracks. However, when they played their beloved songs, such as “The Tide is High” and “Rapture”, it was apparent that their classic material is still relatable to the fans of all ages who packed the beach for their set.
FRANK TURNER AND THE SLEEPING SOULS
English folk singer-songwriter Frank Turner was next in the festival lineup. Originally the vocalist for the post-hardcore band Million Dead (which split in 2005), he now tours with his backing band The Sleeping Souls, which is comprised of Ben Lloyd (guitar, mandolin), Tarrant Anderson (bass), Matt Nasir (piano, mandolin), and Nigel Powell (drums).
Having never seen this band live before, we were ready to soak up the experience. Their alternative rock sound included some punk music undertones which gave them a different kind of alluring energy. This was one band that had fans come specifically to see them. Everyone on the beach seemed to know the lyrics which were as meaningful as they were entertaining. Their songs were catchy, energetic, and just plain fun. After their performance of “Make America Great Again”, Turner asked the crowd if we were all still friends. He said he had to play the song being here in America and hoped it was ok with everyone.
Turner has created seven studio albums with the most recent Be More Kind released in May 2018. He has been nominated for several awards over the years including Shockwaves NME, Bandit Rock, AIM and Kerrang awards. Winning the 2010 Kerrang No Half Measure Award and the 2011 AIM award for Best Live Act and Hardest Working Artist.
He commented on his love of Asbury Park having played at the Stone Pony and Asbury Lanes before. He joked that he enjoyed himself a bit too much recently at Asbury Lanes. Whatever transpired, he said he’s made the name “Asbury” a verb. He told the crowd, “Whenever I have a crazy night I now say ‘I’ve been Asburied!’”
BEN HARPER AND THE INNOCENT CRIMINALS
Pomona, California native Ben Harper treated the crowd to an artful mix of blues, folk, soul, reggae, and rock music as the night continued. He grew up surrounded by musicians at his grandparents’ Folk Music Center where he learned to build and repair instruments. It was apparent that he soaked up all that he heard there, as his style is beautifully diverse. If I had to compare his voice to another artist, I’d say he is similar in ilk to Dave Matthews with a very extensive range and earthy quality that resonates within you.
The beach was packed for Harper and the crowd overflow covered the boardwalk. Their set was a great mix of songs from their catalog with the highlight being “Diamonds On The Inside”. Most of their songs included play time for each band member to show off their skills.
Harper is a three-time Grammy Award winner for Best Pop Instrumental Performance and Best Traditional Soul Gospel Album in 2005 and Best Blues Album in 2014. His recently released fourteenth album – No Mercy In This Land – is a collaborative masterpiece with electric blues harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite. Their first collaboration in 2013 on Get Up! earned them a Grammy. Anyone who considers themselves a fan of blues music MUST own this album.
Surf competition viewers were lucky when they caught Harper getting into the Sea.Hear.Now spirit by carving up some waves himself today! Surf by day, play music at night. Doesn’t get much better than that!
American folk rock singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile then invited us all to join her performance on the Sand Stage. I don’t know how she did it, but it felt like we were at an intimate performance in a small club even though there were thousands of us in attendance on the beach. Her music has been described as incorporating the different genres of pop, rock, alternative country, and folk. I personally say that hearing Brandi Carlile sing is like going to church. It was an unbelievably moving experience.
Her voice is sweet, yet strong; fluid, yet raspy for effect. Carlile raises and lowers her vocals so effortlessly and artistically. You can tell the expression of her music is coming from deep within her soul. There is no filter. It is all her. And she’s very humble as well. She looked out over the crowd, almost in disbelief and said, “I just can’t wrap my head around how many fucking people are here … and look at how beautiful the ocean is.” She then went on to say, “What an honor it is to be a part of the inaugural Sea.Hear.Now. People won’t even be able to get tickets to this next year, it’s going to be so popular.”
Carlile has released six albums and is actively promoting her most recent 2018 release of By The Way, I Forgive You. The Grammy nominated singer wowed us with performances of “The Story,” “Harder To Forgive”, and “The Mother” to name just a few. She introduced her fellow musicians of eighteen years by saying, “We started this journey because of our collective love of the three-part harmony. So if you don’t mind, we’re going to sing a tune in our native tongue.” They then laid down a gorgeous acoustic of “The Eye” and you could literally hear a pin drop throughout the entire song. Carlile had the entire crowd in a musical trance.
To make her even more likable (if that’s possible), Carlile is active in advocating for causes such as health issues and women’s empowerment. She was recently motivated to create the Girls Just Wanna Weekend in response to the lack of women performers at festivals. The all-female lineup will perform in Riviera Maya, Mexico from Jan 30- Feb 3, 2019 and will feature featuring Maren Morris, Indigo Girls, Margo Price and Patty Griffin.
It’s impossible to not be a huge fan of Brandi Carlile once you hear her and I am counting the days until I can hear her again!
The crown jewel of Sea.Hear.Now’s first day was the performance of multi-platinum artist Incubus. The California-based rock band was formed by vocalist Brandon Boyd, lead guitarist Mike Einziger, and drummer Jose Pasillas in 1991 while they were still in high school. The band expanded with the addition of bass player Alex Katunich and DJ Lyfe (Gavin Koppell) who were later replaced by bassist Ben Kenney and DJ Chris Kilmore. This iconic band has produced eight studio albums, earned five #1 singles on the US Alternative Songs list, and has sold over 23 million albums worldwide.
The best way I can describe Incubus’ stage presence is to liken it to an artistic expression. A Picasso level artistic expression. From the attractive carpets Brandon stands on in bare feet to his classic all-white look and beautiful locks of hair, the music just seems to naturally ooze out of him. It looks so easy whether he’s passionately pounding out “Pardon Me” or delicately articulating “Love Hurts.” Even the setlist was creatively arranged to keep the crowd engaged throughout the performance:
Privilege / Anna Molly / Megalomaniac / A Kiss To Send Us Off / Circles / Pardon Me / No fun
Love Hurts / Sick Sad Little World / Calgone / Need You Tonight (INXS cover)
Are You In? (with a snippet of Gin And Juice’ by Snoop Dogg) / Nice To Know You /
Wish You Were Here (snippet of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here at the end) / Drive / A Crow Left of the Murder
Brandon said he has always felt like an artist since he was a very young child and that music was the unexpected passion. He’s held solo exhibits of his paintings and drawings, and has published three books of his visual art: White Fluffy Clouds (2003), From the Murks of the Sultry Abyss (2007), and So the Echo (2013). Examples of his work were on display at the festival’s pop-up art gallery and I have to say I was stoked to see them. I love following Brandon on social media so I can regularly see the artwork he’s currently creating. It’s so beautiful.
Over the last two decades, Incubus has toured with the likes of Korn, 311, the Deftones, Ozzfest, System of a Down, and many others. They have produced the hit albums Fungus Amongus (1995), S.C.I.E.N.C.E. (1997), Make Yourself (1999), Morning View (2001), A Crow Left of the Murder… (2004), Light Grenades (2006), If Not Now, When (2011), and 8 (2017). The latter was their most distinctive album with assistance coming from good friend Sonny Moore – better known as Skrillex – who did remixes of the material prior to its release. His contribution to material solidified their sound and put them into a new stylistic realm.
Fans who love Incubus for their unique musical style have many other reasons to admire the guys as well. Most notably is the formation of The Make Yourself Foundation (MYF). Since 2003, this non-profit organization has raised more than two million dollars and awarded grant funding to over 60 non-profit organizations with the help of their fans.
The additional creative outlets of these musicians doesn’t stop with Brandon’s paintings.
Jose has expanded his love of art to an extensive clothing and decorating line. The pieces are original, beautiful, and affordable.
And Mike has developed a new sound technology called MIXhalo. It replicates the high quality sound that musicians hear when they play and pushes it to a special network through an phone app. So, instead of hearing the music blaring through a speaker, fans can hear a studio-quality audio experience at a concert. It’s going to be really exciting to see what else these bandmates continue to create over the next decade.
Well, Day one was down in the books and it made a statement in a BIG way. So many smiling, satisfied faces surrounded me as we walked the boardwalk to go home. The happy vibe that existed throughout the day was still going strong at 11:00 at night! It had been a gorgeous day filled to the brim with outstanding music, stellar surfing, and a ton of food and beverage choices. Best of all was the shared feeling I felt from concertgoers of our strong love of music and the city of Asbury Park. It felt like family. I wondered how many of these exhausted concertgoers would return tomorrow. Well … we’ll just have to wait and see.