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Sea.Hear.Now Music Festival Day 1

The “powers that be” shined brightly upon the City of Asbury Park this past weekend for the 2nd Annual Sea.Hear.Now Music Festival. The sold-out event attracted thirty-five thousand fans a day (up from the 21,000 per day last year), twenty-nine bands, twenty-two professional surfers, and countless artists, musicians, and vendors who made this a weekend to remember. Pulling off such a massive festival is no easy task, but iconic photographer/organizer Danny Clinch, along with event promoter Tim Donnelly and C3 Productions, did so in spades. You see … the Sea.Hear.Now Festival is not your typical, run-of-the-mill music event. The organization of the festival was itself, an artistic accomplishment. The organizers thought outside of the box to create an all-out celebration that promotes the hip City of Asbury Park, artistry in many forms, sustainability, well-being/health, surfing, collaboration, acceptance, and, music (of course)! Read on to see just how these aspects were incorporated into the festival, making it unique and different from all others.

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THE ASBURY PARK VIBE. Last year, Rachel Ana Dobken (a local Indie artist and regular Asbury performer) told Travel & Leisure Magazine why Asbury Park is so special. She said, “People here are so accepting of new art and music, anything that’s eclectic and unique.” Couldn’t have said it any better. Asbury Park is all about acceptance. And because of that … artists, business owners, residents, and visitors are free to express themselves authentically. It produces a very vibrant, caring community that’s at the forefront of artistic expression. Thus, It’s the perfect location for Sea.Hear.Now.

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THE SURFING VIBE. One of Sea Hear Now’s most unique characteristics is the inclusion of live surfing expressions with pro surfers, board shaping demos, and more. Jake Clemons from the E Street Band was billed as “musician-in-residence and surfer” this year and showed off his skills. (His uncle often surfed off of Long Branch with his fellow E Street Band members in the early ‘70s.) Throughout the weekend, festival attendees could regularly watch the pros dominate the waves in friendly competition. The professional surfers this year were: Balaram Stack, Sam Hammer, Brett Barley, Rob Kelly, Andrew Gessler, Mike Gleason, Noah Beschen, Shane Borland, Pat Schmidt, Clay Pollioni, Quincy Davis, Cassidy McClain, Autumn Hays, Tom Ihnken, Randy Townsend, Simon Hetrick, Logan Kamen, Maddie Ryan, Morgan Iglay, Jude Clark, Seth Conboy, and Kyle Tester.

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THE WELL-BEING VIBE.   Yoga Sessions featuring Eoin Finn took place each morning of Sea.Hear.Now inside the festival site! Many relaxed and recharged together on the beach. These sessions were free and open to the general public. Eoin is the founder of Blissology Yoga whose mission is about profoundly deepening our connection to community and nature.

THE ART VIBE. Sea.Hear.Now Festival creator – Danny Clinch – took the look and feel of his Transparent Photography Gallery and created an onsite Pop-Up Art Gallery near the Park Stage in Bradley Park. Original artwork from many of the multi-talented musicians was displayed including pieces by Dave Matthews and Donavon Frankenreiter. Said Clinch, “Dave Matthews has some original drawings which are really cool and Greg Graffin from Bad Religion sent us some photos out of the blue and I couldn’t believe it. His photos are so soulful and beautiful.” Special acoustic sessions included an appearance by Infinite Color & Sound (featuring Kate Neckel and Mike McCready from Pearl Jam) and The Struts’ Luke Spiller, to name a few. These unique “meet & greet” opportunities rarely take place at typical festivals. Additionally, the work of local artist Pork Chop provided the centerpiece of the festival’s art installations with his iconic surfboard arch, as well as his sea life sculptural interpretations and more! 

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THE AFTER-HOURS VIBE.  The Stone Pony, Wonder Bar, House of Independents, The Saint, and Asbury Lanes all hosted bands throughout the festival weekend to keep the party going after-hours. The artists that performed late into the evening were: Dean Cranston, Bobby Mahoney, The Black Pumas, St Paul & The Broken Bones, The Vaughns, Low Cut Connie, The Tangiers Blues Band, Changing Lanes, The Extensions, Lettuce, The Wrecks, Ripe, Waiting on Mongo, Dave Hause & The Mermaid, and many more.

THE SUSTAINABILITY VIBE. The Sea.Hear.Now organizers think green and blue. In the festival’s first year, there were 11.88 tons of recycling with more than 9,500 festival attendees using reusable cups or bottles. It was estimated that 35,252 bottles were saved from use by the fest’s hydration stations last year as well. Although the official count isn’t in yet for 2019, it’s estimated that these initiatives were even more effective, especially thanks to the Surfrider Foundation’s Rock and Recycle Program. Sea.Hear.Now is the recipient of musician Jack Johnson’s All At Once Sustainability Award, and is committed to raising awareness about the issues facing the ocean environment, including the global plastic waste crisis and climate change.

THE FOOD & BEVERAGE VIBE.  Sea.Hear.Now takes great care in selecting the best food and beverage vendors. It was a nice touch to have food options in line with healthier living. Farm-to-table and vegan food establishments were plentiful and offered festival attendees a varied selection. Many raved about the food from local favorites Hoagitos, Betty’s Icebox, Playa Bowls, MOGO Korean Fusion Tacos, and Highway 2 Ohana. And a wide variety of specialty liquors were also available.

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THE MUSIC VIBE. What is the biggest draw for the festival? Well, the music of course! And the music vibe is strong because there is meaning behind the line-up. The line-up for Sea.Hear.Now is so much more than just a random selection of artists. Each band or artist seems to have a connection or past collaboration with one of the others. Many musicians are visual artists or have worked together on music in the past. Some have gotten their introduction into the music industry by others, several surf, many are local, and all are very passionate about improving our oceans and environment. The inclusion of musicians with these qualities is what contributes to the overall feeling and energy of Sea.Hear.Now!

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So, if you weren’t able to secure a ticket this year, come inside with me to “SEA” and “HEAR” all about it right “NOW!”

BLACK PUMAS

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I began Day One with a visit to the Sand Stage to see the soulful Black Pumas who hail from Austin, Texas. Singer Eric Burton and award-winning guitarist/producer Adrian Quesada wowed the gathering crowds with silky-smooth vocals backed by funky piano tunes, soothing strings, and innovative drum loops. They were the perfect musical choice to set the cool tone this festival is known for. Burton immersed himself into the crowd which involved everyone right from the start. You could tell many came early this day to specifically see them, and with good reason. Acclaimed by NPR as “the breakout band of 2019,” Black Pumas released their first self-titled album this past June and have already more than 8 million streams of their tunes. For that reason alone, you will want to download their album right away. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did! Once you do, you will absolutely be hooked on their sound.

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BEACH RATS

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Switching gears completely, I went to hear the set of hardcore punk rockers, The Beach Rats. Formed in 2017 right here in NJ, Beach Rats is Ari Katz (Vocals), Brian Baker (Guitar), Pete Steinkopf (Guitar), Bryan Kienlan (Bass ), and Daniel Windas (Drums). These celebrated, veteran musicians hail from the bands Minor Threat, Dag Nasty, Bad Religion, Lifetime, The Bouncing Souls, and more! Fans dug their feet in the sand early claiming their spots for the day, many to specifically catch this set. The music was gut-punching and hard-driven … yet also melodic and fresh. They dove right in and played the hits “Wasted Time, “Skins, Brains And Dubs,” “Stay All Night,” Lonely For The Night,” and “Sports Stink” from their recently- released EP, Wasted Time.  The band’s energy pumped us up for all of the music that would continue throughout the day!

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BLIND MELON

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Next up was the ultra-famous, alternative-psychedelic-blues rock band Blind Melon, all the way from Los Angeles, CA. Danny Clinch came out on stage, along with Nico Hoon (daughter of the late Blind Melon vocalist Shannon Hoon) to introduce the band. The very special connection between Clinch and the band is due, in part, to Clinch producing the documentary “All I Can Say” (about Shannon Hoon) which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival this past April. The film was crafted from years of video footage taken by Hoon himself and woven together by Clinch. Formed in 1990, the band achieved much commercial and pivotal success early on from their single “No Rain” and the band’s unique double-guitar techniques. Although Blind Melon has gone through several changes throughout their illustrious career, they have re-tooled and are stronger than ever. Christopher Thorn, Glen Graham, Rogers Stevens, Travis T Warren, Nathan Towne gave an extremely passionate and technically tight show that wowed the Sea Hear Now crowd. Clinch also joined in on his harmonica, adding another rich layer to their music. I heard countless fans talk later in the day about how good the band was and how excited they are to hear more music from the band. Speaking of which, they have a brand-new single out “Way Down and Far Below” which is extraordinary. Stevens recently said, “We’re making the best music of our careers right now.” And the band states emphatically, “In sum, we’re back.” After hearing them perform at Sea Hear Now, I think we all agree 100%.

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FANTASTIC NEGRITO

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Bay Area-based singer/songwriter Xavier Dphrepaulezz of Fantastic Negrito then conquered the Surf Stage with “Plastic Hamburgers,” An Honest Man,” and “Hump Through The Winter” to the delight of fans who were immediately hooked by his engaging stage presence and proclivity to guitar. A multi-instrumentalist, Xavier began writing songs at a young age and pulling influence from the R&B, blues, rock, folk, and funk genres to create a unique, hybrid sound. Xavier has four albums to his credit; The X-Factor, Fantastic Negrito, The Last Days of Oakland, and Please Don’t Be Dead (the latter two as Fantastic Negrito, specifically). He joked with the crowd about New Jersey women and how they can be a “little scary” if approached wrong, which garnered a lot of laughter. His tunes could be soft, soulful, and beautiful and then others were funky and upbeat which brought the crowd to their feet to dance. Even the surfers who were hitting the waves at that time seemed to get into the set by waving and pumping their fists! Xavier was definitely a favorite at Sea Hear Now, but fans aren’t the only ones impressed by his talent. He is a Grammy winner two times over for Best Contemporary Blues Album! Make sure to check out his most recent album Please Don’t Be Dead

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SURFING EXPRESSIONS AND FESTIVAL ART

As I continued my trek back and forth across the beach, I made sure to stop and catch the surfers cutting up the waves. So many talented athletes participated and festival attendees seemed to love this element.

Also, a big draw was the artwork that was the centerpiece of the entire festival, created by local artist Pork Chop. His huge half-moon creation of colorful surfboards was the place everybody gathered to take pictures proving they attended the event. Many camped out under his colorful “floating jellyfish” that fluttered in the ocean breeze providing some shade from the hot sun. And peppering the sand were life-sized paintings and photos which almost made it feel like you were walking through an art gallery on the beach.

LOW CUT CONNIE

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I then quickly made time to get to the Park Stage which was situated across Ocean Ave in Bradley Park. I ran there because I wanted to catch frontman, pianist, and songwriter Adam Weiner with his band, Low Cut Connie. The “word on the street” is that this band has the reputation as one of the most exciting live shows to see in the U.S. Well, after attending their show Friday night at The House of Independents along with their set at Sea Hear Now, I’m here to tell you the hype is accurate.

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Adam Weiner is the consummate entertainer. He’s a fireball of energy covering the entire stage, interacting with the crowd, playing piano, and singing his heart out. At any time during his performance, you may find him on top, underneath, or holding yoga-like positions on his piano … while playing, of course! And he’s backed by insanely talented musicians, notably his female vocalist who had incredible range and power. The group played crowd favorites “Rio,” “Boozophilia,” and “Dirty Water,” to name just a few and when they were finished fans did not want them to stop. But the crowd at Sea Hear Now won’t be the only ones to tell you how amazing this band is. Low Cut Connie has notable supporters in Sir Elton John, Howard Stern, and Barack Obama (who added their song “Boozaphilia” to his playlist of favorite songs). And Rolling Stone even included Dirty Pictures (Part 2) on their list of the 50 Best Albums of 2018. Not too shabby. To hear that album, along with Dirty Pictures (Part 1), Hi Honey, Call Me Sylvia, and Get Out The Lotion, click here.

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And I’m sure you’re wondering what inspired their band name? According to an interview with Knox News, the band’s name refers to a waitress who often wore low-cut tops at a restaurant near where Weiner grew up. But, to tell you the truth … we’re still not sure!

JOAN JETT & THE BLACKHEARTS

The Surf Stage viewing area was packed when I returned to the beach as the “queen of rock and roll” … the “Godmother of Punk” herself – Joan Jett – began to entertain her lifelong fans and school the young ‘uns on what real rock music should sound like. The 2015 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees played with enthusiasm, joy, energy, and chops as if they were just starting their careers and trying to prove themselves. Sounding better than ever, Jett (along with Thommy Price, Dougie Needles, Hal B. Selzer, and Michael McDermott) made sure to play favorites “I Love Rock ‘N Roll,” “I Hate Myself For Loving You,” Bad Reputation,” “Cherry Bomb,” and “You Drive Me Wild” along with many others. Beach Balls were bouncing throughout the huge crowd and Jett chided the audience by saying, “C’mon New Jersey, I KNOW you can sing!” She got everyone to sing the chorus with her during “Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah).” As I stood on the boardwalk listening, I could actually feel it pumping up and down to the beat!

As the entire crowd was rocking out, I was wondering if the younger generation realized what legends they were seeing. Jett, a trailblazer for all female musicians, has eight platinum and gold albums and nine Top 40 singles. In 2010, the movie – The Runaways – was made about Jett’s first band formed when she was only 15 years old. In 2018, Bad Reputation, a documentary about Jett’s life premiered to critical acclaim at the Sundance Film Festival. And I absolutely love the determination and belief Jett has always had in her music. Her independent record label, Blackheart, was founded in 1980 after she was rejected by no less than 23 labels. It is to this day one of the longest-running indie labels and continues to give voice to new bands. A spokesperson for PETA and a devoted supporter of the US Military, Jett says, “I consider myself so lucky to have been able to do things my own way.” Her performance at Sea Hear Now was the perfect example of just that!

THE STRUTS

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UK Glam rockers – The Struts – came on next and the crowd at Sand Stage swelled to the point where many fans just had to watch from the boardwalk. I have seen them perform seven times already and, to be honest, was more excited to see them than anyone else at the festival. Formed in 2012, Luke Spiller (Lead Vocals), Addo Slack (Guitar and Vocals), Jed Elliott (Bass and Vocals), and Gethin Davies (Drums) are a rock and roll phenomenon. Having opened for rock legends The Rolling Stones, Guns N’ Roses, Mötley Crüe, The Who, and Foo Fighters, they are now successfully headlining sold-out shows in their own right. Their single “Could Have Been Me” hit No 1 on Spotify’s Viral Top 50, No 4 on iTunes rock singles chart and was in the top 5 on US alternative and active rock charts. Also topping charts are singles “Kiss This” and “Body Talks.” The Struts transcend the live concert experience. Spiller dazzled the audience with spins, iconic poses, and fan interactions, telling the crowd he wanted everyone to “lose their shit” and jump up and down in unison to their tunes. (Which everyone did, by the way!) Slack, Elliott and Davies are superbly talented musicians who provided tightly-knit rock creations that were a solid backdrop to Spiller’s vocals. All four bandmates are an equal part of the group’s success and although that can sometimes get lost with such a charismatic frontman, it just isn’t the case with the Struts. Slack performs gorgeous guitar solos atop Elliott’s impressive bass lines and Davies’ pounding rock riffs.

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Paying homage to Bruce Springsteen and the Jersey Shore, The Struts did a searing rendition of “Dancing In The Dark” and called up a young fan to fill the “Courtney Cox role” and dance with him. Although a little unsure about being on such a big stage, Spiller guided her to imitate his dance moves and the crowd cheered wildly in approval. The positive fan reactions are not lost on the guys, so Spiller did take time to mention their struggles in the past with just being accepted as a real band. “We’ve been dropped, kicked, and beaten down … but we will NEVER, EVER stop being The Struts for you.”

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The band played “Primadonna Like Me,” “Put Your Money On Me,” “Kiss This,” and “Fire(Part1)” to name just a few; the latter being from their newest album Young & Dangerous, which is a must-listen for every rock fan!  After their set, I saw fans disperse breathless, happy, and sweaty from their participation.

RAINBOW KITTEN SURPRISE

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I couldn’t wait to catch the next band – Rainbow Kitten Surprise – as I have heard so many great things about them. Hailing from Boone, North Carolina, RKS regularly sells out shows and is asked to play in some of the largest festivals and venues in the nation. Labeled as an “alternative rock/indie band,” it seems unfair to try and fit this group into one genre. Samuel Melo (lead vocals), Darrick “Bozzy” Keller (guitar, backup vocals), Ethan Goodpaster (electric guitar), Jess Haney (drums), and Charlie Holt (bass) were an absolute breath of fresh air. Their music took unexpected turns with rhythms, singing techniques, and unique instrumentation that absolutely mesmerized the audience. I loved their “in-your-face” lyrics that force you to sit up and pay attention.

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One thing I noticed immediately is that RKS’ fanbase is insanely dedicated. I’ve never seen so many people so overly excited to see a band! Fans were yelling loudly throughout the set, “We freakin’ love you guys!” The smokey stage was the perfect backdrop to their gorgeous interwoven harmonies and the band member’s connection to one another was very endearing. As they played, they would dance around and lean into one another showing us physically the connection they must feel musically with each other. It was actually as beautiful to watch as it was to listen to. “Devil Like Me,” “Cocaine Jesus,” and “Matchbox” were obviously crowd favorites, but every song they played was well received. In addition to the albums Seven + Mary and RKS, their newest release How to: Friend, Love, Freefall is out now featuring their hit single, “Fever Pitch.” Make sure to catch the amazing video!

THE LUMINEERS

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The Lumineers were the perfect Day 1 headliner for Sea Hear Now because they totally embody that cool vibe the festival promotes. They exuded a calm – almost divine – presence on stage when they came out but then exploded right in front of our eyes into the musical giants they are today. What drives their beautifully haunting songs are deep, meaningful storylines that take you on a journey. But then the diverse, multi-layered instrumentation makes their sound and presence that much more potent and effective. Fans were calm yet overly happy as they danced and sang along passionately, especially to favorites like “Ho Hey,” “Ophelia,” “Sleep on the Floor,” and “Stubborn Love.”

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The Lumineers gave the huge crowd a treat as they sang for part of the night on a secondary stage in the middle of the beach, giving many more fans a chance to see their idols up close. The Lumineers have three Albums: The Lumineers (which went triple platinum and had 2 Grammy nominations), Cleopatra (2016), and their brand-new III, just released on Sept 13, 2019. This most recent album is quite progressive as it is a visual exploration as well as a storied musical opus. It’s organized in three chapters corresponding with the album’s ten tracks, and it follows three generations of a working-class family. The songs touch on powerful subjects such as drink and drug addiction, depression, and dysfunctional relationships.

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The Lumineers released videos for every song on Chapter I, II, III, completing a full visual album. All parts of the video series (many that have millions of views already) can be viewed here. It is a true masterpiece.

The Lumineers closed out their set with an encore that consisted of “Donna,” “Angela,” and “Big Parade” that left us all content, happy, and a bit tired from the day’s festivities.

Day Two of Sea Hear Now was not far off and we all conversed on the way out about how it could possibly top this first glorious day. Well, make sure to check out our Day Two coverage (coming soon) to see how it all went!

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