Asbury Park has been a hidden gem on the Jersey Shore long before Bruce Springsteen put the city’s name on his 1973 album, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. Its history goes back even longer with rock n’ roll bars serving spirits throughout prohibition, an amusement park nearly as old as Coney Island’s, premier beach resorts competing with only Atlantic City, boardwalks brimming with food vendors and refreshments, and miles of white sand beaches.

Johnny Cash was part-owner and investor in the Berkeley Hotel where he kept a penthouse suite to stay at whenever performing at the adjacent architectural marvel, Convention Hall. Led Zeppelin’s manager Peter Grant turned down 1969’s Woodstock Music and Art Fair to perform two nights of shows at Convention Hall with Joe Cocker as the opening act. Joe Cocker would leave after his set the second night to make it to the festival in time to give one of his most memorable performances.

The same venue hosted an immortal pantheon of musical performances from legendary acts such as Black Sabbath, The Beach Boys, James Brown, The Byrds, Ray Charles, Chicago, The Doors, The J. Geils Band, Janis Joplin, Jerry Garcia Band, Otis Redding, The Rolling Stones, The Temptations, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, The Who, Lynyrd Skynyrd (mere months before the group’s 1977 plane crash), The Allman Brothers Band, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Blue Öyster Cult, Tool, King Crimson, Peter Gabriel, Elvis Costello, The Clash, Van Halen, KISS, Blondie, and more recently Bob Dylan, Incubus, Slipknot, Killswitch Engage, Pantera, Furthur, and Tiësto. And that’s not even close to a complete list, dozens of other nationally touring acts performed here while an infinite number of fledgling bands performed at the handful of other local venues that are scattered around town.

Eventually, Asbury Park fell from its uncontested throne as the leading destination on the Jersey Shore during the ’80s and didn’t recover until the 2010s. After Hurricane Sandy destroyed most of the boardwalk and damaged many structures in 2012, Asbury Park built a new boardwalk and began a period of reconstruction and rebirth. Once more, many people began to see value in the city and invested in the relatively undervalued properties and, like a phoenix, the dilapidated city began to rise from its own ashes. The ensuing rebirth was centered around its culture, specifically its deep roots in live music, art, and cuisine.

The inaugural Sea.Hear.Now Festival in 2018 epitomized the restoration of the city to its glory days and brought aboard big names in the music business representing a wide array of genres, a foam-slashin’ surf competition, street and gallery artists, food vendors, and the assistance of one omnipresent photographer with a history of being in the right place at the right time, Danny Clinch. Past S.H.N. lineups featured Jack Johnson, Blondie, Social Distortion, Incubus, Dave Matthews Band, The Lumineers, Dispatch, Marcus King, The B-52s, Bad Religion, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, Pearl Jam, The Smashing Pumpkins, Patti Smith, Billy Idol, The Avett Brothers, and Orville Peck, just to name a few.

Ideally scheduled at the beginning of Indian summer, the festival seizes the last of the warm weather and ocean temperatures of summer but without the crowds or steep summer prices. Also known as Local Summer, it’s the undetermined period of time between Labor Day and cold weather when the inhabitants of shore towns can enjoy the deserted beaches and empty bars.

The two-day festival kicked off under a cloudless, sunny sky. A cool breeze drifted lazily off the ocean to the sounds of Dogs In a Pile, Peach Pit, Celisse, Billy Strings, Gary Clark Jr., Boy George & Culture Club, My Morning Jacket, and headliner Stevie Nicks. One stage was set up in the grassy fields of Bradley Park and two more massive stages were planted in the sand to distribute the crowds across the beach and north side of the town’s boardwalk. The fourth iteration of the festival was a surefire success.

Celisse tore up the Park Stage before Billy Strings stole the crowds from the beach stages for a condensed festival set that opened with “On The Line” from 2017’s Turmoil & Tinfoil. The Stanley Brothers’ “Train 45” rolled down the tracks into “This Old World”, the first of several off his latest release, 2021’s Renewal. Consecutive covers of Mother Love Bone’s “Crown of Thorns” and Béla Fleck’s “Tentacle Dragon” led back into Renewal tunes “Heartbeat of America” and “In The Morning Light” appearing in the same order as on the album.

Between songs, Billy observed how crazy it’s been playing in Asbury through the years. Only five years ago, he played The Saint, a proving ground for many artists, new and old. With each annual pilgrimage to the town, he was hosted by venues with greater and greater capacity. First, The Wonder Bar, then the inside of the Stone Pony, the next year he performed outside of the Stone Pony on the Summerstage for over 5,000 fans. Now, he’s grown his audience even further in a festival where fans can have their toes in the sand or in the grass, where barefoot dancing and Strings’ music flourishes.

Getting back to the music with 2016’s eponymous debut EP, a mean pluckin’ “Thirst Mutilator” was followed by a breakneck “Running”. Back to his earliest days, Doc Watson’s “Brown’s Ferry Blues” and “Dos Banjos” preceded “Home” from the 2019 album of the same name. Sticking to his guns, Billy and the gang performed the traditional “Katie Daly” before returning to his newest material with “Hide and Seek” to close out the show.

Next, Gary Clark Jr. performed on the beach as the crowd made the trek back to the other stage, removing their shoes as they went. The night fell and people stuck their toes in the sand by the time Gary Clark Jr. opened with “Bright Lights”. He stayed within the realms of 2012’s Blak and Blu as he followed with “Ain’t Messin ‘Round” and welcomed Danny Clinch and his harmonica onstage for a rowdy rendition of “Next Door Neighbor Blues”.

The rockstar-in-the-making flexed his vocal chops, intense lyrics, and heavy guitar licks all at once during “Feed the Babies”—off his most recently released album, 2019’s This Land—before falling back to 2015’s The Story of Sonny Boy Slim for “Our Love” and “Can’t Sleep”. Gary Clark Jr. returned to his first full-length album (Blak and Blu) to finish off his set as “Please Come Home” led into a closing performance of “When My Train Pulls In”.

Racing back to the Park Stage, cold refreshments in hand, My Morning Jacket, true to its reputation as a top-tier live rock band, crushed an extended set of scorching rippers that kicked off with “Gideon” from 2005’s Z. “Spring (Among The Living)”, “Victory Dance”, and the fan-favorite “One Big Holiday” flowed in succession accompanied by enveloping lights and frontman Jim James‘ energetic vocals.

Halfway through, “Circuital” and the recently released “Love Love Love” carried momentum into the more well-known classics “Lay Low” and “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream Pt. 2”. MMJ finished the show with the cutting closer “Wordless Chorus” from 2005’s Z, just where the set had begun.

Back to the beach for the headlining act, Stevie Nicks strung together well-known staples from her career including “Dreams”, “Gypsy”, “Gold Dust Woman”, “Landslide, “Edge of Seventeen”, and “Rhiannon.” She also sprinkled in covers of Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth”, Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’” and the Nicks-Petty co-written “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around”, and closed the first night with Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll”.

Despite the first day of the festival in the rearview, the music didn’t stop until late into the night as after parties at the Wonder Bar and Stone Pony fueled the fire. At the Stone Pony, the Tangiers Blues Band served as the house band assisted by the horn section of Ocean Avenue Stompers and keyboardist Ryan Gregg. The stage door was a revolving one as Celisse, Danny Clinch, Andy Frasco, and members of My Morning Jacket all made appearances onstage to serve up a badass selection of tunes. MMJ performed Bill Withers‘ “Ain’t No Sunshine” and Prince’s “Purple Rain” during which the overcoat-clad vocalist Jim James seemed to float onstage, emblazoned by a golden aura of stage lights.

Sunday presented another full slate of performances with The Vansaders, Shakey Graves, Wet Leg, Andy Frasco & The U.N., Michael Franti & Spearhead, IDLES, Tai Verdes, Cage the Elephant, The Head and the Heart, Courtney Barnett, and headlining act Green Day.

Music and surf raged all day until night fell and American rockers Green Day took the stage to close out the festival with a run through their older material. Bursting onstage and giving the fans what they want, early and often, the band opened with “American Idiot” and followed with “Holiday.” “Know You’re Enemy” set the stage for “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” After, three more old-school originals “Longview”, “Welcome to Paradise”, and “Hitchin’ a Ride” flew like a barrage of punches.

KISS’ “Rock and Roll All Night” juiced the crowd up before “Brain Stew”, “St. Jimmy”, and “When I Come Around” kept the energy maxed out. Green Day squeezed a tease of Guns N’ Roses‘ “Sweet Child O’ Mine” into “Disappearing Boy” and rounded the corner of the set with “21 Guns” and “Minority”.

A cover of Operation Ivy’s “Knowledge” featuring an adolescent guitarist from the audience charged forth into a singalong of “Basket Case” and a raunchy punk-rock version of “King For a Day”. The last cover of the set came in the form of The Isley Brothers’ “Shout” before Green Day moved back to its own repertoire with the temporally appropriate “Wake Me Up When September Ends”.

Closing out the set in between explosive eruptions of fireworks, the raucous banger, “Jesus of Suburbia” set up one final farewell as “Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)” closed out the fourth iteration of Sea.Hear.Now with the vocal help from the faceless army of dedicated attendees still on the beach, hand-in-hand or arm-around-shoulders, and wholesome joy radiating from the body language everywhere.

As the tired but happy fans shuffled out the gates to a colorful display of fireworks, another night of after-parties was hosted by Danny Clinch’s Transparent Gallery at the Asbury Lanes. With a ribbon and bow, Sea.Hear.Now gave the city all it ever needed and more. It represents the city’s return to a triumphant era, which some thought to be impossible as the faded neglect of suburban decay rotted through the streets and neighborhoods like a highly-contagious infection.

Where once deemed hazardous and unsafe, Asbury now prides itself as a safe haven for musicians, artists, socially rejected, sexually deviant, young, and old. Sea.Hear.Now has restored this lively city to its former glory as a mecca for inclusion, accepting all genres and backgrounds to bring their own tastes and vibes to the family-style potluck, being forever dedicated to the moments—big or small—and making the most of our time together. Seen. Heard. Until next year, you stole my heart once again.

Thank you, Danny Clinch, Tim Donnelly, Tim Sweetwood, HM Wollman, and the rest of the event organizers, promoters, artists, and bands for making this a once-in-a-lifetime event for all ages. Attendees left this event with more appreciation for each other, our special little place in time and space. Cheers to making irrefutable memories on the Jersey Shore, a place that no matter how far you roam, will always be, forever, our home.

Scroll down to check out a gallery of photos from Sea.Hear.Now courtesy of photographer Chris Spiegel as well as a collection of fan-shot videos.

Dogs In A Pile – “Dupree’s Diamond Blues” (Grateful Dead) – 9/17/22

[Video: Marc Komito]

Billy Strings – “Crown of Thorns” (Mother Love Bone) – 9/17/22

[Video: Marc Komito]

Gary Clark Jr. – “Bright Lights” – 9/17/22

[Video: Dan Live Music Fan]

My Morning Jacket – “One Big Holiday” – 9/17/22

[Video: Justin Strickland]

My Morning Jacket – “Purple Rain” (Prince) – 9/17/22 (After Party)

[Video: Tom Parr]

Stevie Nicks – “Seventeen”, “Edge of Seventeen”, “Rhiannon” – 9/17/22

[Video: Jim Powers]

Stevie Nicks – “Dreams” – 9/17/22

[Video: Dan Live Music Fan]

Courtney Barnett – “Avant Gardener” – 9/18/22

[Video: Sherri D]

Green Day – “Knowledge” (Operation Ivy) – 9/18/22

[Video: Luke Rocks]

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