Last Saturday and Sunday, nearly 35,000 attendees flocked to the Jersey Shore for Sea.Hear.Now Festival to revel and relax amidst the crown jewel of New Jersey’s musical scene, Asbury Park. Local food vendors, daily surf contests, and colorful art installations provided a multi-faceted level of preparation to this blossoming event. The handrails were removed from the boardwalk as a more open-space layout allowed people to wander around and disperse, without blocking the staircases to the beach as the year prior. With no cell phone service, the surfboards and beach-themed art installations proved to be the natural meeting points for friends. Festival Partners—Heineken, Red Stripe, Founders Brewing—amongst a variety of big market liquor brands provided the refreshments, chosen over the many local nearby breweries.
Rumors began to circulate immediately about Bruce Springsteen making another appearance like he did with Social Distortion at the inaugural Sea.Hear.Now Festival last year. The music legend turned Broadway star helped put the small shore town on the map with his now infamous 1973 Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. album and who also just celebrated his 70th birthday on September 23rd. However, nothing more materialized besides the murmurings that The Boss was prowling behind the scenes, though several acts played tributes to Springsteen.
After an appetizing Friday night full of tunes provided by Lettuce at The Stone Pony and The Wrecks at the Wonder Bar (with other bands playing on the boardwalk at Langosta Lounge and Asbury Park Yacht Club), day one of Sea.Hear.Now got underway as the Black Pumas and the appropriately named, Boardwalk Social Club and Beach Rats, opened the festivities. Under a clear blue sky and plenty of sunshine, Blind Melon, Fantastic Negrito, and Sharon Van Etten traded sets between the two massive stages propped up right on the white sand beach. Festival organizer, promoter, and photographer, Danny Clinch, jumped onstage with his harmonica to assist his old friends and photo subjects, Blind Melon, with their set.
Across the street at the Park Stage, Gaten Matarazzo– Dustin from Stranger Things’ notoriety- and his band, Work In Progress, performed with Mike McCready of Pearl Jam before relinquishing the stage in order for Low Cut Connie, Donavon Frankenreiter, and Cat Power to shred, respectively. All of this went down, as a surf contest raged on amongst the crashing waves.
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, brought their badass sound to the sandy scene before sending the action over to an electrifying set by The Struts who played “Dancing in the Dark” as a tribute to Bruce Springsteen. Rainbow Kitten Surprise brought the crowd back to the other end of the beach to show off their goods. The rockers from North Carolina just recently finished their first international tour, including a sold-out show at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, and performed at Austin City Limits, Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, as well as Widespread Panic’s Trondossa Festival.
Bad Religion brought the audience back to the glory days of punk rock to finish off the Sand Stage as the sun set. They finished their set with their rock anthem “American Jesus” before passing the torch to The Lumineers as they performed to a crowded beachfront as the last and only act as the day’s headliner. Founding members Wesley Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites began performing together in nearby Ramsey, New Jersey. Schultz spoke about Bruce Springsteen’s influence on their early music career in between songs right before covering The Boss’s 1975 hit, “Thunder Road”.
As the festival’s first day wound down and Uber / Lyft rates skyrocketed, many of the crowd explored the boardwalk to discover more music that emulated from nearly every corner of this artistic beach town. While only recently returning to its former glory, music and arts have always remained a staple in the city’s vibrant nightlife scene.
The weather remained perfect as the second day was opened by local rockers Brick + Mortar from nearby Toms River. Keeping a beat going to accompany the fun in the sun, Philadelphia’s Dave Hause & The Mermaid were followed by RIPE on the other end of the beach, as well as New Jersey’s own Lowlight on the Park Stage. RIPE hosted an after party at the Wonder Bar the night prior, and have experience playing on the beach of Asbury Park as former participants of the infamous Jams on the Sand, which introduces up-and-coming acts on the sand every Thursday of the summer. The reggae rhythms of England’s Steel Pulse bounced right into Marcus King Band’s set under the afternoon sun.
Marcus King, only 23 years young, has been creating waves in the music industry for his soulful style of singing blended with his scorching guitar licks. Marcus was fresh off the stage of Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival in Dallas, TX following his performance on Friday, and performed a fiery rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run.” Meanwhile, men and women shared the waves in the second day of the surf competition.
New Jersey natives Fred Schneider and Kate Pierson guided The B-52’s through their timeless hits such as “Love Shack”, “Private Idaho”, and their whacky beach anthem “Rock Lobster” (“We were at the beach / Everybody had matching towels!”). Musical festival veterans from Alabama, St. Paul and the Broken Bones, played a late afternoon set on the beach as well as an after-party Saturday night at the Stone Pony. The Wrecks and English singer, Jade Bird, delivered raw performances at the Park Stage before the crowd unified for a peaceful Dispatch set on the beach. The set included the classics “Bats in the Belfry” and “The General” as well as covering Phil Collins‘ “In the Air Tonight.”
Across the beach, Dropkick Murphys came down from Massachusetts, bringing the bagpipes, flutes, and banjos with them to perform their characteristic Celtic punk. Their songs were built around Irish traditional folk song melodies and rhythms with an added slant of bawdy, barroom Americanism. A mosh pit formed on the beach, kicking sand into the air as the audience on the boardwalk stomped heartily to the frenzied beat. They spanned their prolific career with their original tunes “The Boys are Back”, “Johnny I Hardly Knew Ya”, and “The State of Massachusetts”. In honor of Ric Ocasek, the recently deceased singer and guitarist of The Cars, Dropkick Murphys covered “Just What I Needed” before agitating the ravenous crowd with walk-off home runs with “Rose Tattoo” and “I’m Shipping to Boston.” With lyrics penned by folk legend, Woody Guthrie, “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” has spread prolifically throughout sports, movies, and St. Patrick’s Day playlists ever since its inclusion on The Departed’s 2006 soundtrack.
While the mosh pit circled in the sand, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong played a tight-pocket set across the street on the Park Stage. With the appropriate nautical theme weaved through their setlist, the up-and-coming funky rockers from Baltimore aced smooth performances of “Under The Sea” sandwiched inside “Julia”, “Poseidon” and “Ocean Flows.” Unlike many of the other performers, the band welded their songs together, melding seamless transitions for a constant flow of uninterrupted jams.
Dave Matthews Band finished the second night and the second year of Sea.Hear.Now with a two-hour headlining set that ran the gamut of their extensive catalogue of nine studio albums and countless more live tapes. The band was fresh off of their Saturday night performance at Farm Aid, which Dave co-hosts alongside Willie Nelson, Neil Young, and John Mellencamp every year. Dave Matthews put his lifelong experience to use with standout performances of “Don’t Drink the Water”, “Everyday”, and “Grey Street” before diving into a slew of covers including Prince’s “Sexy M.F.”, an AC/DC & Bee Gees combined “Back in Black / Stayin’ Alive”, and Steve Miller Band’s “Fly like an Eagle”. To close out their headlining set, Dave Matthews Band performed original classics “Crash into Me” transitioning into “Ants Marching”.
This festival is showing no signs of slowing down. With improvements in the layout and another stacked line-up celebrating the musical artists hailing from New Jersey through the decades, Sea.Hear.Now has proven itself to be a force to be reckoned with. After all, who doesn’t want to enjoy a weekend on the beach during Indian Summer, toes in the sand, cold drink in hand, while being barraged by non-stop tunes across many genres and generations?
Check out a gorgeous gallery of photos from the weekend below courtesy of photographer Matthew Rea.