Asbury Park, New Jersey is a music town through and through–a town whose history is embroidered with historic acts like Bruce Springsteen and venues like the Stone Pony. Early in the 2000s, a noticeable decline in the economy of the town could be noticed. The once-famous carnival and well-cultured town had laid rest to failing local businesses and older properties. Here, though, on the first annual day of the new Sea.Hear.Now festival, the revival of Asbury Park is well noticeable. And all one has to do to see why is look around. “Music Saved Asbury Park” can be seen on multiple shirts from concert goers and following the success (and also the failure) of Bamboozle festival and Skate and Surf festival, Asbury hadn’t had a full-on music festival in a few years.
What works about Sea.Hear.Now is the theme. The surf vibe, with appropriate music to go along with the waves, can be felt from blocks away. Not only are surfboards the highlight here, but so are the tunes that go along with them.
SOJA is the first group that put on a real end of the summer vibe. The Arlington, Virginia reggae band took the stage to an impressive crowd that was receptive to a Jamaican vibe that goes with the beach. This was not the last of the day with that vibe at all. The English Beat and all their ska-infused British goodness played classic ‘80s tracks like “Hands Off… She’s Mine.” Their set was ska at its simplest form, without all the ‘90s punk vibe but to more of the Specials take, where the ska is overlapped with the instruments and rhythm of reggae. For a crowd that ranged across all decades, the English Beat still struck a positive nerve with everybody.
Following that, the iconic Blondie took the stage. This isn’t a surf band obviously, but this was almost a hometown show for lead singer Debbie Harry, who stated in the set that she spent many times in Asbury Park during her childhood. With a powerful coat that had written on the back of it “stop fucking the planet,” Harry played her most memorable tracks that all the fans were excited to hear. “Rapture,” an extremely influential track to hip-hop, created a fun dancing atmosphere while tracks like “Call Me” and “Heart of Glass” allowed for sing-alongs among the thousands of fans in attendance.
After Blondie and Debbie Harry stole the show, they were followed up across the sand by Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls. Although Blondie was a tough, almost impossible act to follow, the British group created an incredibly fun and positive space during his set. Turner began the set by stating this was the 2,246th show of his career. Well, he clearly has grown a lot over the time because there was a dedicated fanbase at this show reciting every lyric and probably knowing every mannerism of the band’s live performance. This may be the most positive punk band in history. With songs like “Get Better” and “Be More Kind” on the setlist, listeners couldn’t help but smile and sing along. The set built to a climax when Frank Turner started roaming the crowd and the boardwalk, all while singing “Common Ground,” a track that encourages the dance and participation of others. Overall, this set may not have been surf-themed, but the good vibes were most certainly present.
At the same time over at the park stage, which was slightly out of the way from the beach but not too bad, Deer Tick took the stage with their blend of traditional indie rock. The group is known for playing some cover songs in their live set and they played to the Jersey crowd covering the boss, Bruce Springsteen, himself. They still had the fans enjoying themselves with hits like “The Dream’s in the Ditch” and “Jumpstarting.”
Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals were next. Harper combines a multitude of genres such as reggae, blues, folk and more, and it seemed to be the perfect blend for this specific scene. He also covered the boss with his rendition of “Atlantic City” which even the walkers on the boardwalk couldn’t help but sing along to a song they knew so well while passing Harper’s performance. That was the vibe for Harper all the way through–a very welcome and opening community of fans. It was the perfect music for laying a towel down on the beach and relaxing as the sun came down.
The next two acts were Brandi Carlile and Highly Suspect. These were two very different acts causing audience goers to make a decision between the two. For the Brandi Carlile crowd, they got a very positive and appropriately timed folk and rock set. She sang some politically charged tracks like “Hold Out Your Hand” as well as her classic hits like “The Story.” Her soft-spoken, yet powerful voice rang deep on the beach and the fans were hanging onto her every word. Highly Suspect was more of a harder rock that was more prominent on Day Two, but this was a nice preview of what was to come. Their set started with some loud hip-hop that, if they had never seen the group before, may have led some to think they were at the wrong stage. When the songs started, though, the deep, grungy yet modern instrumentals were loud and in your face. Songs like “My Name is Human” were a wake-up call on a fairly mellow day.
The headliner for day one was Incubus–the ‘90s and ‘00s alternative metal and rock group were the perfect way to end the first day. Incubus’ hits are without question meant to be heard on a California beach, and although Sea.Hear.Now was on the east coast, the feel was still the same. “Drive” is an iconic hit that almost every kid who grew up in the early 2000s knows by heart. Hearing it on the beach was only the icing on the cake. They also played their other classic songs like “Pardon Me” and “Wish You Were Here” (which had a nice Pink Floyd version epilogue).
On a day where surfers tried to ride waves that weren’t really there, the artists of Sea.Hear.Now were making up for the lack of tide. It’s the perfect way to end the summer and the best way to bring back the music festival to Asbury Park.
Photo Credit: Boston Lynn Schulz