The First Day of Danny Clinch’s Sea.Hear.Now Fest Was Jam Packed With Talent Incubus, Brandi Carlile & Ben Harper Lead Diverse Line-Up For Stellar Day Of Music
ASBURY PARK, NJ- Day one included performances by Battery Electric, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Jesse Malin, Tangiers Blues Band, SOJA, Carl Broemel, The English Beat, Blondie, Deer Tick, Frank Turner and The Sleeping Souls, Ben Harper and The Innocent Criminals, Brandi Carlile, Highly Suspect, Incubus as well as yoga on the beach and pro surfing.
I was really excited when I saw The Battery Electric in the lineup. Comprised of all local musicians, this band represents the LOCAL Asbury Park music scene, which for me is huge. The Battery Electric members are Ron Santee on lead vocals, Brent Bergholm on guitar, Alex Rosen on bass and Kevin Troller on drums.
Battery Electric represents what true rock music should be: gritty, loud and served with a side of attitude. Battery fans came out to play hard, to rock, drink, scream and generally get crazy with the hometown crowd.
With a cast of homegrown music freaks in attendance, Battery Electric took the stage with Santee summoning spirits to to infuse his performance with a throwback to a seventy’s classic rock idol working the stage in a bigger than life fashion while his bandmates laid down the background noise. Seeing the guys from Battery involved in this festival sent a very clear message that the local music scene is important and truly matters as it should. No surprises from The Battery Electric, just a banging set as expected.
Making my way to the Park Stage, I could see a crowd of music fans taking up their place on the lawn in anticipation of the Tangiers Blues Band. Originally formed in 1998, the band’s current lineup is King, Chris Scianni, Danny Clinch, Dave Sellar, Pete Levin and Eric Brown.
Front man King was dressed in a trench coat and wearing a white fedora with a black band, not unlike a gangster from a bygone era. With a gorgeous Gretsch double cutout hollow body guitar strung over his shoulder and a smile on his face, he rang out the first chords of the set with the crowd stirring to life. The band is known for its hard driving blues and rock foundation and draws from a broad source of influences to achieve its trademark sound that drives the crowd to move.
From the outset you can see that this is a very well-rehearsed musical unit, from Chris Scianni’s cutting guitar riffs to Danny Clinch’s bluesy, melodic harmonica work this band delivers a sweet, soulful but bold sound that commands attention. While the cast of band members may change from time to time, one thing remains clear is how much fun this band has on stage. Is it possible to be this tight while appearing so loose and spontaneous? Well, check out the Tangiers Blues Band and see for yourself.
I’m not so sure it would be fair to call SOJA just a reggae band. Not that this is a bad thing, it just doesn’t tell the whole story. Combining elements of rap, Motown, reggae and funk with a political and social twist, SOJA attempts to (and successfully) deliver music that’s different, life-changing and important. Armed with a musical arsenal including Jacob Hemphill on vocals and guitar, Bob Lee on bass, Pat Oshea on keys, Ryan Berty on drums, Kenny Bongos on percussions, Hellman Escorcia on sax, Rafael Rodriguez on trumpet and Trevor Young on guitar, SOJA is a diverse musical force.
SOJA has been together for twenty years. Originally formed by a bunch of grade school kids, this band is extremely tight as you would imagine. Watching this band, you get the feeling that they really like what they do together. Hemphill’s vocals and guitar work, Bob Lee’s bass lines and Escocia and Rodriguez each taking numerous solo runs on the brass creating complex layers of sonics.
SOJA plays intricate music but maintains a level of improvisation which contributes well to their live show, and an overall organic experience. Despite the large crowd SOJA’s set felt very intimate and powerful with the crowd truly enjoying the experience.
The English Beat turned the sandy, Jersey beach into a skank-fest / dance party, with the ska beats so infectious few could resist letting go. The English Beat date back to 1978 and are considered pioneers of the ska (two-tone) movement and are currently touring in support of their latest studio album Here We Go Love!
The English beat energized the crowd via front man Dave Wakelings distinct vocals and bands classic two-tone sound, incorporating punk, reggae, and soul elements which are the foundation of today’s ska-punk scene. Backed by several other band members Wakeling led the way with his trademark teardrop shaped guitar playing chords and riffs that truly identify the band, and its roots
Dominated by its classic songs, The English Beat had the crowd skankin to “Save It for Later” and the crowd favorite, “Tenderness”. The English beat has been on my “must see” list for quite a while and they certainly didn’t disappoint.
September 1978 Blondie released their critically acclaimed album Parallel Lines, thrusting the band to commercial success via the hit “Heart of Glass”. Fast forward almost forty years to the date and I feel as though I’m watching musical history as Blondie takes the stage at Sea.Hear.Now.
Debbie Harry walked to the end of the stage, you could clearly see the crowd’s reflection in her mirrored sunglasses as her bandmates assumed their positions on stage. After a bit of banter with the crowd the band dove right into “One Way or Another”, Debbie Harry’s vocals on point and the bands sonics tight, the raucous crowd dancing. The set continued with “Call Me”, Debbie Harry turning her back on the crowd revealing the words “Stop Fucking the Planet” emblazoned on the back of her top, the crowd showing their approval.
Blondie’s stage presence was awe inspiring, Harry engaging the crowd about how great it was to be in Asbury Park while smoothly working the stage, demanding the crowd’s attention. Blondie’s set dragged us all very willingly back in time, and I was all too happy to take the ride.
It’s been a few years since Frank and the Souls have graced Asbury Park, last playing the Pony a few summers ago, and the reunification was wondrous. Turner rushing to the microphone shouting, “Asbury Park are you ready to do this,” as the Sleeping Souls began the intro to “1933”, a politically charged song off their latest album Be More Kind. Turner’s music, a combination of folk-punk / punk is just intoxicating, with lyrics that hit somewhere deep and personal, Frank and the Souls have developed a clear musical bond with their fans.
Frank’s band, The Sleeping Souls, provided the musical backdrop for his purposeful lyrics and are, Ben Lloyd on guitar and vocals, Matt Nasir on keys, mandolin and vocals, Nigel Powell on drums and Tarrant Anderson on bass.
Frank & the Souls, who have a reputation for high energy shows lived up to their reputation, played a mixture of standout tunes from several albums including “Recovery,” The Way I Tend to Be,” I Still Believe” and the politically charged “Make America Great Again”. They played a total of thirteen songs for their dedicated fans and was clearly one of the stand out performances of the day.
Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals immediately captivated the crowd, who eagerly sang along to their opening song, a soulful rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City”. The Multi Grammy Award winning Harper hails from Pomona, California and plays a style of music containing elements of blues, funk, soul and reggae. Taking the stage wearing a white fedora and bathed in a shadowy lighting scheme, Harper’s guitar work silenced the crowd who hung on each note in anticipation of what was to come, which in my opinion was almost spiritual in nature.
Harper and band mates took the crowd on an emotionally charged journey, spanning styles and time, driving the crowd to complete silence as well as reckless abandon. I’m not sure it’s possible to communicate the emotional component of Harper’s music which can be subtle, sensuous and reflective, but one thing for certain, his music is very personal and extremely moving.
Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals played a lovely mixture of songs including “Burn One Down,” Diamonds on the Inside,” and “How Dark is Gone”. Harper and bandmates finished their set leaving the crowd on the beach, breathless, emotionally moved and wanting more.
Brandi Carlile walked onto the stage, her welcoming demeanor immediately evident, speaking with the crowd to express her gratitude for being included in such a monumental event. Carlile -who is known for her big voice and politically charged lyrics- is currently touring in support of her latest album By the Way, I forgive You which dropped Feb of this year.
Brandi Carlile is classified as a folk rock / Americana artist, but watching her perform it’s very clear she’s as comfortable playing hair in your face rock tunes as much as she is singing country ballads. With a boundless vocal range that commands attention, Carlile has the ability to deliver her lyrics from full strength, to warm, intimate and mellifluous.
Carlile swooned the crowd who were captivated by the deep emotional expression during her performance, and while her set was made up of mostly newer music she included a few older tunes like “Raise Hell” and a cover of Elton John’s “Madman Across the Water”. Brandi Carlile delivered a soulful and heartfelt performance.
With a cool ocean breeze blowing and the beach and boardwalk packed with fans, the day’s headliner, Incubus. took the stage. With front man Brandon Boyd clad in all white, the crowd came to life as the band played the hard driving intro for “Privilege” off the band’s Double Platinum album Make Yourself.
Incubus was originally formed in 1996 in Calabasas, California with current members Brandon Boyd on vocals, Mike Einziger on guitar and vocals, Jose Pasillas on drums, (DJ) Chris Kilmore on synth, turntable and keyboard and Ben Kenny on bass. Incubus is a Multi-Platinum record recording artist, selling over 20 million albums worldwide.
Pinning Incubus down to a specific style of music would be impossible as they artistically combine elements of metal, hip-hop, alt and techno into their diverse and eclectic music. Their music is diverse and unique, reflecting the individual artistic influences of each of its members. With this in mind, Incubus has clearly blazed their own creative path- not punk, metal, hip-hop or techno, but all of them collectively arranged giving this band its sound and identity.
With an absolutely intoxicating display of amazing stage production, Incubus dazzled and intoxicated the Asbury Park crowd with their tight and familiar sonics. Incubus played a total of 16 songs, somehow making their complex musical style appear to flow effortlessly; Boyd’s vocals and the bands technically tight musical delivery igniting the responsive crowd.
With day one in the record books I feel very qualified to say that this Festival is in a class all its own, with a diverse line-up of musical talent as well as the location making this a truly unique event. Watching the crowd depart I see nothing but smiles and look forward to what tomorrow holds.