Asbury Park, New Jersey
 








 






































 


The scenic Convention Hall juts over the Atlantic.

Revitalizing a town through its classic venues.

By Daphne Carr
Photos by Daphne Carr, Andrei Jackamets, and Caitlyn Thorn



In the middle of Asbury Park’s beachfront stands a massive steel structure. Know as “the skeleton” by locals, it is the support for a 1980s condo tower project that went bust when its developers went bankrupt. Since that time it has stood amid the desolation as a testament to the city’s ongoing postwar failure. Perfectly placed between Philadelphia and New York, Asbury Park was a Victorian seaside playground, but fell on hard times when the Garden State Parkway was built, making it easier to travel down to more southerly beaches.

But last fall, New Jersey developers Metro Homes began development of the skeleton, awarded the space through Asbury Park’s $1.25 billion 56-acre waterfront redevelopment project. They wanted to call the new space The Rising, after local hero Bruce Springsteen’s song of the same name. But Springsteen wrote into the local paper and respectfully asked for a different option. Metro Homes decided to hold a contest to name the structure, which is about to become tower one of a two-tower, 244-condo luxury facility, complete with concierge, gym and putting green. A local student suggested, “Esperanza of Asbury Park.” She won a $10,000 savings bond, and Asbury Park won the title to a future they never thought would come. Esperanza means hope.


 
"The skeleton" dots the landscape with regret.
 
Another emblem of the city's "ongoing
postwar failure."

One year after the boardwalk itself was completely refurbished, its two endpoints stand to remind Asbury Park of its glorious past and history of hard times. On the south end stands The Casino, a giant broken shell of its former 1929 amusement shed self, and on the north side of the boards, the Paramount Theatre and Convention Hall. All of these structures were built by Warren and Wetmore, designers for Grand Central Station, and the Theatre and Hall are on state and national historic register. As part of the agreement between the city of Asbury Park and Asbury Partners, the Partners bought the two venues in 2003 for $5 million dollars.

And now they, along with the venerable Stone Pony (purchased by Asbury Partners in 2003), form the centerpiece of Asbury Park’s plan to draw a new generation of music lovers to this once bustling entertainment mecca.

Fading Grandeur
The Paramount Theatre stands on the western side of the sprawling mixed-use ocean complex. Built in the late 1920s, the Theatre is a 1,600-seat gem of acoustic sensitivity, with cream-colored, textured plaster walls and green velvet seats. Water damage caused Asbury Partners to net off part of the ceiling, and the Historic Register designation means that repairs must be made for the long term, and thus left undone. Behind the ornate proscenium arch lies the stage’s original 1929 lighting rigging, a huge monster of a board full of levers and switches, looking like something from a ’50s sci-fi movie. Throughout the foyer and mezzanine of the Theatre are copper moldings in nautical motifs, intricate mosaics and brass banisters. The venue currently houses the New Jersey Metro Lyric Opera.

The Convention Hall is a 3,600-person multi-functioning beaux arts building whose eastern edge juts out directly into the Atlantic Ocean in classic boardwalk style. The two-story venue has a huge main space, for which Asbury Partners just bought a local basketball team’s removable parquet floor. On the three sides is grandstand seating accessible through the second floor, which also holds a beer hall. High above are heavy black curtains that absorb reflections of sound that bounce through the large, mostly cement-block structure. Old frescos frame the stage, dark with damage from the salty shore air. “This is one of the many things that we need to work on,” said Caitlyn Thorn, events coordinator for both venues, and an employee of Asbury Partners.

When a show comes to the Convention Hall, and is general admission, there is a ritual. Kids line up from the front door, under the vaulted Grand Arcade ceiling that connects the space to its western theater neighbor, and out the door often all the way down to the Casino at the boardwalk’s other end. “Sometimes I think they just stand out there to make the scene,” said Thorn.

Don’t Give A Damn’Bout My Reputation
When Asbury Partners bought the Convention Hall, one of their main concerns was making revenue on a building that was reported to have lost the city $250,000 each year. “Asbury Partners are not promoters, they’re developers, and we use the venues primarily as rental facilities, and don’t want to take the risk of putting on events,” said Joni Forte, who used to work for World Entertainment booking acts like ELO and the Imperial Circus of China. Now at home with her young child, Forte enjoys the challenge of booking the space, and works with Concerts East, a New Jersey-based company that has booked all the venue’s major touring musicians since 1996.

Her primary challenge is to make people forget why they left Asbury Park in the first place. “It takes a while for people to get used to the idea of there being things going on. Asbury Park as a destination skipped a whole generation of people – for 10 years there was that steel structure as a big eyesore right in the middle of the beach – and people went to Point Pleasant or Seaside instead.”

With low visibility on the crowded East Coast touring scene, Forte said that she has used her business connections to help jumpstart Asbury Park’s reputation for hosting great live music: “My budget wasn’t huge, but I’ve been in this business for a long time and I called in a couple of favors.


 
The Paramount currently houses the New Jersey Metro Lyric Opera.
 
The Paramount's elegant proscenium.

By The Beautiful Sea
On the Hall’s southerly side is a long veranda used most recently as a tiki bar for the beach. This summer, Forte has booked the beach to be the happening spot every weekend. “I had the idea for a Guitar-BQ, which we started last year. It brought out 20 BBQ teams and a good, calm, music listening crowd. We had 5,000 people even though there was a torrential storm. The name caught the Food Network, who brought down a whole crew to shoot the event for their All-American Festivals show. When they air that, it’s going to double our crowd, at least. I think this year we’re going to fence it and charge $15 for three days,” she said.

Getting the city in line with the new Asbury Park might take a few twists. When the BBQ began, according to Forte, it completely caught the lifeguards off-guard. “Last summer was kinda quiet. You’d look both ways on the boardwalk and see maybe 20 people. When we did the festival, the lifeguard came running up from the beach. “What’s going on? There are so many people on the beach.” This year, Forte has booked live blues every weekend in addition to the BBQ event, assuring that the guards get more work and the city, more vacationers.

“I’m planting the seeds for the future with these different festivals,” said Forte, “because Asbury Park is a jewel of a location, with one of the cheapest beaches around. I think it’s a great alternative to the Hamptons, where you go but don’t have fun.”

Honky-Tonk Town
Just down Ocean Avenue from the old Theatre and Hall complex stands the Stone Pony, the hallowed ground where Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi honed their skills before going national. It’s a very traditional Jersey-looking place – a sprawling, close-to-the-ground building holding between 600 and 800 people (with an additional 1,500-person outdoor amphitheater stage). Beer flags hang from the ceiling above the black-and-white tiled floor of the side room, and the main stage is no more than two feet above the show area’s wooden floor. Photographs of locals mix with blown-up images of acts that have passed through the club’s doors. Only the “Greetings from Asbury Park” mural, 12 feet long and painted in the middle of the club, betrays the club’s hallowed stature.

The club began in 1974, but has changed owners four times, most recently to Asbury Partners in 2003. That’s when manager Caroline O’Toole came onto the scene. “I worked in the bar business for 10 years, but left to go into sales. The only reason I came back is because this was such a great opportunity. It was intimidating to start here: Where do you begin in a club with so much history? The first thing I did was clean. The previous owners had taken most of the memorabilia out of the club, and so we contacted artists and asked them to sign guitars for us,” she said.

The next step was making the Stone Pony a draw for national touring acts. The venue hired Max Cruise Entertainment. “They’ve got an eye to what’s going to be big in the future. We’ll always have our regulars – La Bamba, Southside Johnny – but now we look to the future. This spring we had our first country act – Dierks Bentley – and it was a sell-out. It was one of the best shows, as far as audience and artist interaction, people loved it. This place is so intimate, that’s why both audiences and artists love it.”


 
The Casino: Remnants of a profitable past.
 
Kids "make a scene," lining up for a show at the Convention Hall.

The Local Sound
The Pony’s short stage lays along the long wall of the space, making for a wide but not long room with unique sound requirements. Head sound man Jason Dermer is proud to say that the venue’s been with local manufacturer Dynacoustics for 20 years, and uses a custom Dynacoustics speaker set-up, with cabinets that produce a shallow throw. “It accommodates the twang of country, the low-end thump of our college DJ night, and the force of rock. It’s 22,000 watts and, since the Stone Pony’s been here longer than anything around, there’s no noise complaints. It gets pretty loud.”

This summer’s big change was from their DDA S monitor console to a Soundcraft GB8 40 channel console. “Bands coming in want between 16-20 monitor mixes, our former board only did eight,” said Dermer, who has toured with the Grateful Dead and Leslie West and whose commitment to the city, and The Pony, is obvious. “I’m changing my sound company’s name [to Asbury Audio] to reflect my belief in Asbury Park, I know this is going to be amazing,” he says.

The Stone Pony is the city’s most famous attraction, and has pulled in tourism even in the city’s darkest days. O’Toole said that tour buses regularly pull up and drop off fans looking for a bit of Bruce’s spirit, and that they all that “that look” on their faces when they come in. That look isn’t always enough, though. “It’s difficult, I mean, when there’s not Bruce or Bon Jovi, it’s a struggle to run a business every day, and a battle for us to get bands into the venue. We stay in business because of our local crowd and our local bands,” she said.

Competition is stiff for the NJ shore venues – the local PNC Center uses warm-ups that could be the Pony’s main draw, and there’s the nearby Starland Ballroom. Then, there’s Atlantic City. “That’s the hard part – the casinos have unlimited funds and promote heavily. That’s where I give bands the credit – they’ll play Atlantic City for a VIP crowd and then come to the Stone Pony to play for their fans.”

Looking over the plans for the waterfront’s redevelopment, the Stone Pony is scheduled to sit among a bevy of condominiums and new retail in what O’Toole calls “the focal point” of the plans. What this means for the venue is unclear. O’Toole is confident that the Pony has a place, regardless. “Redevelopment has to go on, we can’t stand in the way of progress. People just aren’t concentrating on what matters. People are fixated on the building, but the Stone Pony is about the endless supply of talent, coming back because they love the club.”

     
 


Stone Pony Asbury Audio Rental

8 - dbx 1046 quad compressor limiters
8 - Drawmer DS201 dual noise gates
8 - Radial J48 active direct boxes
8 - Radial JDI passive direct boxes
8 - Shure Beta 98 D\S snare/tom mics
8 - Shure SM57 instrument mics
8 - Shure SM58 vocal mics
6 - Sennheiser E604 drum mics
4 - Audix OM7 concert dynamic vocal mics
4 - Countryman T85 active DI boxes
4 - dbx 1066 Compressors
4 - Samson C02 pencil condenser mics
4 - Sennheiser E609 dynamic mics
4 - Sennheiser MD421dynamic mics
4 - Shure Beta 58 vocal mics
4 - Shure SM 81 instrument mics
2 - AKG C414 large-diaphragm mics
2 - AKG D112 kick drum mics
2 - dbx 160A compressors
2 - Earthworks SR77 directional condenser mics
2 - Neumann KM184 cardioid mics
2 - Neumann KMS105 vocalist mics
2 - Shure Beta 52 kick drum microphone
2 - Shure Beta 57 instrument mics
2 - Shure Beta 87A vocal mics
2 - Shure Beta 87C premium vocal mics
2 - Shure Beta 91 kick drum mics
2 - Shure KSM44 large dual-diaphragm mics
2 - TC Electronic M-One delays
2 - TC Electronic M-One reverbs
1 - AKG C900 condenser vocal mic
1 - Audix D6 dynamic instrument mic
1 - Audix SCX25 studio condenser instrument mic
1 - Beyer M88 TG kick-drum mic
1 - dbx iEQ-31 graphic equalizer
1 - Electro-Voice RE20 mic
1 - Yamaha SPX2000 multi-effect processor

Stone Pony Audio (installed)
8 - Behringer MDX4600 compressors
8 - Behringer XR4400 gates
8 - Dynacoustics biamped wedges
8 - Shure SM57 instrument mics
8 - Shure SM58 vocal mics
8 - Whirlwind IMP DIs
4 - Samson e62i equalizers
3 - Sennheiser E604 drum mics
2 - Shure Beta 52 kick drum mics
4 - Shure PG81 instrument mics
2 - Crown MA-602 amplifiers
2 - Crown MA-2402 amplifiers
2 - Crown MA-3600VZ amplifiers
2 - Crown MA-5002VZ amplifiers
2 - Yamaha SPX90 multi-effect processors
1 - Ashly MQX-2310 equalizer
1 - Crown CE 1000 amplifier
1 - dbx DriveRack 480 processor
1 - Dynacoustics custom stereo 4-way PA
1 - Dynacoustics biamped drumbox
1 - Soundcraft GB8 console
1 - TC Electronic D-Two delay
1 - TC Electronic M300 Multieffect
1 - Yamaha M3000 mixing console


 
     

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Copyright 2005 Club Systems International Magazine
Copyright 2005 TESTA Communications