It may only be the second year for the Asbury Park, New Jersey, music, arts, and surf festival, aka Sea.Hear.Now (SHN), but the 2-day fest has already grown from an average attendance of 25,000 a day to 35,000 plus. And with more sponsors, nearly 30 diverse bands on 3 stages, gorgeous end-of-summer temps, art installations, surfers, and even mermaids, it’s easy to see why its gaining momentum. Plus, who doesn’t want to wiggle their toes in the sand while catching ocean breezes and listening to incredible live music in late September?
SHN is like a last parting kiss to summer, with a love note stashed in its back pocket to NJ artists old and new. (Hint: There’s quite a bit of talent that hails from the Garden State, and I’m not just referring to The Boss.)
New Jersey natives Fred Schneider and Kate Pierson from the B-52s, performing on the main/SURF stage, made numerous references to their local roots, with Schneider noting Asbury Park as the “old stomping grounds from back in the Stone Age.” Pierson chimed in with, “Yeah, the Stone Pony age!” Members of The Lumineers, Wesley Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites talked onstage about their hometown of Ramsey, NJ and growing up listening to Bruce Springsteen records just before covering a beautiful version of “Thunder Road.” Sharon Van Etten, singer- songwriter (and now actress) comes from Belleville, NJ, and Adam Weiner, lead singer of Low Cut Connie, from Cherry Hill, NJ, and surprisingly many more.
And although Bruce Springsteen didn’t actually make it to the festival this year (he joined Social Distortion on stage last year), he was definitely there in spirit. The Struts covered an impassioned version of “Dancing in the Dark,” even recruiting a young member of the audience to come up on stage, much like the music video with Courtney Cox. The Marcus King Band delivered a mind-blowing version of “Born to Run” while Joan Jett sang “Light of Day” (which Springsteen wrote), and the Dropkick Murphys performed “Rose Tattoo,” another Springsteen collaboration.
…although Bruce Springsteen didn’t actually make it to the festival this year, he was definitely there in spirit.
This year’s line-up had nonstop amazing music and, although the bands were staggered and spaced out among the three stages—two large stages on the beach and a smaller one in the park—I found myself rushing around to try and catch it all. Dynamic “newer” artists such as the Black Pumas, Fantastic Negrito, The Struts, Rainbow Kitten Surprise, the Marcus King Band, and St. Paul and the Broken Bones, all delivered incredible live performances, as did the older more established acts such as Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, Blind Melon, The B-52s, Steel Pulse, and the Dropkick Murphys. The Lumineers headlined on Saturday night and Dave Matthews on Sunday evening, closing out the festival with an acoustic version of “Crash Into Me,” which couldn’t be more perfect for our last evening on the beach.
Outside of the stages were plenty of other fun events, activities, and good eats. Ongoing “surfing expressions/competitions” took place throughout the weekend, and even Jake Clemens, Clarence Clemens’ nephew and now musician with the E Street Band, could be found surfing. A pop-up parade appeared on the boardwalk, created by the Asbury Park Promenade of Mermaids, a community event/group with colorful costumes. And food vendors provided plenty of delicious options, including homemade NY style personal pizzas and Thai fusion tacos, as well as cocktails/beer. Water refilling stations emphasized the reuse and recycle component that was back in full force after successfully gathering 11.88 tons of recycling at the inaugural fest last year. More than 500 fans participated in the Surfrider Foundation’s Rock and Recycle.
Clever art installations appeared all over the festival, including painted surfboards in an arch on the beach for photo ops and colorful jellyfish “flags” perched high on the sand blowing in the breeze. Famed photographer/filmmaker/musician and festival organizer, Danny Clinch, once again set up his “pop-up art gallery/shop,” the Transparent Gallery, featuring some of his photos and artwork from some of the performing artists/musicians. Jeff Coffin, from the Dave Matthews Band, Luke Spiller of The Struts, and Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready (to name a few) all had artwork displayed in the gallery, some even available to purchase. There were also surprise intimate performances in the gallery tent. A jam formed on Sunday afternoon with J. Clemens, Mike McCready, Kate Neckel, Christopher Thorn, and Joseph Arthur, while Mike and Kate spontaneously painted on the wall and one another.
All in all, it was laid back, free-spirited, and fun, which basically sums up this Jersey native’s teenage summers of “goin’ down the shore.” Be sure to mark your calendar for next year!