Written by Eric Sperrazza
Labor Day Weekend, the official end of the summer. It was only fitting that, like thousands of others flocking to the Jersey Shore to milk the last few moments of the season under the sun, I would make my final stop at the legendary Stone Pony in Asbury Park.
This bastion of music history, and its subsequent outdoor stage, caters to the who’s who of musicians. A staple performing at the Stone Pony was New Jersey natives and regulars at the Asbury Park venue, The Bouncing Souls. There I would close out my tour of the shows that brought back live music to us after a moratorium of gatherings due to the pandemic.
As I pulled into Asbury Park, I was gobsmacked with the visuals of this iconic New Jersey destination. To the left of me stood the replica Tillie mural on the side of Wonder Bar and to the right was the Stone Pony, where the likes of Springsteen, Bon Jovi, Blondie, and more began paying their dues. Akin to CBGB in the East Village or the Whisky a Go-Go in Los Angeles, anyone who’s anyone that wanted to be a successful and recognized musician did a set and bowed at the reverence of the Stone Pony!
Hiding with others from the rain, outside, I toured the inside of the venue, looking at all the memorabilia and autographed guitars that adorned the walls. I could feel the energy of this place pulsing through the walls. It was consuming, energizing, and humbling. After I had my fill of being awestruck, I made my way to the outdoor stage where the rain had stopped and the show was about to begin.
The Suicide Machines, Sick of It All, and The Menzingers had opened up the show earlier and built an enormous crowd considering the venerable monsoon that was happening, but as the sky had cleared and the Bouncing Souls hit the stage, the sea of heads in the crowd went out to the horizon line. It was as if the whole world wanted to be at the Jersey Shore and a part of a Jersey punk band’s show for the last weekend of summer!
The band kicked off the show with “Kate is Great” and tore through a 28-song set that included fan favorites such as “Say Anything,” “Argyle,” “Lean on Sheena,” “Favorite Everything,” and “Gone and Quick Check Girl.”
What was really striking was, midway through their show, the stage was rearranged for The Bouncing Souls to play the rebooted acoustic versions “Simple Man” and “Ghosts on the Boardwalk” off of their reimagined hits album, “Volume II.” I had the pleasure of reviewing that album upon its debut and to hear the band do those versions live just made the concert that much more memorable. The Bouncing Souls finished with a four-song encore that included “Night on Earth” off the “Hopeless Romantic” LP.
Overall, you would have never guessed by the electricity in the air, the energy the band exuded on stage, and the vibes thrown out to the crowd, that this was a band doing this since 1989. In fact, the fans in attendance spanned from 5 years old to people in their 60’s.
There was a whole new generation of teens crowd surfing across the lot of the Stone Pony and screaming every word to each song offered up by the Bouncing Souls. This was the exact scene when I saw the Bouncing Souls for the first time at the Vans Warped Tour in the 90s and it mirrored that memory to the latter.
Twenty-three years later, it’s like I stepped into a time machine and got to feel the pulse of ecstasy that comes over anyone being a part of a show like that at a location with such a rich history, just one more time.
With that, I closed the book on my adventure through many genres and many diverse venues during the summer of 2021. I set out to selfishly be a part of the return to live music, while reporting back on how that would look to others hesitant to hit the road and join fellow fans, once more, in song. I wanted to see how the bands would sound and act after such a long lull of performing. Moreover, I wanted to tap the vein of normalcy after living in a world so far removed from normal. What I got were crowds with pent-up excitement & joy to spread, after being indoors and away from one another for so long. I got bands that broke their tough kayfabe avatars to show gratitude and humility. I witnessed people so happy to be a part of something bigger than themselves, again, without the cloud of politics and the worries of the world over their heads.
No, what I took away with me was not a view back into normalcy. What I was a part of was something better than normal. I saw what we could and should be as humans. Most of all, what I took away from this summer concert series adventure of mine was hope.
We have been down but not out and the best is still yet to come.
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