Twice during Dave Matthews Band’s headlining performance at the Sea.Hear.Now Festival on Sunday night (Sept. 22), Matthews thanked the 37,000 in attendance for “sticking around.” If the audience was showing signs of festival fatigue at the end of the second annual two-day music and surfing festival in Asbury Park, New Jersey, it wasn’t evident at all during DMB’s joyous, two-hour set.
Jam-packed with hits and fun covers (“Sledgehammer” by Peter Gabriel, a medley of AC/DC, The Bee Gees, and the Steve Miller Band), the band’s impressive musicianship was indeed something to see and hear. New keyboard player Buddy Strong, whose funky riffs have energized the band, shined on a solo during “Louisiana Bayou,” which inspired the first of many dance moves by Matthews. To cap it off, Matthews strapped on an acoustic and delivered an impassioned “Crash Into Me,” which paired nicely with the backdrop of crashing waves on the Jersey Shore.
Matthews, like many of the bands, took a moment to thank organizer and photographer Danny Clinch, who along with Tim Donnelly, HM Wallman and C3 Presents, worked with the town to host the fest.
Last year’s lineup included a guest appearance by Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Bruce Springsteen, who joined Social Distortion on stage. While Springsteen was not in attendance for the 2019 edition, his presence was felt as several performers paid tribute on the beachside Sand, Surf and Park Stages and a grassy field outside of Convention Hall.
“The Boss is The Boss,” Struts vocalist Luke Spiller (pictured below) told Variety, joking that the band was going to perform a medley from the iconic, “Born to Run” album.
The UK band ended up opting for a thrilling glam rock interpretation of the “Born In The USA” hit “Dancing in the Dark,” even recruiting a young girl as their “own Courteney Cox.” The Struts’ set, which included the anthem “Could of Been Me” “Body Talks” (prominently featured in a Harley Davidson commercial) and “Put Your Money on Me,” shook up the surf and sea festivities, adding swagger and gritty glam as the sun set by the seaside on a day Spiller described as “heatwave, UK weather.”
Bassist Jed Elliott said this wasn’t the first time The Struts played on a beach, giving credit to the Hangout Festival in Gulf Shores, Alabama. “This is honestly the same but with the New York Spirit,” he said. “We are just so excited to be a part of this early on, because I think this is going to be one the best festivals in the country, for sure.”
The Struts weren’t the only highlight of the two-day event. The Lumineers closed out Saturday night with a satisfying set of old and new tracks from their latest album, “III,” and a trip mid-beach to a B Stage for a quartet of songs, including “Ho, Hey.”
Joan Jett celebrated her 61st birthday a day early with one of the most heavily attended shows of the afternoon, with thousands packing the boardwalk and beach to fist pump to hits “I Love Rock and Roll,” “Do You Wanna Touch,” and the crowd pleasing anthem, “Bad Reputation.”
North Carolina’s Rainbow Kitten Surprise drew a passionate young audience embracing their message of inclusion (and a shout out to the band’s Instagram coordinator), with the laid back yet acrobatic Sam Melo managing a somersault mid-song and hardly missing a note on the songs “Seven” or the hip-hop influenced closer, “That’s My Shit.”
Bad Religion played a mix of old and new songs, surprising the crowd with a searing “Generator” capped by hits “Addicted,” “21st Century Digital Boy” and “American Jesus” inspiring countless men over the age of 40 to relive their teen years.
Steel Pulse’s reggae delights were a perfect fit for Sunday’s tropical 90-degree weather, while Dispatch and others provided the soundtrack to a day that included “Expression Surfers” catching waves in the ocean.
Native New Jerseyans Fred Schneider and Kate Pierson of The B-52’s paid homage to their Garden State roots with numerous onstage references. Said Schneider: “Asbury Park, my old stomping grounds. … Now let’s go to the beach… Oh, we’re at the beach. Let’s stay where we are.”
The group’s set, which included a costumed lobster for the epic “Rock Lobster,” was energetic and fun, with Cindy Wilson and Pierson each taking turns in the vocal spotlight for hits “Roam,” “Love Shack,” and the B-side “52 Girls.”
Clinch opened the festivities on Saturday welcoming fans on The Surf Stage just before Blind Melon — with singer Travis Warren filling the big shoes of the late Shannon Hoon — took the stage. Clinch stood center stage arm and arm with Hoon’s daughter, Nico, telling the crowd that, “Blind Melon means the world to me.” He later joined the band to play harp for an extended jam, closing out a well-received performance that included “Tones of Home,” “Soup,” and closer “No Rain,” with Warren high-fiving fans on the rail up front.
Springsteen was well represented with plenty of tributes. The Lumineers Wesley Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites — originally from Ramsey, NJ but now based in Colorado –celebrated their homecoming show with a cover of Born to Run’s “Thunder Road,” segueing nicely into their own “Big Parade.” South Carolina’s Marcus King Band went big with “Born to Run,” Joan Jett included the Springsteen penned “Light of Day” in her set (“Bruce Springsteen wrote it, which means I get to sing and play it,” she said) and The Dropkick Murphys performed the Springsteen collaboration, “Rose Tattoo.” E Streeter Clemons made the rounds as well, performing with “Stranger Things” star Gaten Matarazzo’s band, “Work in Progress” and the dapper surfer/musician Donavon Frankenreiter on the Park Stage.
Matarazzo’s band attracted a surprise celebrity performer as Pearl Jam lead guitarist Mike McCready, sporting a shirt tauting Clinch’s band, Tangiers Blues Band, joined the star to perform “Porch,” a song regularly favored in the 17-year old’s set.
The late Ric Ocasek of The Cars was also there in spirit, as Philadelphia-based Low Cut Connie’s charismatic front man Adam Weiner, who channels Jerry Lee Lewis and often climbs atop or does tricks atop the piano, dedicated their song, “Revolution Rock and Roll” in his memory. The Boston-based Dropkick Murphys took particular care to honor Ocasek — who died earlier this month — with an energetic cover of “Just What I Needed,” which the audience embraced with thunderous applause.
Outside of the main stages, there was plenty to see throughout the festival, including the Danny Clinch Transparent Gallery pop-up shop in Bradley Park. Besides photos by Clinch, the artwork of musicians performing at the festival — including Dave Matthews Band saxophonist Jeff Coffin, Luke Spiller of The Struts, and Pearl Jam’s McCready –was on display and available for purchase. Throughout both days, artists performed and met with fans inside the shop.
The Lumineers’ Schultz praised Clinch, who shot the photos for the band’s latest album, on a job well done. “[We’re] all here because of his vision.”