Riot, Redemption & Rock n’ Roll

Great documentary with a guest appearance by Delray’s own Max Weinberg.

We went to Ipic last week to see a new documentary Asbury Park: Riot, Redemption, Rock n’ Roll.

Nestled in our cozy “pod” with a pillow, blanket and a glass of wine after a long day,  it would have been tempting to nod off but the movie grabbed us from the opening frame and held us through the mini concert at the end.

Having been to Asbury Park last summer it was extra interesting because we recognized streets,  buildings and iconic landmarks.

Asbury Park—all of one square mile—looms large in our national consciousness because of its history and musical roots. This little town punches far above its weight.

In the 60s, the place crackled with amazing music. All of the big acts—The Stones, Hendrix, The Who, The Byrds—played the convention hall sometimes on the same bill all for $5 a ticket.
Can you imagine?

But just as compelling was the local music scene with clubs like the Upstage, The Stone Pony and the Wonder Bar attracting local legends such as Bruce Springsteen, Miami Steve Van Zandt and Southside Johnny.

It was a special and magical time that came to a crashing end with the riots of  July 1970.
The redemption comes later, with the redevelopment of Asbury again driven in large part driven by music.

It’s a great story. And if you love cities and music this is a must see film.

I’ve been thinking about the documentary ever since and the instant attachment I felt to the area when we visited. I’m a Springsteen fanatic and to walk the boardwalk and see the sights that inspired my favorite songwriter was a real thrill.
As a student of cities, I also admire how Asbury leveraged its strengths and brand to launch an impressive comeback.

The riots took a huge toll on the town’s economy and soul and was sparked by racial tensions that seethed between east Asbury and the west side of town. Because despite the vibrant music scene and the throngs of tourists who were flocking to the shore the people on the west side of town were lacking jobs, quality housing and recreational opportunities. Tensions may build slowly, but when they explode the impacts can last years. In Asbury’s case, the damage caused by the riots lasted decades.

The documentary confronts the issues head on and also shows the terrible toll that violence, inequality, racism and poverty takes on a town until one day, sparked by something minor it all unravels.
There are lessons there.

Springsteen, sitting in the ruins of a former club where he played, talks about the riots as something that perhaps “had to happen.”
Maybe, I suppose.

But isn’t it sad that things have to boil over into violence and destruction before people eventually focus on what needs to be done.

The movie praises Asbury Park for its redemption and seems to strongly indicate that things are different today with care being taken to avoid and or confront some of the mistakes of the past and not repeat them.

I don’t know enough about Asbury to know whether that’s true. But it does seem that once again music is leading the way—with schools focused on bringing east and west together through music and the Asbury Film and Music Festival positioned as a major cultural force that bring tourist dollars back to town.

We loved our stay in Asbury—the restaurants were awesome, the music scene was lively and the beach was beautiful. So were the neighborhoods which seems to be attracting urban pioneers and creatives.
If you’re in the area, visit. The Jersey Shore is a lot more than Snooki and “The Situation.”
It’s a place of magical history, enduring music and cultural importance. If you can’t, check out the documentary it’s special.

Greetings From Asbury Park

The boardwalk in Asbury Park, N.J.

I’ve always wanted to go to Asbury Park.

So last week we made the trip.

We loved it.

As we toured Belmar, Ocean Grove, Asbury, Allenhurst, Freehold, Neptune and Colts Neck one thought was top of mind: New Jersey might have the world’s worst PR, because the reality far, far, far outstrips the perception.

New Jersey is breathtakingly beautiful (that’s right)  with a magnificent coast, incredible neighborhoods, vibrant cities and architecture that makes you pull over and stare.

Asbury Park has always held a place in my heart and  imagination thanks to its association with my musical heroes Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band.

I’ve read a few books about the boom and bust history of Asbury Park and the musicians who helped to put the place on the map.

So I was curious to explore the tiny (1.5 square miles) city.

Asbury has a pretty boardwalk, a beautiful beach, some amazing seaside bars, wonderful architecture, a hip hotel, a really nice downtown and some terrific restaurants.

But what sets it apart is its vibe.

Asbury Park is a town that seems to be built on rock n’ roll.

From rock photographer Danny Clinch’s “Transparent Gallery” and the Sound Booth lounge at the Asbury Hotel to the live music at Asbury Lanes and the renowned Wonder Bar—music is everywhere.

This weekend, Asbury expects 20,000 people for the first Sea. Hear. Now. music festival with big names like Social Distortion and Brandi Carlile coming to town to rock the shore.

Asbury is a town building on its roots—its glory days as evidenced by the Paramount Theatre and a grand boardwalk and a musical heritage which includes Springsteen, Southside Johnny and so many great bar bands.

Off the boardwalk, we found a nice downtown, especially Cookman Avenue which featured some interesting retail (a bookstore!, an adorable cinema and a tea house featuring cats—yes cats—called Catsbury Park) and some amazing restaurants. (If you visit, run don’t walk to Taka, it’s as good as it gets).

The surrounding towns feature block after block of really beautiful homes, Victorian gems that make you realize that Florida missed a golden opportunity by allowing so much cookie cutter housing to be built.

When visiting a place it’s important to consider its history and to see what’s in front of you. But it’s also important to understand its psychology, what drives a place. It’s critical to understand not only the reality but what the aspirations of a place are.

You can do this by observing who’s in town—what kinds of people do you see buying homes, opening businesses and investing in a place.

You can supplement what you see with a little reading—local newspapers, real estate publications, even what the hotels are saying about the town in their marketing materials.

And that’s where Asbury gets really interesting.

This little city with a rich history and a very cool present has aspirations.

Asbury is an ambitious place with a goal of becoming a nationally renowned cultural mecca built around music, art, festivals, great restaurants and a sense of place. Sound familiar?

The local press celebrates this ambition with profiles of entrepreneurs building web businesses, opening bakeries, planning music festivals, opening unique restaurants and creating boutique accommodations that pay homage to the area’s history and vibe.

One of the urban pioneers that seems to loom large is famed rock photographer Danny Clinch who has a very cool gallery attached to the ultra-hip Asbury Hotel. Clinch is arguably the most acclaimed music photographer around these days. He has chosen Asbury Park to not only show off his incredible portfolio but also to grow the city’s cultural brand.

The Sea. Hear. Now. festival is probably the most ambitious attempt so far. But the gallery itself is more than just a gallery. It’s a live music space where the local creative community can meet, grow and find encouragement and an outlet.

In many ways, I saw some parallels between Asbury Park and Delray Beach circa 1980s through early 2000s.

The emphasis on culture, food, beverage, festivals, tourism, entrepreneurship. The aspiration and hunger to fix and invest in neighborhoods and commercial districts. The willingness to take some risks. The presence of visionary pioneers with dreams and ambitions. The passion to make something happen.

I can’t comment on the politics of Asbury. But the truth is you need both the private sector and the public sector rowing in the same direction to make change and realize ambitions. It doesn’t work if volunteers, business owners and residents are out of step with local government or vice versa.

Towns need their Danny Clinch’s for sure. But they also need their elected officials and city government’s help too.