Updated: May 9, 2020
Walking through the festival gates Saturday morning near the iconic Convention Hall, I knew this weekend of music was going to be something special. The anticipation for this festival had been mounting since the winter, and now it was coming into a tangible culmination as my girlfriend and I followed a diverse herd of some 35,000 eclectic music lovers into the the festival grounds. It's hard to top seeing one of the most various lineups of musicians perform on your hometown's beach amidst perfect September weather. Stringbean and the Boardwalk Social Club kicked it off for us in full local fashion on the Park Stage along with guest blues harper and festival organizer Danny Clinch. Following them were some pretty notable acts such as Blind Melon on the Sand Stage (with Travis Warren paying a ferocious tribute to singer Richard Shannon Hoon who passed in '95) and of course, Joan Jett & The Heartbreakers playing their brand of "f-you" rebellion rock for some 20,000 fest goers on the Surf Stage. Afterwards, the fest seemed to shift into anticipation mode for the headlining act, causing me to miss punk-legends Bad Religion. Still, The Lumineers ended up really pleasantly surprising me with an emotionally impactful set that evening on Surf Stage. The crew on that performance did a fantastic job, especially in transferring the band to a tiny floating stage in the middle of the crowd beside us. Armed with only a kik drum, tambourine, a few wireless mics and the guitars donned by band members, they proceeded to produce full, ground shaking sound (with the crowd singing just as loud) even from such a minimal setup. It really proved the band for me as the organic, catchy outfit that they are advertised as; not to mention, they played one of the most heartfelt covers of Thunder Road I've ever heard. Sorry you missed it, Bruce. Jersey will let it slide given it was your birthday weekend ;)
Sunday began with a weary, extremely satisfying brunch at Porta just outside the festival gates. This served as another pro of the festival for me as I had never attended a festival where you could come and go as you pleased. Electronic wristbands were a nice touch, but dangerously threatened the bank account with all the great local cuisine and alcoholic beverages inside the gates, so it was great to have the option to eat places close by such as Pop's Garage or wherever the boardwalk led you. After a few breakfast beers, it was full steam ahead to catch my former drummer Kevin Conroy's band rock the Surf Stage as a badass installment of national touring act, Philly natives and gut-busting rock purveyors Dave Hause & the Mermaid!
After that, Steel Pulse completely uplifted the beach as the Red Stripe sales soared and ganja smoke filled the air. This band is AWESOME and my former group From The Ground had the honor of opening for them at the Stone Pony Pepsi porch once. These UK Rasta rockers still got it and provided a socially conscious, irie vibe befitting to the surroundings as well as an awesome time. Next up, in my humble opinion, was the show-stopper of the weekend, THE Marcus King Band at Sand Stage. I was hesitant to peel myself away from the reggae happenings taking place over at Surf Stage, but the two acts were time-conflicting so a choice had to be made. I'd heard high praise from friends as well as a brief listen to his "Jam in the Van" set and knew partially what I was getting into. Marcus has been tearing up the jam scene with the likes of some of my favorite guitar players including Derek Trucks and Eric Krasno, but what I did not expect was to be witness to the heir of the Allman Brothers Band's throne, if not the absolute revival of southern rock as I knew it. Every song blew me away and his prowess both vocally and musically destroyed me. A highlight was when Jake Clemmons of the E-Street Band took the stage for "Born to Run". Really highly recommend modern artist that will draw you in with his guitar solos, yet keep you humming his melodies (such as "Homesick") all day long. His presence was awe-inspiring, incorporating crowd sing-a-longs into almost every number, and his band was terrific! Will definitely catch this Greenville, South Carolina native when he's in town for another jaw-dropping episode of southern rock fusion.
Late into the afternoon, the B52s took the Surf Stage for all the wedding classics. Was interested to learn that singer Fred Schneider attended Shore Regional High in West Long Branch. Following them, my favorite band Dispatch took Surf Stage as we moseyed our way up close to the front. For this set, I've written a separate review as it's too much to fit in here. The crowd then poured in for Dave Matthews Band as the seemingly summer weekend began to dwindle. He wasn't one of our priorities at the festival, but judging from the crowd ensuing and the tightness of Dispatch's time window, they were the main draw. I would've enjoyed checking them out, but the crowd became a bit claustrophobic and we opted to see Dropkick Murphy's instead. This proved to be the right call for us as their set was intense and gave me the same goosebumps that they caused in high school. Very stand-up, appreciative guys and the articulation of their fast, energy-packed, irish pub punk was second to none. Lead singer Mike McColgan poured every ounce of himself into their memorable anthems as the crowd danced the jig and bounced at the mercy of the beat.
All in all, I believe the second year of this festival was a success. From garbage cleanup to employee attitude, everyone seemed to be gathered for the same thing. Maybe we all listen to different music, from irish saloon punk to Stranger Things meets Pearl Jam (shoutout to Gaten Matarazzo Band) but as Mike McColgan of Dropkick's said so wisely "It's all about unity and fun. Let's all just take a minute to act like we're 16 years old again!" This weekend will go down as one for the books!