ASBURY PARK, N.J. (AP) — The sun inched down and an offshore breeze cooled a hot day into a perfect Jersey Shore night. Sandy Hook Beach E was an expanding kaleidoscope of people, chairs, blankets and picnic dinners.
In front of a stage just beyond the dunes, concertgoers of all ages bounced to live music. One woman’s blond ponytail flew one way while a man’s wisps of gray hair blew the other. From his vantage point on stage Wednesday night, Jim Garcia of The Nerds was awed.
“We’ve played huge crowds in the past, but it’s always such a welcome joy,” the band’s lead vocalist and bass guitar player told The Record (http://bit.ly/Pd0wBq) the next morning. “We’ve never done the Sandy Hook thing. I’m standing up there, just watching all these people flock in thinking ‘This is ridiculous.’?”
But not surprising. All along the Shore, bands like The Nerds attract longtime followers and gain new fans with each season. The list includes Brian Kirk and the Jirks, The Benjamins, UnDisputed, Dr. Cheeko’s Island Soul, as well as solo musicians like Rich Meyer and Paul Cilinski, who play at places like Jenkinson’s and Joe Pop’s and Jack Baker’s Wharfside Patio Bar.
The music they make is the soundtrack to the Shore — that beloved never-changing element, the timeless ritual that makes vacationers long for the summer during the rest of the stressful year. People crave the comfort of the familiar — the same house, same town, and the same songs.
The Nerds are Shore legends. While they began playing gigs in Morris County and the band members now live in Hudson County, the group is a staple of more than 25 Jersey Shore summers, playing the same bars in towns like Point Pleasant, Ship Bottom, Neptune and North Wildwood, week after week, summer after summer.
Like their counterparts, they are not part of MTV’s presentation of the Shore. There’s more to the culture and the music than 20-somethings drinking and dancing to a DJ’s blaring mix at a club. Theirs is not the Bruce Springsteen/Bon Jovi world of the state’s golden sons and superstar musicians either. This the every day, every summer Jersey Shore, the comfort of live music that for decades has accompanied first dates, chance meetings, annual reunions of friends and family or just a vacation night out.
“People come up to me after shows and say, ‘I needed that,'” said Meyer, who graduated from Fair Lawn High School and has been singing and playing his guitar summers at the Shore since 1980.
“There’s a mystique to the Jersey Shore that’s unique to the Jersey Shore. People understand that on a gut level, they feel that. It’s something you feel more than you see. There’s that common bond,” he said. “It’s an accumulation of memories. It’s a special place. It’s a little bit of nostalgia, but there’s (places) like the Seaside boardwalk where those rides have been there for generations, and that makes it very timeless. A lot of people can communicate on that level, no matter where they are from or where they are going.”
There is a choice of atmosphere that each visitor makes — the rock-and-roll show or the laid-back beach stuff, family-friendly or adults-only, packed onto a dance floor or sitting and singing along to “Margaritaville” or “Brandy.” These longtime Shore entertainers can morph from one demographic and atmosphere to another.
The Nerds love to do just that. After entertaining multiple generations on Sandy Hook last Wednesday they went down to Joe Pop’s in Ship Bottom on Long Beach Island for the 21-and-over show they do there every Wednesday night. General manager Andrew Martino said the band fills the place to its 450- to 500-person capacity each week with many repeat customers.
“On LBI, people either get a house for the summer or for a week, same week, same month, year after year,” Martino said. “They make sure they get the baby sitter, those that have had kids. I definitely see a lot of familiar faces. They make sure they are here that week they are on LBI.”
Doris Barrueco of Dumont had never seen The Nerds, but she’s been going to the free Wednesday night concerts at Sandy Hook every week for years. The National Park Service estimated that about 7,000 people were at The Nerds concert last week.
“I’ve never seen so many people,” she said. “It was so crowded, it was unbelievable.”
The 53-year-old usually goes with friends, but when they couldn’t make it, she drove down anyway and met with the people she has befriended over the years at these events. These relationships are a key part of the experience as well — for performers as well as concert-goers.
“They become almost like family,” said Garcia, the Nerds singer who goes by the nickname “Spaz.” ”There’s a bunch of guys who, when they were going to Stockton State and Seton Hall, they would come see us religiously every week.”
Those guys are now men, lawyers, professionals, husbands and parents. They still come, although only once a year now.
“We have a life with these people,” Garcia said.
Patty Murphy, a teacher in Passaic who grew up and still lives in Mahwah, knows why. It’s an energy, the 39-year-old said — just the “good vibe” of a great, familiar band and the Shore. As spring heads toward summer each year, she gets that same feeling she had when she was younger.
“As soon as Memorial Day came around, I knew it was time to go to the Shore and listen to the bands on the weekends,” she said.
It is also time to see her summer surrogate family, the seasonal friends who gather each year.
“You only see them in the summer,” said Murphy, who had been going to LBI for years before her parents retired there about 10 years ago. “You know when you go, you will see them. They are always going to be at the same place.”
Murphy’s mom, Ann, 80, checks the local paper to tell Patty and her brother which bands are where on the days they are visiting.
“Based on the bands playing, we figure out where we’re going to go,” said Patty Murphy. “We make the circuit. These are the bands we’ve been following for the past 20 years. Even my friends with kids get a baby sitter.”
Patty came by her love of the Shore and its music naturally. When her mother was a young woman working in Manhattan, she and her friends would leave for Belmar after work on Fridays during the summer and catch the shows at The Columns in Avon and Parker House in Sea Girt. Those places are still bringing in the bands and generations of fans.
Ann hasn’t stopped loving music, either. She and her retirement-center friends have been known to go to the nearby Tuckerton Beach Grille to see Shorty Long and the Jersey Horns in recent years. But her real love is a good sing-along and a little “You’re a Grand Old Flag.” At the end of each summer, the Murphy family gathers at the Surf City Hotel to see just such an old-time show and let their mom sing away.
Information from: The Record, http://www.northjersey.com