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Havin' a party... with proclamations, a symposium, and more to come, all celebrating TheStonePony@50

February 14, 2024

February 8, 2024 photo by Mark Krajnak - used with permission

EDITOR'S NOTE: Legendary Asbury Park, NJ live-music venue The Stone Pony officially turned 50 on February 8, but the celebration certainly hasn't been limited to just one day, with multiple proclamations issued on the day itself, a symposium this past Saturday, and even more celebrating to come this weekend, all of it taking place inside the "hallowed grounds" of the Pony itself. First up, check out our contributing photographer Mark Krajnak's great photos from the February 8 Pony@50 Proclamation Day...

February 8, 2024 photo by Mark Krajnak - used with permission

February 8, 2024 photo by Mark Krajnak - used with permission

Stone Pony Manager Caroline O'Toole (center left) with Springsteen Archives Director and Asbury Park, NJ Councilmember Eileen Chapman (center right,) surrounded by other elected officials from the New Jersey State Legislature, Monmouth County, and Asbury Park, holding multiple proclamations saluting the Pony @50 on 2/8/2024

photo by Mark Krajnak - used with permission

The Stone Pony's longtime House DJ Lee Mrowicki, sporting one cool tee on 2/8/2024

photo by Mark Krajnak - used with permission

On Saturday February 10, The Bruce Springsteen Archives and Center for American Music held an afternoon symposium inside the Pony, entitled Celebrating The Stone Pony Anniversary: Spotlighting 50 Legendary Years of Music Memories. Contributing writer Lisa Iannucci was there. Here's Lisa's report:

"We made sure the songs were danceable because that was our job. If the audience danced, they drank. They didn’t dance, you were out of work."

-Stevie Van Zandt, writing in Unrequited Infatuations about his mid-1970s work with John Lyon and their Blackberry Booze Band (later renamed Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes) as The Stone Pony's house band

Saturday's Symposium was hosted by the Archives' Executive Director, Robert Santelli, who also participated in some of the panel discussions. Each of the four panels - moderated respectively by Santelli, Archives Director Eileen Chapman, and journalists Jean Mikle (who also served as a panelist later in the day) and Nick Corasaniti (more on Corasaniti below) - was focused upon a different time period in the Pony’s history, beginning with the purchase of the former restaurant/beer garden/disco joint by Jack Roig and Butch Pielka in 1974. In addition to Corasaniti, Mikle, Roig, and Santelli, others who participated in various panels were promoter Kyle Brendle, Asbury-based photographer Danny Clinch, Pony house DJ Lee Mrowicki, current Stone Pony manager Caroline O'Toole, and music promoter Ken Viola, along with original members of bands and/or house-bands that played the Pony over the years: Gordon Brown (Mr Reality, Samhill, Highway 9,) Harry Filkin (Cats on a Smooth Surface, The Diamonds,) Lance Larson (Lord Gunner) Jon Leidersdorff (The Outcry, Blowup,) David Meyers (Blackberry Booze Band,) Jim Monaghan (Bums in the Park, WNEW-FM,) and Tony Pallagrossi (Asbury Jukes and The Shots,) The symposium also was filmed for future viewing by visitors to the Springsteen Archives' new building, anticipated to open in 2026.

photo by Mark Krajnak - used with permission

After an introduction from Santelli, there was a keynote address by Nick Corasaniti of The New York Times, who discussed his introduction to the Pony in the 1990s. Corasaniti published an oral history of the venue in the Times in 2018, which he’s following up with a full-length book to be published on June 4. It was a long afternoon loaded with reminiscences, tall tales and some great background and history of the iconic venue. Here, from my notes, are some of the highlights:

The Jefferson Hotel was the place to be after hours. Lance Larson introduced Bruce Springsteen to the place, and when the bars closed at three a.m., that’s where everyone went, with Larson announcing “To the Jeff, Jeff, Jeff!”

photo by Mark Krajnak - used with permission

The week that Bruce was on the covers of both Time and Newsweek, he was seen waiting in line to get into the Pony, checking his pants pockets for money to pay the cover.

The Stone Pony struggled until the Jukes made it onto the radio in 1976, for the live broadcast, that changed everything. Cleveland International Records executive Steve Popovich was instrumental in getting them on the air. After that, DJs like Scott Muni would hang out there.

In 1982, after hanging out at a couple of their shows, Bruce asked Bobby Bandiera (whom he had never met) if he could sit in with Cats on a Smooth Surface. Bruce was thinking about what songs they could play, and one day at rehearsal, to their amazement, he performed “Jersey Girl” for the band, just as if he were onstage. The guys in Cats were admittedly not very familiar with the song prior to that and had certainly never played it before.

Jean Mikle, columnist for The Asbury Park Press and denizen of the Pony’s famous “back bar,” remembered being back there with friends one night as usual, when Bruce jumped onstage for a jam. They all stood on chairs so they could see him, and “Someone came up and told us to get down,” she said, “but then they saw it was us [regulars] and let us stay there.”

Gordon Brown reminisced about playing a show the night the Pony closed for the first time (1991.) At the end of the night, he watched Robert Santelli carrying the stained glass from behind one of the bars out the back door (for transport to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame) and it was then that it sunk in with him that The Stone Pony really was closing.

Harry Filkin: "We didn’t know what to make of the Jukes - everyone was wearing hippie clothes and tie-dyes, and the Jukes had on stacked heels and pimp hats."

photo by Lisa Iannucci - used with permission

Tony “Boccigalupe” Amato: "Asbury Park isn’t really a sound; it’s an energy."

Jack Roig: "Bruce was the catalyst [of the scene,] but the locals were the structure."

photo by Mark Krajnak - used with permission

Tony Pallagrosi: "Steven created the distinctive Asbury Jukes sound. The Jukes would play obscure R&B and expose you to great music that no one else would play... If there is a Sound of Asbury Park, Steven Van Zandt is at the center of it."

Jack Roig, Lee Mrowicki, Tony Pallagrosi, Harry Filkin and Lance Larson were standouts among the informative panelists, who provided both essential background and fascinating highlights from the Pony’s long history. There were multiple stories of chance meetings, wild nights and drunken escapades as participants tried to get at the essence of what made the place special.

For nearly four hours, they tried to nail it down, but it was Roig, along with Brown, who best summed up what being at the Pony felt like, and what the place meant to them. ”Asbury Park was a mess [in the ‘90s], but we learned how to be a band here [at the Pony],” said Brown. “It was an escape, and a place where you could create an identity within a music family.” Roig agreed wholeheartedly, adding, "It was a family.”

photo by Lisa Iannucci - used with permission

“Every writer wishes they could be there to see history, and I was,” said Santelli towards the end of the last panel. Indeed, many of us were there at the time, and yeah, it kind of did feel like that back then, though our main motivation for going to The Stone Pony was really just hanging out with friends, and enjoying the bands we loved and the music we could hear nowhere else in the venue like no other.

The Stone Pony, in essence, was a locals bar that welcomed folks from all over who were willing to make the pilgrimage, a hangout spot with great music where you could make friends who loved that music and that scene just as much as you did, a place where you met and talked to your favorite bands not as “rock stars,” but as fellow music fans. It’s no longer that type of a venue. Tastes change, and social media and streaming video, amongst other amusements, have eaten away at the audience for live original music and drastically diminished the numbers of regular locals (and not-so-locals) who just show up to hang out. But from the mid-'70s to the mid-'80s, on any given night, The Stone Pony was the place where just about anything could happen. And for those who were there in those days, it was magic.

...And the celebration continues into this weekend, with two sold-out special 50th-anniversary "Requests From The Hat" shows by Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes on Friday and Saturday. We'll be covering those events, too, with a special photo-report from Mark Krajnak. Stay tuned...


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