Sea.Hear.Now Festival Brought Rock Back to the Jersey Shore: Pearl Jam, White Denim, Goose, Dr. Dog, Smashing Pumpkins, and others

Photos by Michael Dinger Photography (Pit Perspectives)

Recap by Porter Byers and Max Stewart

On a beautiful September weekend in New Jersey, the Sea.Hear.Now Festival was a warm welcome back to live music for the city of Asbury Park, NJ. The event featured many fantastic acts, including the first official show for Pearl Jam in three years in the city largely put on the map by Bruce Springsteen and the famed venue, The Stone Pony. It was a cathartic feeling for all attendees to experience live music in a festival environment again after the past year and a half, hearing the distorted guitars and high soaring vocals by the beach no less. There were no shortage of activities throughout the festival that has curated a very unique blend of artistry and surf, as there were surfing sessions and artist galleries. In fact, one of the coolest aspects was seeing the “Prince of Asbury Park” (as Eddie Vedder put it), legendary music photographer and festival co-founder Danny Clinch not only perform with the band but also have some of his photography on display during the few days that included a number of other musicians’ artwork.

The weekend’s list of rock ‘n’ roll talent was across the map. Austin’s White Denim brought their always shattering rock-meets-soulf set during the day Saturday after doing a show at The Wonder Bar on Friday night. Philadelphia’s Dr. Dog is (sadly) on their final tour, but they were certainly a welcomed set for festivalgoers to get one last glimpse of them on the shore. Connecticut’s up-and-coming Goose played a stretched out set of five songs over the course of their hour long timeslot, and one could sense they wanted to keep going after playing the last note of their fan favorite, “The Empress of Organos.” It was no matter for the enthused crowd, however, which danced and sang along throughout.

I would say the biggest buzz of the weekend was for headliner, Pearl Jam, and man did the Seattle band live up to the hype. Pearl Jam’s set included all the rawness, sincerity, and conviction fans have come to expect from this great American band. Their new album Gigaton was prominently featured alongside staples such as “Even Flow,” “Given to Fly,” “Daughter,” and a rip-roaring “Alive” to close things out on Saturday evening. Some highlights included Vedder giving a tribute to Norm MacDonald during the introduction to “Wishlist,” a salute to Bruce Springsteen with a cover of “My City of Ruins”, and even a sit in from Danny Clinch on the rarity “Red Mosquito.” As Vedder put it when he recalled Clinch’s attempt to get the band to play the festival: “We’ve got surf, we’ve got good people, we’ve got a boardwalk, we’ve got pinball machines, we’ve got everything a human being could want. We said, we’ll get there… And then we never got here. Thirty years of working with this fella, and this whole time he is actually the Prince of Asbury Park.”

Chicago’s Smashing Pumpkins closed the weekend out on Sunday and put an exclamation point on the week’s festivities, with highlights that included “1979” and “Cherub Rock.” It was a joy to see rock ‘n’ roll alive and well in America and in full force at Jersey Shore. Kudos to Clinch and team for putting together an incredible weekend.

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