Ocean City, New Jersey. The Boardwalk. Sunrises over the ocean. Sunsets on the bay. Baby parades and beauty pageants. Soft ice cream, caramel popcorn and pizza.
And music. So much good music.
There’s the Ocean City Pops, a professional orchestra that has been entertaining audiences in and around this shore town for more than a century.
And there is the long-running summer popular music series put on by the city, BRE Presents and Bob Rose, with a terrific schedule of weekly concerts from June through August at the Ocean City Music Pier.
The venue is one thing about the series that shines. If you haven’t had a performance experience at the Music Pier, let me say that you’re in for a treat. The building, completed in 1928 to house the city’s Municipal Orchestra, is a gem. It is constructed on pilings and extends over the ocean. And its modified Spanish Mission Revival style, far more prevalent in the American West and Southwest at the turn of the century, seems to suit this South Jersey seaside resort just fine.
Over the past few decades, the Music Pier has seen major changes. The lighting system and sound system were updated, the stage was redesigned to make it more spacious, and central air conditioning was installed.
As Bob Rose, long-time promoter and partner in the Ocean City concerts, told me, “You can’t beat the Music Pier,” he said. “When you stand there, and you look out those windows, you see the ocean.”
Another unique aspect of the summer concert series is that the shows happen on Monday nights. I wondered aloud to Rose why that night of the week was selected.
The explanation is quite simple. Vacationers arrive in town on Saturday. They have to check in, survey the cabinets to figure out what they need from the grocery store, put sheets on the bed, find their beach tags and plan what they’re going to do for dinner. On Sunday, they finish unpacking and then they go to the beach, where they frolic ‘til dusk in the surf or get a bit too much sun. It’s likely that the primary activity on Sunday night is a movie on TV and an early bedtime.
But by Monday night, Rose explained, “they’re looking for something to do.”
Rose knows of which he speaks. He has been involved in presenting shows in Ocean City for more than 20 years, as well as having a hand presenting music in Southern New Jersey that spans the range of places and people – from the Wildwood Convention Hall, to Bobby Rydell on the beach, to a Bayou Swamp Cruise on the Cape May Lewes Ferry, to the very popular Bridgeton Folk Festival.
The Ocean City series started small, with four shows a summer. But Rose said that the idea caught on quickly. “We started having six shows a season, then eight,” Rose said. “People were really excited to have this kind of music in Ocean City.”
Audiences and artists alike appreciate Ocean City and the Music Pier. “We’re able to get top-notch talent here because it is such a great place to play,” Rose explains. “The artists often tell others how much they enjoying appearing here.”
“It’s good for the city,” he added. “The artists stay in the area and patronize the local businesses.”
And, as in years past, the line-up is eclectic, truly offering something to pique the interest of a wide range of concert-goers.
It kicked off on June 22 with Lucinda Williams, an artist who defies genres with her vocal style, her musicianship, and her amazing songs, that sound both heartbreakingly personal and universally appealing at the same time.
Next up was Robby Kreiger (June 29), who made his mark as guitarist extraordinaire for the Doors, and continues to lend his virtuosity to dozens of musical projects.
At the tail end of the Independence Day weekend (July 6) was Get the Led Out (sometimes called America’s Led Zeppelin), and coming up on July 13 is The Machine, performing an all-request set of the music of Pink Floyd.
On July 20, newcomers to the Ocean City concert scene, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, will bring their New Orleans-flavored sound to the Music Pier. I was happy, but a tad surprised, to see this band on the schedule, and asked Bob Rose about booking them.
“A bit of personal preference came into play,” he admitted. “I’d wanted to have them here for several years.”
“Trombone Shorty is a fantastic performer,” Rose said, “and he works extremely hard, through shows and through his foundation (Trombone Shorty Foundation), to keep alive and pass on the traditional music of New Orleans.”
July 27 features Dave Mason, co-founder of the band Traffic and member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with his Traffic Jam show that includes hits and deep cuts from Traffic’s “Mr. Fantasy” (1967) and “Traffic” (1968) albums, plus new songs and classic solo material.
On August 3, David Bromberg and Dar Williams, two evergreen favorites (you know, those artists you’ll see ANYtime they perform because you know they’ll be good), will share a stage in a show hosted by Mr. Folk Music himself, Gene Shay.
Then on August 17, Pittsburgh-natives and regional darlings Rusted Root, joined by Chris Barron of the Spin Doctors, will perform. As the saying goes, “if you are looking for a good time…” don’t miss this show! Rusted Root is a percussion-driven band that knows just how to blend rock, jazz, fusion and world music to get the audience on their feet and dancing.
And last, but about as far from least as you can get, is the world’s perennial summer fun band, the Beach Boys, on Monday, August 24 and Tuesday, August 25.
What is there to say about this band? They have endured, through the years and personnel changes, to continue to produce a sound that has the power to instantly take you back to a simpler, more carefree time.
When Rose and I talked, I could tell he was excited about wrapping up the 2015 series this way.
“The Beach Boys are the perfect band for Ocean City,” he said. “It’s a wholesome, family environment – America’s Family Resort – and that is one of the reasons they want to play here.”
“We’ve already sold out the first two shows, and had to add two more on Tuesday,” Rose said.
“Ending the season with a band like this is a great thing!”