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Still Havin’ a Party: The Stone Pony Turns 40

by Tim Donnelly on February 12, 2014

photo by Mike Black

The Stony Pony re-opened with pomp and circumstance in 2000 with a focus on hardcore and emo bands.Kids were being dropped off by their parents, who didn’t have to be told that The Pony was a safe haven in the middle of chaos.

In 2005, the building and surrounding property were sold to a developer with a vision, Madison Marquette, who also owned the boardwalk, making the Stone Pony the crown jewel of the re-development plan.

By 2007, following the lead of the LGBT community, artists, musicians, surfers, skaters began to inhabit and re-invigorate the City by the Sea—you could feel something was happening. By 2009, locals realized it wasn’t another false start. The old guard came in droves to see Southside Johnny, Gen X-ers dropped off their kids for School of Rock matinees and the boardwalk started to come alive with great restaurants.

Springsteen returned to hang and hold court, interested and supportive of the “new” Asbury Park. He jumped on stage with Asbury’s favorite Californian Mike Ness. He came in to drink and play onstage with friends like Sean Penn in tow. He played school fundraisers. Steve Van Zandt has come back to perform with The Asbury Jukes.

The original cast of characters, people like “Mad Dog” Vini Lopez and “Tinker” West, mingle with the new tattooed crew, a true multi-generational renaissance revolving around good music and better times.

By 2011, other changes brought a new sense of community, which took hold in part due to local bands with international credibility: The Bouncing Souls, The Gaslight Anthem, Black Label Society, Nicole Atkins. Local musicians of all stripes gathered in mass at the outdoor summer shows that featured acts like The Black Crowes, The Pretenders, Dropkick Murphy’s and Social Distortion.

Then came Sandy.

The ocean across the street pushed the beach, literally, to the front door of the club. CNN was there as rock fans the world over sent prayers that were miraculously answered. The Pony came away virtually unscathed and considering what transpired to the north and south of the club, it was truly an act of unbelievable luck. As it always has been, The Pony was the central hub for charity, but this time, it was for Hurricane Sandy relief shows for the Jersey Shore.

Until last year, to the best of my recollection, I do not believe the President of the United States has ever named checked a rock n’ roll club in a speech. President Barack Obama did so on the Asbury Park Boardwalk the day after Memorial Day, when he remarked on the successful re-opening of businesses along the Jersey Shore and Gaslight Anthem’s two night stand, “People were hanging out on balconies and beaches and shows were sold out at The Stone Pony.”

Sure it’s a dumpy building, but the sound is amazing. It’s not main street suburbia, its Asbury Park, an iconic place where mojo oozes out of the walls. It’s a neighborhood joint, a bar that is indeed a “public house,” a spot to assist the community through the power of rock n’ roll, a sacred place in an age when nothing is. It’s got the worst bathroom set-up in North America, but we don’t care. It’s ours.

Reason enough to celebrate not just on a birthday, but every day.

So raise your glass and toast to the impossible! Because the impossible has already happened, The Stone Pony is 40 years old and long may she run.

***

Tim Donnelly is a contributing editor at Relix. Over the years he has written cover stories on Pearl Jam, Trey Anastasio and Bonnaroo.

Debra Rothenberg took the Levon Helm-Bruce Springsteen image. It appears in her book Bruce Springsteen: In Focus-Photographs 1980-2012.

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