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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 Stone Pony became a place where showmanship and great musicianship were expected and if the expectations were met, the love given back became career-lasting. The Pony took them in and these non-Jersey artists became part of the fabric of the building and culture.

Jamband pre-cursors acts like New Riders of the Purple Sage, Hot Tuna, and band leaders Levon Helm, Gregg Allman, David Bromberg, Dickey Betts and Johnny Winter became Stone Pony favorites.Singers like Warren Zevon, Garland Jefferies, Willie Nile, David Johansen and Gary US Bonds were adopted sons one in all. Rockabilly great Robert Gordon and punk soul legend Willy “Mink” Deville were bad-asses and the Asbury crowd loved them for it.

While Springsteen and The E Street Band and Southside Johnny and The Asbury Jukes were out on a quest for global domination in the 1980’s, Asbury Park began to crumble. But The Pony was rocking with a calendar packed with acts like Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble and local bands vying to become the next “house band” that Bruce or any member of the E Street Band jammed with when they were off the road.

The corner of Ocean and Second Ave became the center of the universe on June 8, 1984 when Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band played a warm-up show for the Born in the USA tour. The odyssey that cemented Springsteen as one of the most successful entertainers in history, began at The Stone Pony.

The generation that built the place may have grown up, but there was another waiting in the wings, and these musicians earned the Springsteen stamp of approva: Jersey players with major chops like Bobby Bandiera and his band Cats on a Smooth Surface, John Eddie and the metal of Skid Row.

By the late 80’s, however, Asbury Park was in ruins. The once vibrant Jersey Shore was on life support as the club slid into bankruptcy.

The Stone Pony re-emerged again in 1992 at the time when alternative rock and jamband scenes were sprouting all over America. It came back to life, this time with Generation X making their memories.

Jersey alternative bands such The Smithereens, Dramarama and adopted son Matthew Sweet took their Pony-honed skills to great lengths nationwide. Jambands like Jersey’s own Blues Traveler, Spin Doctors, New Potato Caboose, Gov’t Mule, moe., Dweezil Zappa and Widespread Panic packed the Deadhead friendly club.

It was the perfect place for Blind Melon to kick off their tours and to warm up for the seminal Woodstock ’94 gig. Lenny Kravitz used The Stone Pony as the jumping point for his career debut, Let Love Rule with Springsteen looking on from the back bar.

It was a tough go in Asbury Park during that time but the crowd was just as tough, especially on March3, 1995 when Oasis came to town. There are certain things you don’t do in Jersey – one would be insult the host on the very stage that Bruce and his boys built. That’s exactly what the Brothers Gallagher did. They called the Jersey Shore crowd “wankers” the second song into the set. The act of disrespect pissed off the crowd (including this writer). The response was quick and distinctly Jersey: throw beer at Oasis for the rest of the 45 minute set and by give them the double Jersey salute (the giving of the finger with both hands). By the time a drenched and drunk Oasis finished with a “Thank You and Fuck You,” the audience chased them to their bus, where The Gallaghers cursed and spit out of the cracks of their touring vehicle window until a police escort came to save them.

Despite however sporadic “epic” nights (Green Day, Deftones) inside The Pony, what was going on outside of the club got as bad as it possibly could. By 1998 most of the neighborhood around the venue, including the once vibrant boardwalk was in utter shambles.The Stone Pony closed.

On the boarded up building next door, someone optimistically painted in huge letters, “This Too Shall Pass,” and it did.

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