Jersey soul to rock Riley

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MANCHESTER >> A little piece of the Jersey shore — actually, a fairly large piece of it — will be passing through Manchester this weekend along with the other visitors.

The Shore — not to be confused with the television program that briefly gave passing fame to eight housemates who called the area home during its three year run on MTV — stretches along the coast of New Jersey roughly from Sandy Hook to Cape May, with stops in places like Asbury Park and Atlantic City. Long beaches, clubs and bars, amusement parks, boardwalks, summer fun and more recently and less humorously, Hurricane Sandy, are part of its mystique. The area has also spawned some influential musicians who developed a distinctive sound that blended soul and rhythm-and-blues with rock. Think Bruce Springsteen. Think Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes.

Southside Johnny and his current band of Jukes will be appearing in Manchester Saturday, July 23, at Riley Rink, part of the ongoing series of concerts there sponsored by Law Enforcement Against Drugs, or L.E.A.D. Doors open at 5 p.m. and local musician Fred Shehadi and his band will open the show, with the headlining act to follow at 7 p.m.

L.E.A.D. is hoping to establish a branch of its operations to create a partnership between schools and law enforcement agencies to take part in a broad effort to discourage drug use and bullying among teens, according to Nick DeMauro, its CEO and executive director.

This will be the third concert in its summer series launched this year and known as the Southern Vermont Rockin' Concert Series. Proceeds from the shows will go to support L.E.A.D.'s efforts.

Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes shot into prominence in the mid-1970s alongside Springsteen, who also wrote some of the material the band recorded in its early years. Several members from Springsteen's E Street Band also played with the Jukes. Jon Bon Jovi, another New Jersey musician from the area who went on to achieve more than a little success also toured with the band as a special guest in 1990.

More than 20 albums later, with a career spanning more than four decades and a new album of fresh material ("Soultime!") released last year, Southside Johnny Lyons said performing and giving shows was still fun.

"One of the big differences is that even though I'm older, I still have the energy, but we have so much more material," he said in a recent phone interview. "I know how hard it is to keep a career going in music — it can be very thankless work — I've been lucky. I've had great bands and great audiences and they've been real loyal to me."

His current group of musicians, with a lineup little different from the glory days of the mid-to-late 1970s features a tight horn section to go with the drums, keyboards, guitars and bass, is one of the best he's ever had, he said.

That will be good news to fans who remember Southside and the Jukes from the early days, when hits like "I don't want to go home," "Trapped Again," "Talk to Me," and "You mean so much to me" — a duet Lyons sang with Ronnie Spector, one of rock 'n roll's original stars — were staples of commercial radio and highlights of their concerts. A scorching horn section propelled the music forward, making their faster-paced material hard to sit still for. Their slower ballads were — and still are — pretty good too.

The set list for each show is never set in stone, Southside Johnny said.

"A lot of it depends on the mood of the crowd; a lot of it depends on my mood going out there — if I want to pound it out and do a lot of fast songs or if I'm in a more contemplative mood and want to do some of the ballads," he said.

The current band can play in several different styles, from jazz to reggae or "fool around on stage and have fun," he added.

The concert series marks one of the first sustained returns of musical performances to Riley Rink in several years. When it first opened in 1997, the venue hosted several well-known entertainers of the day during non-skating months, but those eventually proved financially unsustainable. The southern Vermont Rockin' Concert Series is a way for the rink to edge back into that again, but the difference now is that the rink is simply renting out the space for the concerts, as opposed to being the organizers and sponsors, said Jon Larson, the rink's general manager.

"We thought having a concert series brings back the musical connection the rink had with the community," he said. "It's good for us as a facility and good for the community."

The rink is also getting inquiries from other entertainers and musical acts about staging performances there, since the combination of indoor seating with open walls to allow for more seating on the lawn makes it an attractive venue and one of the few of its size, he said.

Local resident Don Benasich, who is helping organize the shows and the concert series is also hoping this marks the beginning of a return of live music to the rink during its "off-season."

These are full production events with high quality sound and lighting and through them, L.E.A.D. hopes to expand its presence in Vermont and also New Hampshire, he said.

The following week will see a large fair being planned for the Dorr Farm on Route 30, then a resumption of concerts on Aug. 6 before concluding on Aug. 19 with the Marshall Tucker Band.

"I asked Nick personally for Southside Johnny because I followed him down at the Jersey shore and they were one of my favorites," Benasich said. "I can see this series growing every year at the rink."

For more information, visit leadrugs.org online.


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