Day 2: June 5, 2015
Thank You Willie

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Andy's Place is stuffed into one of those Vs found where streets meet at an acute angle. I meant to get a picture showing that but forgot. Good thing there's one on their website. The restaurant was in the top three on every local breakfast list I found. Although I had only a basic bacon & eggs meal, I can vouch for it belonging on those lists. The food was good and almost cheap and Andy & Lisa are two of the friendliest people you'll ever meet.

The "Trenton Makes..." caught me by surprise so I hastily snapped three from-the-hip pictures as I drove by. This is the third one which, much to my surprise, included the entire sign. All I had to was crop off the car's side mirror.

I reached Asbury Park a little too early to check in so, after driving by the motel to get my bearings, I parked beside my ultimate destination. The last two pictures are a bit out of sequence. They were taken after I'd walked around the waterfront then returned to The Stone Pony to get a ticket for tomorrow's show.

The Stone Pony is just across the street from the beach and the boardwalk and in between these two buildings. The first picture is of the Paramount Theater and Convention Hall. Although its glory days are far in the past, it is still alive and several businesses, including a couple of restaurants and bars, call it home. There are some closer shots here and here. The other pictured building is the former casino. It is completely deserted but its details, such as this and this, remain impressive.

Other interesting near-shore buildings include the Silver Ball Museum (with this, this, and this), the Wonder Bar (where I'd have almost certainly spent some time if not for the two shows at the Pony), and Tim McCloone's Supper Club. Though her Temple of Knowledge lives on, the Madame Marie that Bruce Springsteen knew died in 2008 As Bruce said on her passing, "The world has lost enough mystery as it is -- we need our fortunetellers."

The Oceanic Inn is certainly no 5-star motel but it's clean and serviceable, in walking distance of the Stone Pony, and less than half the price of anything else in the neighborhood. Here's my room -- sort of. It's room 14, which I was assigned when I checked in, but I barely had time to power up the laptop and take the pictures before I was asked to move to room 16 because 14 had been reserved. The rooms look pretty much identical which made me a little apprehensive but all is well. Incidentally, room 14 is between 12 and 15 meaning there is no 13. We need our fortune protectors, too.

I could fill a page with excuses for these and the following pictures but I'll try to restrain myself to just two. The first is that I was using my pocketable Panasonic DMC-FZ8 which has the typical (i.e., horrible) 2007 non-SLR digital camera shutter lag. The second is that the Stone Pony is a "flat" venue. There is basically no seating so the entire audience is standing in front of a stage that is only a couple of feet high. I did not fight my way to the edge of the stage which meant I was shooting in a dark room through bobbing and weaving bodies with an instrument that just wasn't made for it. So... these are the only pictures of the opening acts that only mostly suck -- the pictures not the bands.

The bands didn't suck at all. Both the five piece Hollis Brown and the four piece Prima Donna turned in impressive sets.

But this is why we're all here: to see Willie Nile celebrate his thirty five years as a recording artist two days before his sixty-seventh birthday.

Not only was I experiencing the Stone Pony for the first time, I was experiencing the real Willie Nile Band for the first time. On the two other occasions when I saw Willie with a full band, Larry Beers had sat at the drum kit. Larry did a wonderful job and I wrote at the time that it was "hard to imagine what" the substitution subtracted from the performance. Now I know. What I could not imagine without seeing it is the extra spark that a drummer who has lived with these songs and helped create many of them brings plus the tough to measure but easy to see smoothness of a musical machine running at top efficiency on all four cylinders.

The last picture does a really poor job of showing the energy and talent that was on stage at that moment. Nile had hit the stage about 10:20. The band joined him after one song. They had a brief break while Willie played a few tunes alone on the piano then returned for an awesome performance of "Love is a Train" that had me riveted. At some pointed he called up his friend James Maddock for a couple of songs. Some time later it was members of Hollis Brown and Prima Donna. Although it didn't work out that way, the song behind that last picture, "One Guitar", might have been picked for a grand finale. Every member of the two opening bands were on stage and Maddock too and the place was rocking. And it kept rocking. The "extras" left for awhile then most returned to blast through "People Who Died". It was maybe ten after 1:00 -- nearly three hours after he had opened with a solo "Streets of New York"(New Jersey) -- when Nile and his band left the stage.

ADDENDUM: Jun 11, 2015 - I did this from memory which we all know is a dangerous thing. Willie kindly posted the set list on Facebook the day after the show and I have reproduced it here. It shows that I had some things, particularly some of the sequencing, wrong but I am seriously happy to be corrected. On top of that, Jeff Smith, who has a ton of wonderful stills from the event, posted a video of the last several minutes of that "Love is a Train" I mentioned. I may not remember the order of the songs quite right but I sure remember the tingles.

Willie wasn't done, of course. He reappeared before long and worked his way through the crowd, chatting with friends and fans, to the merchandise table. I spoke with him briefly and he signed a poster for me. Stepping outside was like leaving a pressure chamber. It would have felt like that regardless of the weather but the heavy fog added to the surreal feeling. In front of the Paramount Theater, I cut through the park towards my motel and paused at midpoint to acknowledge and record the building's lighted greetings. I know Asbury Park's not what it used to be but it's still pretty cool and they say it's coming back a little every day. That's good.

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