The final stop of my 2019 tour of surf music festivals brought me to Asbury Park New Jersey for the newly named Hi-Tide Summer Holiday. The previous Asbury Park surf festivals boasted excellent lineups, and Magdalena and Vincent have done a fantastic job of building not only a label, but a brand that seems to be widening the appeal of surf music and culture. I was really excited to finally get a chance to see it for myself.
Well, that chance was delayed a bit. I significantly underestimated how long it takes to get from LaGuardia airport to Newark Airport where rental cars were much cheaper and I would fly out of. Despite landing at 4pm, I wouldn’t end up in Asbury Park about 8:15. I also didn’t fully know how my rental car worked, and while I thought I had headlights on, turns out I didn’t. Whoooooops. Parking is a pain, requiring you to download the Asbury parking app to pay for parking anywhere near Asbury Lanes, where the concert took place. And then I had to download an app and make an account to show them the tickets I purchased. Sheesh.
The casualty of this delay was Los Freneticos, whose wild and exuberant set I had seen at SurfGuitar101 but was really looking forward to seeing again. I heard nothing but positive reviews of their Asbury performance, and it was clear from all the other shoutouts from performers that they had not only impressed, but made friends. They’re still touring, and if you have a chance to see them, I highly recommend that you do.
Thankfully I came in with enough time to catch Lulufin the Woohoo -- if you haven’t watched the video, it’s four Japanese women with a trad, melodic, nearly hypnotizing sound sporting comical, pyramidal beehive hairdos. Their youtube videos have an otherworldly quality to them, in a tiny venue with dim lighting, the girls swaying in unison. I thought I would have to go to Japan to see them. Asbury Lanes is almost the opposite venue of those videos, blasting light onto the band and audience, and spreading the band out, especially since one of the women was replaced by a male guitarist, who was stashed a little in the back, I assume to not distract from the image. It didn’t have the same hypnotic effect, but they made up for it with cheery enthusiasm, playing a fun set of covers and originals. While their Hi-Tide 7” features two relatively light numbers, they could get pretty rowdy too, like on a cover of The Scarlets’ “Stampede”. And of course, a cover of The Cherokees’ “Uprising”, complete with “Oo-boo-boo-boo”’s that would be pushing the limits of good taste in they were an American act.
Side note: Eric of The Trabants (or at this event, Insect Surfers) told me that he and Jonpaul Balak happened to show up a bit before the show as the members of Lulufin brought out a box chock full of eleki 45s for dirt cheap. The two of them feasted, while I was likely on a subway somewhere in NYC. I went to check if there were any left, and at the merch booth there was a couple that looked like Yuzo Kayama vocal releases. VOCALS!? However, there was one that was pretty nondescript, with no english. Well, I took Japanese for two and a half years in college, a skill that I’ve never used and has mostly faded, but I can still read some katakana… enough to make out “Black Sand Beach”. Score! Lulufin’s guitarist saw me with it in my hand and came over to give me a thumbs up.
Impala was next -- a big part of why I came, though ironically they’re practically neighbors to my home of New Orleans, hailing from Memphis, TN. Asbury Lanes’ sound system really brought out their best honkin’, making a very studio band sound just like their studio recordings except louder and more explosive. They started with some of the crime-jazzy stuff from “In the Late Hours” (and probably played nearly every song on that album) but I also heard some earlier classics like “Jet Action Brunette” which sounded fantastic. Really, the entire set sounded like your favorite Impala songs at 120% of what you love about them.
Jason Lee and the RIPtides was another band that I really enjoyed at SG101 and that same wall of sound that I appreciated at SG101 was in full effect here. The color scheme was fun: bright green with hot pink goop, which Jason jokingly said was from the New Jersey beaches, and that neon was enhanced by the bright lights and colors provided by the venue. As at their west coast appearance, they were joined by a (different!) go-go dancer, adding another layer of activity to an already pretty energetic set.
Last band at Asbury Lanes was one that I wasn’t familiar with and decided to go in uninformed: The Neanderthals. I knew they were a garage group (with vocals) and that was about it. Before they played a note, the appeal was obvious: caveman suits made of animal print, a microphone embedded in a bone, and a primitive-looking drum up front with the vocalist in addition to the drumkit in back. I loved the clash of aesthetics between them and the venue: the retrofuturistic light apparatus behind them glowing in mysterious ways, and pure primitive up front, made me think of Beneath the Planet of the Apes.
If we’re splitting our hairs here, I’d say that The Neanderthals leaned in a more frat rock direction than garage punk, and the crowd was ready for exactly that vibe. Vocalist Johnny Rabb delivers great vocals that may not be terribly sing-songy, but have exactly the cadence to lift your feet into a stomp, and his swagger is hypnotic. Meanwhile, the guitarist was nailing that primitive sound, reminding me of Eddy Angel’s album guitar party. And then he played a song off that album. And then I paid attention to the DePinto. It took me way too long to put it all together. It was a helluva set, eventually just going full frat rock with covers of Latin Lupe Lu, Wooly Booly and Louie Louie.
Once that was done, there was the afterparty at The Asbury Hotel, featuring Insect Surfers. This was my 4th time seeing them, 3rd time this summer, but it was a bit different! The lobby of the Asbury Hotel was an interesting venue with some bleacher-styled seats to the right of the stage and a little bit of somewhat awkward standing room squeezed between columns in front. But really, the modest PA system and strange layout made for a bit more of a stripped-down punk rock approach to the band, a little more raw, the impact more immediate than the more reverbed, progressive sound I’m used to hearing from them.
I made sure to scoot back to Asbury Park in time for Jonpaul Balak’s talk titled “Beyond the Beach: Surf Instrumental Revival”. This was sort of a crash course based on a book that Jonpaul is writing. He did do a quick skim of some of the 60’s surf historyl, mostly to make a point about two schools of surf music: loud, powerful bands like Dick Dale, and more melodic groups. The meat of the talk was about the first revival, basically starting with Jon Blair’s book, articles for “Who put the Bomp” magazine, and eventually his band Jon and the Nightriders. We then took a big trip through 80’s releases, which was a story that I’ve never really seen laid out with as much attention to detail as this -- and to think he’s writing a book with more! Even going way over the expected end time, he ended up having to speed through to the clear choice of a cliffhanger: the release of the Pulp Fiction soundtrack.
Despite needing more time, Jonpaul was really well prepared with visual and audio demonstrations, and I absolutely learned a lot. I’m extremely excited about this book, but it sounds like it’s still years out.
Hi-Tide Summer Holiday isn’t an all-day onslaught of music like most of the other festivals. There’s light enrichment for most of the day, including vendors and DJs by the Asbury Hotel Pool, as well as a little live exotica music from The Hula Girls and Slowey and the Boats. While I did take a dip in the pool, I didn’t catch much of those bands. I wanted to see the ocean! Well, it was a weird day to see the ocean, with a heavy fog out, but I did a lil’ body surfing and hung out on the beach for a bit before taking a stroll down the boardwalk to see the sights.
And then I stumbled on Silverball Pinball Museum, right on the boardwalk. $15 gave me a half-day pass, and I spent nearly 3 hours playing all sorts of rare and legendary pinball cabinets. I’ve been to places like this, but I was really impressed by the selection, the curation (each had a blurb written about the machine), and more than anything the maintenance. Most of these machines were in good, working condition despite being on the beach where people, myself included, were tracking in sand, liable to get into moving parts, and inevitably kids were abusing the hell out of the hardware. Somehow in addition to this being a summer of surf festivals, this has almost by accident ended up being a summer of retro arcades too (in fact, I ended up at another on Sunday) and this is one of the coolest ones I’d visited.
I managed to tear myself away because it was time for music! Seattle’s The Delstroyers were on first, another band that I had seen at SurfGuitar101 (and the SG101 pre-party), but I’m a big fan and I’m happy to see them again. I remarked on my SG101 write-up that I was surprised by how they were more danceable and melodic live than I’d expected, and that was certainly the case here, but that slammin’ force was more present than any other time I’d seen them. SG101 has never let me down in terms of sound, but this was the best I’d heard them. Despite being the first set of the night, the crowd certainly didn’t feel thin, and they were clearly loving the set.
They were followed by another group from Washington: the legendary Boss Martians. Again, a band that I had seen at SG101, and with a similar set, but I was happy to feel that heat again! While I didn’t get the same sense of rage (I think Evan smiled a few times), what struck me is that many bands simply deliver their music, and the audience absorbs. I could tell that The Boss Martians feel the intensity of their own songs in the same way I feel it -- they’ve probably played these songs hundreds of times but I’d swear it still has an effect on them. They roll with the musical punches, tighten when it gets tight, move when it bursts. They do play some of their vocal tracks as well, but when the drums are moving and the same propulsive speed almost uninterrupted from song to song, and the guitar still screams in surftone, it hardly feels any different. Also worth noting: a few *new* instrumentals from them.
I took a break to grab some chicken-on-a-stick from outside and lingered a bit long to catch the beginning of Bloodshot Bill and Deke Dickerson. I also was too late to score a good spot for photos unfortunately, and there wasn’t a whole lot of wiggle room to get closer. The beginning of the set was Bloodshot Bill with a bunch of rockabilly songs delivered in his unique, almost cartoony voice. As often seems to be the case, Deke not only supported on upright bass, but in wisecracks as well. Then they played a bit of musical chairs, Deke grabbing guitar and Bill sitting at drums. Deke dipped into a little of Untamed Youth, with a version of Church Key that resulted in Bill telling knock-knock jokes during the vocal portion. It was a hoot. Deke did a cover of The Collins’ Kids’ “Whistle Bait” and look, I know that song is near and dear to Deke’s heart, but I feel like a golden opportunity was missed by not having Bill replicate the growl of the original! Then Deke really pulled out the stunt, playing the Untamed Youth instrumental “Pabst Blue Ribbon” while climbing into the audience and shooting PBR from the can via his mouth (I’d explain it better if I knew precisely what he was doing). I caught the poor sound guy wiping down the board afterwards, and Deke paid too as his guitar stopped cooperating in an electric capacity. He ceded lead to his bassist and returned to the upright for a few songs, then Bloodshot Bill took the guitar and did a few songs as a one-man band. Of all the shows of the event, this is the one that really kept you on your toes and changed things up.
Eddie Angel’s Guitar Party, backed by The Primitive Finks, was a big draw for me. If you haven’t heard the LP by the same name, do it now. However, this wasn’t a start-to-finish playthrough of that album. In fact it took a while for any of those tracks to make an appearance. However, what it did feel like was a mutant Los Straitjackets set, hardly something I would complain about. Despite the primitive lineup, this wasn’t just down-and-dirty tunes, but even some of LSJ’s sweeter melodic numbers and Danny Amis’ special “Calhoun Surf”. Eddie Angel truly makes it all look easy, and even his trick moves where he bangs his guitar for sound effects feel completely within his control.
As it wrapped up, he brought on Deke and The Neanderthals’ Johnny Rabb for some vocal tunes including Deke Dickerson pulling out an unhinged version of Surfin’ Bird.
And of course, the big headliner of the night: The 126.96.36.199’s. The push and pull here is balancing the performers’ sweet and playful demeanor with some savage guitar, for instance they played what was likely the fuzziest version of “Telstar” I’ve ever heard anyone dare to think of. One weird moment was when they talked about going to the beach, said it was very foggy, but asked if anybody went to the pinball museum, showing off their wristbands from entry. I excitedly held up mine as well -- the entire time I was in there, I was thinking “Insert coin… LET’S PINBALL”, the start to their song “Pinball Party”. They then proceeded to play an entirely different song. They covered one of my favorite artists: Alvin Cash’s “Barracuda”, which sounded awesome played with a bit more guitar focus. And of course, the finale was The Royaltones’ “Woo-Hoo” made famous by Kill Bill.
Afterparty that night back at the Asbury Hotel was The Black Flamingos, which organizer Vincent Minervino plays drums in. The small space didn’t give guitarist Robbie Butkowski (who was spinning some great records on Saturday) as much room to move around as I’d seen him previously do, but thankfully that space soon filled with people dancing. They’re one of those bands who have a great signature sound, and when they play covers they feel like they’ve always belonged to them. One that caught me off-guard (in fact, completely derailed my attention when talking to a friend), was a cover of Los Belkings’ “Setima Patrulla”, a Peruvian band that in my opinion needs a whole lot more love.
While there were more symposiums, poolside fun and a performance from the Surfrajettes on Sunday, I was staying with family and hung out with them, so that was the end of the event for me. Though as my plane sat grounded, delayed 5 hours that night I certainly was thinking “I could be seeing The Surfrajettes right now”.
Vincent and Magdalena have really built something great with this event and Hi-Tide in general.. I’ve never been, but an attendee described this event as a mini Tiki Oasis, and I believe they meant that as a good thing. This was Hi-Tide’s first event at Asbury Lanes and the only issue (aside from pesky ticketing issues) is that they might have already outgrown it. This was a fantastic event, with the most diverse crowd I’ve seen at any of these, and I’d only expect it to expand.
But this is the yearly celebration of what they do on the regular. Surf has obvious appeal that has languished in an open but hidden subculture. With Hi-Tide they’ve bottled it up, groomed it, and brought it to the attention of a wider audience. It’s been amazing how in a few years this label has grown to stand on equal footing with labels that have decades of strong back-catalog, and they appear to have done it by making friends, putting in the work, and with a touch of spiffy graphic design.
I know I say something along these lines in every festival write-up, but if you’ve read this far and you don’t end up going next year: you’re doing yourself a disservice. I’ve made good friends at these things and seen bands I’d never see at home. Do it!
Want to see more pictures? Here's the full gallery.