Stone Pony Club Where Springsteen Jammed Closing

Series of good-bye shows featuring veteran performers planned for later this month.

Renowned for playing host to such high-profile rockers as Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi and Southside Johnny Lyon, the Stone Pony, one of the most revered institutions of the storied Asbury Park, N.J., music scene, is changing its name and transforming its famous stage into a soon-to-open dance floor.

Currently being renovated, with much of the historic atmosphere giving way to a new design, the legendary rock club is slated to reopen Sept. 25 as a DJ-oriented dance club called Vinyl.

"It was a club largely known for original material, and there were very few

of those sorts of venues available in New Jersey," said Smithereens frontman Pat DiNizio, a Plainfield, N.J., native who has played at the venue. DiNizio's pop-rock act got its start with a weekly opening gig at the Pony, and over the years, the band brought such hits as "Blood and Roses" (RealAudio excerpt) to the club on numerous occasions.

To celebrate the Pony's two-decade history, organizers are staging a series

of shows Sept. 18 to 20 featuring performers from days gone by. Although Springsteen and Bon Jovi are not on the bill, locals are hoping the Jersey Shore's most famous sons will drop by to pay the Stone Pony their last respects.

"It'll kind-of be like going back in time," said Eileen Rehbein, one of

the organizers of the good-bye shows. Dubbed "Pony's Last Ride," the performances will bring back many familiar faces, including staff and regulars, to the club. "Anytime you walked in there, you knew the bartenders, you knew the floor staff, you knew the bands," Rehbein recalled. "It was like being in your own living room, it was that comfortable."

In a sense the Pony will be coming full circle. Having opened as a dancehall in 1974, it wasn't long before the club gained national and international acclaim as the place to gig on the popular Jersey Shore -- thanks as much to the crowds as to the performers it attracted.

"It was a nice club -- but it wasn't the club, it was the people, and the

attitude and the ambiance," said Charles R. Cross, founder and senior

editor of the award-winning Springsteen fanzine Backstreets. "And

that attitude was never better than the summer of '82."

During 1982, in the months leading up to the release of his Nebraska

album, Springsteen hit New Jersey clubs more than 30 times, often jumping

up to jam at the Stone Pony with local favorites Cats On A Smooth Surface

on songs such as "Jersey Girl" (RealAudio excerpt). In 1984, he chose the

club for the live debut of then-new E Street Band guitarist Nils Lofgren

before launching the massively successful Born in the U.S.A. tour.

Regulars at the Stone Pony remember nights there as shoulder-to-shoulder,

rowdy events, with eager audiences clanging beer bottles with one another

and breathing in the thick, humid shore air.

"In those days, the gigs would turn into drunken, anarchic melees," the 42-year-old DiNizio recalled. "To play the Stone Pony was something special."

Many remember the feeling of being there as something that stays with you.

"You would come out of the club and it would be like this burst of salt air

-- it would be so refreshing," said Kelly-Jane Cotter, 32, a New Jersey

native and music writer for the Asbury Park Press.

The Stone Pony's current owner, Steve Nasar, has seen the club through its

most recent incarnation as an all-ages, hardcore punk club. Nasar is now

ready to change directions with dance music, Rehbein said.

Over the years, Rehbein said she'd seen innumerable shows at the Pony, many

when Springsteen popped in for jams, and all of which she said were memorable. She's even talked the club's bartending alumni into returning to the ocean-side club for its final run.

On Sept. 18, the showcase will open with a nod to its recent past with a

hardcore punk lineup featuring Gutwrench and other bands. The following

night will include sets by the George Theiss Band (whose namesake was the

singer for Springsteen's first outfit, the Castiles) and Cold Blast &

Steel, the first group to play at the Pony, featuring one-time E Street

drummer Vini "Mad Dog" Lopez.

Closing out the series will be the Sept. 20 show with sets by the reunited

Cats On A Smooth Surface, guitarist Bobby Bandiera and others.

The Pony's closing marks the latest of many changes to the long-familiar face

of the Jersey Shore. In July, the 110-year-old Palace Amusements building

-- immortalized on Springsteen's "Born to Run" -- was recommended for

demolition for being structurally unsound.

Still, Cotter said fans shouldn't fret too much over the transition

at the Stone Pony. "The clubs around here change so often," she said.

"The Stone Pony has gone back and forth from being a live venue to

threatening to close for good to becoming a dance club. It's an ongoing

thing."