ASBURY PARK, N.J. -- As it turns out, the Boss didn't show.
Though Bruce Springsteen's former bandmates and friends were there in abundance,
the man who put the Stone Pony on the musical map never made it to the final rock
performance at the famed club.
Also noticeably absent were Bon Jovi and Springsteen sidekicks Miami Steve Van Zandt
and Clarence "Big Man" Clemons. Only Southside Johnny was in the saddle for the last
ride of the Stone Pony. And, at least for some fans, that was enough.
"I figured this was the last opportunity to check out authentic Jersey music," said Josh
Roy, 23, of Hartford, Conn., who grabbed his cousin and drove more than five hours to
witness the historic event. "I've heard about a lot of these bands but never had the
chance to see them."
He added, however, "the 'Bruce' connection did cross my mind."
The fabled rock club that helped give rise to New Jersey's pride and joy, Springsteen,
and to most of the Jersey Shore music scene in general, and which saw many a historic
jam session take place on its famed stage, galloped into the rock 'n' roll sunset with a
series of farewell shows over the weekend.
Farewell, but not goodbye. In a bizarre twist to the club's history, the Pony will not go
away altogether. Rather, it will mutate into a dance club, set to open Friday.
But before that happens, the Stone Pony kicked out the jams one last time with
performances by some of its musical alumni and a wide range of Jersey Shore rockers,
new and old. Friday's show featured a lineup of such recent-past performers as
Gutwrench, Union Spirit, Mudbox and Strange Environment, who set the weekend's
rocking tone. But on Saturday, rock history began to rear its head.
That night, the "Boss" connections were plugged in with appearances by Cold Blast and
Steel, a band that came complete with early E Street Band drummer Vini "Mad Dog"
Lopez, and the George Theiss Band, headed by George Theiss, a member of Bruce
Springsteen's early band, the Castiles.
The most anticipated lineup, however, was Sunday night's schedule of performers,
which included Bobby Bandiera, a former member of Southside Johnny's Asbury Jukes,
and his band, and Cats On A Smooth Surface, a longtime Sunday-night staple at the
Stone Pony who often featured jams with local boys made good (including, at various
A buzz swept through the club as Southside Johnny (not listed to play) was spotted
beyond the stage doors. Shortly after, Bandiera took the stage and the fans seemed to
come alive. Several songs into the set, Southside Johnny joined him for "Hoochie
Coochie Man," "Good Golly Miss Molly" and Southside's trademark, the
Springsteen-penned "The Fever."
After Southside left the stage, Robert Santelli, director of education for the Rock and Roll
Hall of Fame (as well as a former Pony regular) was given a huge, stained-glass Stone
Pony sign that used to hang on the club's walls as a donation to the Hall.
Maggie Powell, 40, flew in from Germany to cover the show for a Springsteen fanclub
magazine. Despite the new look of the club, she was impressed by how closely the night
recalled some of the Pony's most memorable shows. "This is a re-creation of a typical
Sunday-night lineup from the glory days of the Jersey Shore," Powell said.
While the Pony still looks like its old self from the outside, the interior has been
completely redone. The once-black walls covered with posters and playbills of recent
and upcoming performers have been painted peach, with the dubious addition of
light-colored wood paneling. The formerly beer-soaked floor has been covered with
carpeting and the stage has been moved to the other side of the room and made smaller.
By the time Cats On A Smooth Surface hit the stage at 12:20 a.m., the club-goers were
clearly anticipating one more guest appearance.
But they were to be disappointed. Springsteen didn't show as the Stone Pony was put
out to pasture.
Vicki Meier, 30, of nearby Neptune, N.J., was one of those holding out hope. She said
she was "sad to see the club go ... I saw Bruce here three times and I'm hoping for a
grand finale tonight."