This was originally posted in the Facebook group “Remembering The Circuit In Asbury Park NJ” back in 2010. The group was started after a message thread got a bit out of hand until too many people were posting too many responses and they started getting blocked from the messaging system (stupid FB!).
I suggested that we start a group to share more stories about The Circuit and my friend Ken Wescott did exactly that.
Since no one had posting any such thing, I wrote the following as a sort of recollection of what the Circuit was, for those who didn’t know. It is decidedly subjective and not a historical document (so I don’t vouch for any facts) but it is the way I remembered it when it was written.
First let me give you the caveat that I was only 15 when I started performing at the Wonder Bar in 1973, so I wasn’t around in the 60s. These recollections will therefore be from about 1974 onwards.
As people have stated here so eloquently, the Circuit was a time and a place, but really much more than a time and a place. It really was a way of life for those lucky enough to be around during its Glory Days. What were some of the things that contributed to making the Circuit such as magical “Paradise By The C”?
1) The drinking age in NJ was lowered to 18 back around 1972 or so (check you history books for that). People were complaining that the kids who were old enough to die in Vietnam were not old enough to drink.
And since the legal driving age of 17 was so close to that, this created a huge demand for the proverbial “rite of passage”, which the Circuit provided for perfectly. What better way to explore the joy of owning your own wheels than to cruise around Asbury Park’s beachfront area, with its smell of popcorn, the blasts of the bands, the cacaphony of the amusements? Asbury Park was a cornucopia of sensual bombardments back in those days, and cruising the Circuit with the top down, or all the windows open was the perfect way to enjoy life at that time.
2) The 60s had ushered in a new era of freedom, and so all forms of substance abuse (read: enjoyment as far as anyone knew at the time) were the norm, much to our parents horror (if they had known!).
3) The music business was still relatively small (though it was growing exponentially) and so places like the Sunshine Inn and the Convention hall could host acts such as Mountain or Deep Purple, who would play to nothing but sports stadiums within a few years.
4) Right smack in the middle of the decade, Born To Run was released, shooting You-know-who to seemingly instant stardom. He took the Stone Pony with him to rock history, and so many bands who hadn’t been noticed previously found new fame: Southside Johnny and The Asbury Jukes (previously known as The Blackberry Booze Band), Cahoots, Cold Blast and Steel, Whistler and The Wheels, etc etc etc.
And so all us 18 year olds FLOCKED to the Pony in 1976, fresh out of high school. To take in the overflow, soon enough other clubs such as Guilios South/Park Place, The Alamo, and The Warehouse/Hotel California/The Fast Lane opened up. And smaller bars like the Golddigger, The Empire/Quack Quack and Mrs Jays took in the overflow quite easily thanks to this new attention on all things Asbury.
In fact, the effect of this on the Asbury Park music scene was so great that I remember vividly whenever a band like Kinderhook Creek played at the Pony, ALL of the other bars would be packed also! This was because of this overflow effect. So many times the bars weren’t necessarily in competition with each other- when the Pony did well enough all the places did well.
5) Also in the early 70s, the streets near Asbury Park’s boardwalk were changed to run one way year-round. Kingsley Street was one way going south and Ocean Ave was one way going north. Previously they were only one way in the summer season. And this is what contributed to the loop effect of th circuit.
6) The geography and history of the Monmouth County area had a lot to do with the popularity of the Circuit. After the 2nd world war, farms and other vacant property in the eastern area of the county were carved up into housing developments. These became neighborhoods such as The Gables, Green Grove, Oakhurst, Wayside, etc.
As young couples moved into the area from the late ’40s thru the ’50s and had kids, Monmouth County developed a sizable youth population, and as they came of age in the ’60s and ’70s they gave the concert halls and nightspots of the Asbury Park area a huge customer base to draw from.
What was on the circuit? Well, like I said I was around from about 1974 onwards, so I can try to give you a good verbal picture of what you would see as you “cruised”, but only from about that time period that I knew it.
– Begin the journey coming up 1st Ave towards Ocean Ave. This was arguably the southern perimeter of the Ciruit’s loop. You could go up to Asbury Ave, the next street going south, but first of all there’s not much to see there, second, it was one way the other way for a long time, and third, you’d hit Palace Amusements traffic. So we’ll start on 1st.
Looking to the left you see the a one-story building that looks like some kind of psychedelic warehouse. This was the Sunshine Inn, and you’ll hear many great stories of concerts at the this treasured venue, such as the first Kiss show back in 1974. Next you see the Golddigger, which had bands sometimes but mostly was for shooting pool and cheap beer. You see, the Pony and the other clubs with bands would charge extra for beer because of the entertainment, so it was a common practice to drink somewhere cheaper first.
To the right is the Empress Motel, where bands from out of town stayed, such as those who played the Sunshine Inn or Convention Hall.
– Rounding 1st onto Ocean Ave, on the left you see the other side of the Golddigger (because its on the corner), then Mrs Jays. Those are motorcycles parked out front, and about every 2 minutes or so you’ll hear r-o-o-o-a-a-a-r as one or more starts up. On the right is the boardwalk, and for a long time there was a sky ride that rode up and down Ocean Ave above the rides.
– Continuing north on Ocean, you see the Stone Pony on the left at 2nd Ave, and look up at the Marquee to see who’s there tonight. Could be Southside or The Shots (an early spinoff of the Jukes) or Yasgurs Farm or Phantoms Opera or Maxx or one of a few dozen bands who packed the place on a nightly basis
– Next is Park Place, which was also called Gulios South for a while. This had many of the same acts as the Pony, but also had a few more agency bands than the Pony would have. The Good Rats (who got their kicks by throwing rubber rats out into the crowd) is one band I remember seeing there. And I saw Joan Jett there when her solo LP first came out, there was no one in the place except me and Mark and John!!! A few months later her LP hit BIG and the next she was in Asbury Park you couldn’t even get tickets.
– Further up on the left at 5th Ave is The Wonder Bar, which of course we all know and love because it is THE most rockin’ place in Asbury. Back then it was mostly a hangout for pool players, and boasted the worlds biggest…bar.
On the right is the Howard Johnson’s building, which is still there today, now run by Tim McCloone. On top of the Howard Johnson’s is the famous Asbury Park bandshell, where Thursday evening orchestra concerts have been a tradition for many decades. The Society of Associated Performers used to put on rock concerts there every Sunday back in the early 90s. And Christopher Columbus re-discovered America there for many years when I was growing up, during Asbury’s annual Columbus Day Festivities.
– Next up: On the left is James A. Bradley Park. This is where the Clearwater Festival was held when it first moved to Asbury Park back in 2001. You-know-who decided to show up and graciously gave a full acoustic set (I was running the entertainment there that year, as I still do and have done for many years) and sign autographs and have pictures taken with everyone. Why am I mentioning this? Because here was Bruce singing about The Circuit he had helped to make so famous, and he was doing it right there on the Circuit! What a GREAT moment in Rock (and Asbury Park) history!
And on the right, of course is the Convention Hall. Hot dog stands, t-shirt stands, Mr Peanut, pro-wrestling (one of Bam Bam’s first matches was there, just ask Rose T., she was sitting behind me!) and just about every great rock band of the 60s and 70s played there.
– And finally, the Berkeley Carteret on the left. This hotel was closed during much of the 70s, until Johnny Cash took interest in it and partnered with local businessman Henry Vacarro to bring it back in the 1980s.
– Turn left either in front of the Berkeley or in back (we used to go to the back because it was a well-known hangout at the time) and then left again onto Kingsley Street.
– Now you’re “ridin’ down Kingsley, figuring I’ll get a drink”, as the song goes. Up on the right is Pancho Villa’s Mexican restaurant at the corner of 4th and Kingsley. If you look down 4th a few buildings in you’ll see the Fast Lane, which was also the Warehouse and The Hotel California. This was one of Bon Jovi’s first gigs in the early 80s. And many many famous bands played there over the years – the Spin Doctors also got their start their in the early 90s.
– Continue up Kingsley and you’ll see the Alamo on the right (tho you better be quick, it was only up a couple of years!). The Alamo’s importance for me was that it was where I first saw Bobby Bertelson perform, with a band called White Kracker. Locals know Bobby was one of the GREAT and LEGENDARY singers of this time period, and he certainly was a huge influence on my music. You can still see Bobby perform once in a while- watch for him and don’t hesitate to check him out because he is better than ever!
– Now further up at 2nd Ave you see the Drift Inn (which was called The Student Prince when you-know-who performed there) on the right and The Empire Bar on the left. Around 1978 The Empire was bought by the Stone Pony, who renamed it The Quack Quack and hired solos and duos to perform there on weekends, including me (as the Snitz) from 1978 until 1981. And the Drift Inn also featured bands, but by the late 70s it had been eclipsed by some of the other clubs until it became one of the first clubs from that era to close.
– Which brings us back to where we started, 1st and Kingsley.
The Long, Slow End
The Circuit didn’t just disappear overnight. It took nearly twenty years to die completely.
The first signs of decline came when the drinking age was raised again to 21. This had a devastating effect on the club scene all over the shore. Not just in Asbury Park, but even in towns like Belmar and Red Bank, bars folded by the dozens. Some switched over to the restaurant business, and some tried to stay open only on weekends or in the summer.
And so one by one, all of the clubs in Asbury Park shuttered their doors. The Convention Hall had stopped having concerts early in the 1980s, Park Place, the Quack Quack, The Fast Lane, all of them either sputtered on and off or shut down for good.
This was paralleled by the closing of all of the amusements on the boardwalk. By the early 90’s not a single arcade or amusement was open, not even the miniature golf courses. And the Palace Amusements was torn down just a few short years ago. The final nail in the coffin came in 2006 when all of the properties between the Stone Pony and The Wonder Bar were raized. If you took a picture of it now, you’d see only emptiness.
But WE were lucky enough to remember how it was, and that we’ll always have. As my childhood friend Nancy C. says, “Don’t be sad its over, be happy it happened.” And that WE were there to make it happen!
Al-Vis w/Bobby D’onofrio and unknown bass player at The Quack Quack, just off the Asbury Park Circuit, c. 1978.