Review by Clark Starace
On August 19th & 20th, 2022, my wife Harp and I (collectively, Reverbology LLC) took part in the annual East Coast surf music mecca event, Hi-Tide Summer Holiday. I should start off by saying that neither of us have been to any of the previous installments of the festival, as I first became aware of Hi-Tide Recordings in early 2020. For obvious reasons, the festival was halted for two years (2020 & 2021) and resumed this year. The event is put on by surf scene movers and shakers, and husband/wife power couple, Vincent Minervino and Magdalena O’Connell of Hi-Tide Recordings at Asbury Lanes and The Asbury Hotel. As is the case with everything Hi-Tide touches, all of the festival's branding was super buttoned-up and polished. The beautifully designed poster art & logo (respectively by Grey Haas Design and Scott Sugiuchi) set the stage for the high level of quality that the festival embodied from start to finish.
Our weekend of surf music started on Thursday (8/18) night when my own band, Wiped Out, had a direct support slot on the Brooklyn, NY date of the Messer Chups U.S. tour. Also on the bill were our good friends, The Jagaloons and Bad Tide. The show was the biggest Wiped Out has played to date, we sold some merch and we had a great time meeting and taking photos with the world-renowned Russian “spooky surf combo”. We traded t-shirts with them, told them we’d see them on Saturday and parted ways.
Wiped Out x Messer Chups
After getting in late from the show on Thursday night, posting some quick photos and videos on Instagram (@wipedoutnyc), we were off to the races by about 1:00 PM the next day, coffees in hand. After an insane amount of NYC/NJ traffic, we arrived in Asbury Park early Friday evening and checked into the Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel that served as our home base for the weekend. From there we grabbed some dinner at Porta and stopped by Silverball Retro Arcade for some quick pinball and vintage arcade games. Then it was on to Asbury Lanes to see the show!
The first thing that struck me upon entering the venue was the gold custom wristbands that said “Hi-Tide Summer Holiday 2022”. Now, I’ve been to and played hundreds of shows in my life, and very rarely do you ever get a wristband that has any sort of branding at all, so this stood out to me as extra attention to detail. Next, we hit the bar to grab some drinks. There was a carefully curated menu of Tiki cocktails, again with that slick Hi-Tide branding that they do so well. There were also custom lights shining the “Hi-Tide Summer Holiday” logo against the back wall of the venue, and vibey lighting all around. The PA/sound system at Asbury Lanes is first-class and the sound engineers made all the acts sound absolutely massive and fantastic. Overall, this felt like a bigger, slicker production than most surf shows that I’ve personally been to.
Hi-Tide Summer Holiday at Asbury Lanes
By the time we walked in, The Televisionaries were on stage. Now, they’re not a surf band and as such are actually associated with the Hi-Tide imprint label, Nu-Tone Recordings. While I had checked out one or two of their songs before, they’re not a band I’d given a whole lot of my attention to for whatever reason. Either way, this band was killing it! They had a 1950’s inspired rock n’ roll sound, several guys in the band could sing well and their songs were great. Super enjoyable and I’ll be digging into their catalog a little more now. After their set, I was able to say a quick “hello” to Vincent and Magdalena, whom I’ve now been emailing and messaging with for years about my band. It was nice to meet them in person, albeit quickly before they had to attend to some other business.
Next up were the band I was most excited to see on night 1, Man or Astro-man? I listen to them all the time and I’m pretty familiar with their catalog. While I knew they had a cool, sci-fi themed live show, I was legitimately not expecting their stage production to be so awesome. Their fuzzed out, massive sounding brand of surf-garage was accompanied by sci-fi audio clips, video clips projected onto giant photography studio lighting umbrellas and an absolutely blinding lighting rig faced directly toward the crowd. The band wore astronaut looking jumpsuits with blinking lights lining their guitar straps and pretty much blinking and glowing lights everywhere. There were multiple times during their set I thought my eyeballs were going to melt out of my face, but I absolutely loved it. It was an overwhelming of the senses and I knew it was all very carefully orchestrated. Also, as a solution to what I can gather was a pre-tour injury to their frontman Coco’s leg, he performed the show from what he called “the pod”, a contraption covered in glowing blue neon lights that he could sit down in, play bass in and drive around the stage in. All of it was super rad and I bought a shirt after the show.
Man or Astro-Man?
Headlining night 1 of the festival was Southern Culture on the Skids, who I hadn’t heard of prior to their inclusion on the Hi-Tide Summer Holiday lineup card. The 3-piece band featuring Rick Miller on guitar/vocals, Mary Huff on bass/vocals and Dave Hartman on percussion, fused tons of different styles of music including country, rockabilly, surf, as well as other types of rock. Their songs feature humorous lyrics about Southern living and their act was super tight. Great vocals and harmonies through the set. Towards the end of the set, they even brought out a bucket of fried chicken and threw pieces into the crowd. By the end of their set, I understood their band name.
The next morning, Harp and I got out of bed, went downstairs and jumped onto some electric scooters we rented to a nearby brunch spot. Asbury Park has these scooters throughout the neighborhood and it’s a super cool way for tourists to get around without moving their car. While we had missed the registration period for the Hi-Tide pool party (which was at The Asbury hotel) on Saturday, we had a great time lounging by the pool at our own hotel that afternoon. We did, however, stop by the rooftop happy hour that evening for a few cocktails at The Asbury. While there, we caught some of the calypso and biguines set by Charlie and the Tropicales and I was able to say hello to Robbie and Declan of Black Flamingos, whom I’ve spoken to a few times online.
After grabbing some cheesesteaks on the boardwalk for dinner, we headed back to Asbury Lanes for night 2 of the festival. This night had several bands I was excited about and familiar with, so I was really stoked. The first band we caught was Black Flamingos who put on an absolute hell of a show. They play sort of a jazz-influenced, traditional brand of surf music that they call “surf noir” and they do it really well. The musicianship of Robbie Butkowski on guitar, Declan O’Connell on bass and Vincent Minervino on drums is second to none in the scene. I was excited to see Robbie playing his Fender Jazzmaster through a Gomez Amplification ”Surfer” blonde combo amp, which is essentially a Fender Showman circuit in a 1x15 combo amp, made by a small boutique amp company. Of course, his signal chain also included a Fender Reverb tank, and the guitar tones were glorious. Their set also included guest musicians Chris Fitzgerald on sax and Ian Gray on trombone. These additional musicians really help bring to life numbers like “Okinawa” from their record Play Speedway and Other Hits. Incredible performance overall, but what else would you expect from the owner of Hi-Tide’s own band?
Next up was the aforementioned Messer Chups who we had just met two nights prior. If you’re not familiar with this band, you’re really missing out. Their horror-inspired brand of surf music is incredibly entertaining and their masters of their craft. Harp described Oleg “Guitaracula”’s guitar playing as “machine-like”, and I think that’s a great description. He’s a surf-guitar machine and plays with amazing precision. Besides using his own Jazzmaster, he used the same guitar rig as Robbie from Black Flamingos, and made it sound just as awesome. Svetlana “Zombierella”, one of the biggest stars of the modern surf genre, plays bouncy complex bass lines throughout the whole set with impeccable timing and never misses a beat, even when doing vocals on songs like “They Call Me Zombie”. “Rockin” Eugene brings the whole thing together in a tight, groovin' package with powerful, pounding drums and a few evil cackles for good measure. After their set, I ran into a sweaty Rockin’ Eugene in the crowd, who recognized me from our show together and told me he’d seen me form the stage.
The headliners for night 2, and of the festival in general, were none other than Nashville based instrumental group, Los Straightjackets. Donning Mexican wrestling masks and matching DiPinto guitars, Los Straightjackets put on a very fun show worthy of a Las Vegas stage. Their set includes humorous interactions amongst band members that are almost clown-like at times, along with choreographed dance moves. Speaking of dance moves, they also brought out Burlesque dancer Angie Pontani for two songs. The first time she came out in a sparkly gold dress, we didn’t anticipate she’d be in a g-string and tassels by the end of the song, but there it was! Again, this was pure Vegas-style entertainment and we really enjoyed it.
Overall, the Hi-Tide Summer Holiday was a very entertaining and fun weekend getaway for Harp and I, and it was great to see Asbury Park on this incredible upswing from its grittier past. On our way home in the car, we discussed making this an annual trip, as long as the festival continues. Maybe one day, we’ll even get Wiped Out on the bill. Either way, we plan on being back!