Asbury Park documentary returns to music and film festival with major changes

Springsteen Asbury documentary

“Asbury Park: Riot, Redemption, Rock ‘n Roll” will be shown in Asbury Park on April 28 and in theaters nationally in May.

A once-in-a-lifetime jam session — featuring Bruce Springsteen, Southside Johnny, Steven Van Zandt, David Sancious, Vini “Mad Dog” Lopez and others — took place at the Paramount Theatre in Asbury Park in April 2017. It followed a screening of the documentary “Asbury Park: Riot, Redemption, Rock ‘n Roll” at that year’s Asbury Park Music and Film Festival.

The film covers both the city’s social history (including the racial divide that led to the 1970 riots) and its world-famous rock scene (particularly its late-’60 launch at the Upstage nightclub). A new version of it, featuring footage from that 2017 “Upstage Reunion” jam session, as well as a new interview with Springsteen, will be shown at this year’s Asbury Park Music and Film Festival, April 28 at 3 p.m. at the Paramount Theatre (see trailer below). It will be followed by a question-and-answer session with director Tom Jones, Backstreets magazine editor and publisher Chris Phillips and others, and performances by young musicians from the Lakehouse Music Academy’s Lakehouse Junior Pros band (who also participated in the 2017 jam session).

Then, on May 22, the film will be shown in theaters all over the world; visit asburyparkmovietickets.com for information about those screenings.

Profits from the film will be used to support music education programs in Asbury Park.

For information about the festival, visit apmff.org.

I talked with Jones by phone, last week.

Q: Are you originally from New Jersey?

A: Yeah, I grew up here and, when I was a kid, I used to drive a Pepsi truck. That was my summer job. And I used to deliver to Asbury. And I’d walk around and think, “Man, this place is coming back someday.” It was kind of the bad years. I just caught the tail end of the old, big, kind of Gilded Age hotels being torn down. They had been converted into, kind of like light-duty mental institutions. It was hard.

When I was a little kid, we used to come down to ride the rides. And all that kind of went away. I’ve lived down here my whole life, so I’m excited to see it coming back, and happy to play a small part in it. The film has been kind of a point of pride for the town.

Filmmaker Tom Jones

Q: What town did you actually grow up in?

A: I grew up in Rumson. My father was the Pepsi bottler in New Jersey, and our main plant was in Asbury Park. So from the time I was walking, I was hanging around the plant, and Tinker West, who was kind of Bruce’s first manager … he had a surfboard shop up above our plant. I was just a kid when all of that was happening. My earliest memories of Bruce was, he bunked with my best friend’s older brother for a while. So I met him before he had an album. I just thought he was the coolest guy alive.

Q: So you’re old enough to remember the original Upstage?

A: Well, I was a kid. I remember Cookman Avenue before the riots. I was just in grade school then.

Q: But you remember the early days of The Stone Pony, and stuff like that.

A: Yeah. That was a little later. I used to sneak in to see Southside Johnny.

Q: But you never actually saw a show at the Upstage?

A: No, I was way too young. The first time I walked in there was maybe more than 10 years ago, when I first got interested in this. I walked in and … they were just starting to think about turning it into condos. And when I went upstairs, it was 1970. It was like nothing had changed. No one had even been up there in a long time. It was a real time capsule. In the men’s room, someone had taken a screwdriver or something to the wall and written, “Steel Mill Rules.” It was cool.

Q: I saw the film two years ago at the festival …

A: Have you seen the new one?

Q: No, I have not.

A: It’s different. It’s better. We finished the first one, really, out of a sense of obligation. I think since it didn’t have Bruce in it, in a real way, we would have had a tough time selling it. But now, I think it’s not only better from a commercial standpoint, but it’s just a better film. He was a great interview, and the show at the Paramount, I thought, was really terrific. We were able to include little bits of that. I’m really happy with it now.

Bruce Springsteen in “Asbury Park: Riot, Redemption, Rock ‘n’ Roll.”

Q: Besides the Bruce interview, and the footage from the Paramount, are there any other changes?

A: Yes. Max Weinberg (interview footage) and … there were a lot of things we were able to include in the film, like more from Boom Carter, a little more from Nicky Addeo. There was just stuff that (Springsteen) said that allowed me to use some stuff I had left on the floor before. I think it’s about 50 to 60 percent different from the one we showed earlier.

Q: Wow, that’s like a whole new film, almost.

A: Yeah. And I think the concert really adds a lot. It was just a great night, and a great scene: Those guys playing with the (Lakehouse) kids, kind of mixing up the old and the new. I was just super-happy about that. All of that was unexpected. It was a big surprise for us, as well as everyone else.

Q: Did Bruce’s participation in the concert lead directly to him agreeing to do an interview?

A. I guess so. You know, it all remains kind of a mystery to me. He came to the movie as a surprise, and he kindly offered to sit for an interview, which was great. And I’ve done my best to not bug him since. I’m going to call him once, to tell him what we’re up to, and invite him to the show in Asbury, or whatever he might like to do. But it was a really gracious thing to do.

Q: But he actually watched it at the festival?

A: Yeah, he came in, and sat with Steven (Van Zandt), and watched the film.

Q: Where did you do the actual interview with him?

A: In the Upstage. They actually held the Upstage for me till the film festival, and then they started to take it apart. But they kindly, again, held it for a while, until we arranged the interview time and got it shot. They were very nice, and very helpful.

From left, musicians at the Upstage Jam at the Paramount Theatre in April 2017 included David Sancious, Bruce Springsteen, Southside Johnny and John Conte.

Q: How many cities are signed up so far for the May 22 screening?

A: I’m told that we’re going to have 28 countries, and 1,400 cinemas. That’s really terrific. And it’s cool: I saw the poster in Italian, and we’re getting marketing material from different countries.

Q: And what are the distribution plans for after that?

A: We’ll be on TV … That’s under discussion, but the way I had it set up was I was just going to do PBS for the New York market, as a kind of a tip of the hat to the local crowd, so if you wanted to, you could see it without having to pay anything. And then, following that, we’re going to be on digital platforms. We have a couple of good offers, but we haven’t decided on one yet. We can’t do anything until 30 days after the (May 22) theatrical release. I think we’ll probably go onto television and digital around July 4, because it will be the 49th anniversary of the riot, so that will be a good news peg.

Q: Having Springsteen in it always helps draw some attention!

A: Yeah, he really does. More to the point … not having him would be a really bad thing, because it begs the question, “Why isn’t he in it?” He’s the predominant story that came out of the town. And to be honest, his interview was fantastic. He and Steven and Southside really gave us a spine for the film. They were thoughtful, rich interviews. Really, really good.

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