In January, Jake Clemons headlined the main concert of the Light of Day Festival at the Paramount Theatre in Asbury Park, performing the last set in a show that lasted seven hours. He had just released his first full-length album, Fear & Love, a few days previously.
Pressure? What pressure?
“When you’re playing a live show — for me anyway — I want to make sure there’s a value, for people who have sacrificed to be there,” he says. “But in terms of pressure beyond the audience itself …”
“I don’t know. I don’t think I thought about it in those terms, necessarily. There were a lot of incredible performers (on the bill), and that just made it exciting.
“It was a heck of a marathon. I think the biggest challenge for me on that one was to not play too long … (big laugh) to have compassion for the audience that stuck through it and had a great time.”
There are a lot of remarkable things about Clemons, 37, who headlines the June 24 lineup of the June 23-25 Rockland-Bergen Music Festival in Tappan, N.Y. But perhaps the most remarkable thing is his poise.
In 2012, after his uncle Clarence died, he was given the opportunity to play saxophone in Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. (He plays sax as well as guitar as a solo artist, and writes and sings his own material.) If he was nervous, he didn’t show it, and he has played nearly flawlessly and had a strong onstage presence since then.
In conjunction with the release of a video for “Janine,” a song from Fear & Love, last month, Clemons launched a web site, janineproject.com, designed to disseminate information about domestic violence and local shelters that can help those afflicted by it.
“We’ve had a great response from a lot of people, and also women’s shelters all over,” he says. “It’s been really amazing to see people get involved. I think the web site’s going to expand, eventually, to a certain degree. But at the end of the day, the idea was for it to be a conversation starter — somewhere for people to go and learn about what the realities are, and in some cases use it for themselves.”
Domestic violence, he says, is “something that we all know exists, but I felt really naive when I became aware of what the real statistics were — what those real numbers were. Those numbers are extremely high. So high that if you don’t think you know someone directly who’s being affected by that, then you’re just as naive as I was.”
There is, of course, a great tradition, in the E Street world, of becoming involved in causes. Did that rub off on him in some way?
“I think that’s one of the cornerstones of what music is for,” he says. “It’s something that draws people together, but also, it’s the voice for the community, in a lot of ways. Making everyone aware of where we stand in the community is important.
“The extent to which E Street and Bruce have taken that … I would hope that has rubbed off on me. What they’ve all done is remarkable, and they’re certainly extraordinary examples for the rest of us.”
The Rockland-Bergen Music Festival — whose other performers this year will include John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band, Joe Grushecky, Steve Forbert, Hollis Brown, Jeffrey Gaines and dozens of others — is organized by Light of Day board member Joe D’Urso. Clemons has played benefits for Light of Day (which raises money for Parkinson’s Disease research) in Europe, as well as Asbury Park.
“It’s the same kind of thing, where most of us know somebody who’s being affected by the disease,” he says. “It’s something that I’ve been grateful to be able to lend my voice to, and be supportive of.”
I had to ask Clemons if he knows anything about the hot Springsteen rumor of the moment: The possibility, reported in a New York Post article, that he will do a series of shows in a Broadway theater later this year.
“Somebody sent me a link,” Clemons says, “so I know just as much about it as everybody else does. But I think it’s an exciting idea. My first read of the article, it seemed like it made a lot of sense to me.”
A series of shows in such an small (for Springsteen, at least) venue would be unprecedented in his career.
“I would consider myself to be one of the luckiest musicians,” Clemons says, “because I can go play stadiums (with Springsteen), and I could go an play living rooms, or bars and clubs. I’ve got the full gamut in front of me. But most people that get to a certain level can’t really do that. So I think it makes a lot of sense for Bruce to want to get in front of a small audience and do some intimate shows.”
Clemons’ June 23 show at the Wonder Bar in Asbury Park is sold out. He will perform at the Rockland-Bergen Music Festival at German Masonic Park in Tappan, N.Y., at 7:05 p.m. June 24. For more information on the festival, which lasts from June 23 to June 25, visit rocklandmusicfestival.com.