Long Branch Jazz and Blues Fest serves up a perfect day of hot blues

by Don Jay Smith


Popa Chubby and his band perform at the Jersey Shore Jazz and Blues Festival, Aug. 26.

A clear blue sky, sandy beaches, a huge park and great music … that’s what was on tap for the free Long Branch Jazz and Blues Festival on Aug. 26. And the crowd turned out for a great celebration made possible by Long Branch, the Jersey Shore Jazz & Blues Foundation and several local sponsors. The boardwalk was filled with vendors including food trucks as more than 2,000 people enjoyed eight hours of music.

Blues singer, keyboardist and songwriter Regina Bonelli opened with some powerful music accompanied by an excellent band. Delving into the blues, some blues-rock and vintage soul, she played an hour-long set that showcased her strong voice.

The music shifted to jazz as singer Audra Mariel treated the audience to her interpretations of standards with her A Real Human Jazz Band featuring guitarist Tom Monda, bassist Cody McCorry and drummer Joe Brown Jr. Combining a lovely voice with an engaging stage presence, she showed off her vocal skills as the sun warmed the day.


Anthony Krizan at the Long Branch Jazz and Blues Festival.

By mid-afternoon, Ocean Park had filled with listeners and the boardwalk bustled and everyone was ready to party so the programming moved perfectly to the Anthony Krizan Band. An exciting guitarist, Anthony played lead guitar for the Spin Doctors and for bassist Noel Redding in the mid-’90s and owns Sonic Boom Recording Studio in Raritan.

Primarily a blues-rock group, the band immediately had the audience rocking to a set of Krizan originals. At times, the music sounded like the bands Krizan has played with (such as the Spin Doctors) or opened for (such as The Rolling Stones). But he made the music his own, showing off his considerable chops as a player and a songwriter.

Krizan then turned the music over to The Andy Rothstein Band which played a mix of rock-tinged fusion, straightahead jazz and funk. Guitar fans loved Rothstein’s technique, which showed the influence of Pat Martino and Stevie Ray Vaughan as well as his teachers Kevin Eubanks and Ted Dunbar. He was joined by his excellent group comprised of Demetrios Pappas on keyboards, Bob Franceschini on sax, John Martin on trumpet, Tony Senatore on bass and Tom Cottone on drums. He opened with “Wit of the Staircase” from his second album, then bounded his way through favorites from his repertoire including “Return to Reason,” “Voodoo Tone” and “Cab 804 (Samba).”

The growing crowd had only a few minutes to catch its breath because the powerhouse blues singer-songwriter Eliza Neals quickly had everyone up and dancing with her exciting original “United We Stand.” She then showed more of her strong vocals with the Big Mama Thornton composition (redone by Janis Joplin) “Ball and Chain.” She also demonstrated her prowess on keyboards.


Popa Chubby and Eliza Neals at the Long Branch Jazz and Blues Festival.

Joined by her longtime guitarist Frankie Maneiro, bassist Mickey Macguire and drummer John Medeiros Jr., Neals entertained the crowd with a blend of originals and blues classics. She was joined by her good friend Popa Chubby (the festival’s headliner) for an exciting version of “Hey Joe,” a popular garage-rock tune covered successfully by Jimi Hendrix. Popa Chubby stayed seated for most of the song, but his guitar work didn’t waver from his inimitable wild, frenzied style. That wild style was matched by Neals, who sang with equal intensity.

She closed her set with the oft-covered “Can’t Find My Way Home,” written by Steve Winwood and originally recorded by his group, Blind Faith. But the audience would not let her leave so she performed two encores: “Take Your Pants Off” and “Red House.”

Having Popa Chubby and his band headline the festival was a good choice by programmer Tom Baldino, who stepped to the microphone to introduce the band, which included Craig Dryer on keyboards and sax, Mike Merritt on bass and Andrei Koribanics on drums. Popa Chubby played with his trademark intensity and ferocity for 90 minutes, opening with kick-out-the-jams versions of “All We Need Is Rock ‘n’ Roll” and “You’ve Got to Love Somebody.” His set was a blend of originals (he writes a lot of material) and covers done in his frenzied electric guitar style. He played an extended version of the “Love Theme from ‘The Godfather’ ” — very appropriately, since he plays up his gangster persona. But then he shifted gears to play a gorgeous rendition of a beloved blues tune made famous by Howlin’ Wolf, “Goin’ Down Slow.”

After covering some Rolling Stones and David Bowie, he provided a musical soundtrack of Jimi Hendrix guitar work to the spectacular fireworks provided by the town of Long Branch. He closed his set with the classic “Red House” and left the more than 2,000 fans buzzing about the great day they had.

If you never have been to the Long Branch Jazz and Blues Festival, mark your calendar for late August next summer and take a trip down the Shore. When confirmed, information will be posted at jsjbf.org.

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