Southside Johnny and Asbury Jukes will play drive-in concert at Monmouth Park

Southside drive-in

Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes will present a drive-in concert at Monmouth Park in Oceanport, July 11.

Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes’ traditional Fourth of July Week concert at the Stone Pony Summer Stage has been postponed to 2021. But the band will make up for it as best it can under present circumstances with a drive-in concert at Monmouth Park in Oceanport, July 11. Up to 1,000 vehicles, with a maximum of four passengers in each one, can be accommodated.

This won’t be the country’s first drive-in concert of the pandemic. But I’m not aware of any other U.S. drive-in concert planned on such a large scale.

Gates will open at 4 p.m., with the show at 6 p.m., and tickets will go on sale June 5 at 10 a.m. via Ticketmaster.com, with a pre-sale having already started.

According to a press release, “Only touchless, mobile tickets administered through the Ticketmaster app (iOS | Android) will be valid for these performances.” The concert is presented by the Count Basie Center for the Arts in Red Bank, and will benefit the Basie as well as the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund.

Vehicles will be spaced approximately nine feet apart, and patrons must remain inside them. No tailgating will be allowed, and masks and social distancing will be required at restrooms. No motorcycles, buses, limousines, bicycles or foot traffic will be allowed, but ADA accessible vehicles will be permitted. The music will be heard via FM radio.

For information and updates, visit thebasie.org/drivein.

I talked to Southside Johnny last week about this show, and some other things as well, including life during the pandemic, the lost song “The Ballad of Sue and Earl,” and the April 22 death of longtime Jukes stage manager Andrew “Hood” Kafafian.

SOUTHSIDE JOHNNY

Q: Hi, how’s it going?

A: Fine, except I haven’t made any real music in three months.

Q: I know. But you are going to be making music soon. This is the biggest concert of this kind that I’ve heard of. Is it kind of daunting to think about entertaining people who are sitting in their cars?

A: I’m actually looking forward to it. I’m not daunted at all, because it’s going to be Jukes fans and, you know, they’re up for anything. We just want people to have a good time. I don’t have any message other than … you can enjoy yourself, and be sane at the same time. Although not too sane! (laughs)

No, I’m really looking forward to it. Look, any chance I get to play, I don’t want to pass it up. Especially now.

I think people will find ways to enjoy themselves, in their cars. I have no idea about the technology, about how that works. But then all I have to do is remember the words and try to stay somewhat within the beat.

Q: But of course you won’t get that feedback from the crowd … you won’t be able to look into their eyes. I don’t know if you’ll be able to hear applause or not. It almost seems like you’ll be performing into a vacuum.

A: Well, I’m sure they’ll find ways to express themselves. (laughs)

Q: They’ll all honk or something.

A: They’ll honk. And if you don’t like the song, you have to have an ooga horn, so that you sound angry.

But, you know, one of the great things about the Jukes, and it has been this way for all these decades, is when you get the wacky gigs, you rise to the occasion, because it’s just something different, and it’s an adventure. We all just love that kind of stuff. We did a one-night stand in Casablanca. Just crazy things. I’ve played weddings, divorces and funerals, bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs. Every conceivable occasion, it seems like. They call on us to do those crazy shows.

I really love that stuff. We did a tour once in Sweden, with the Swedish army, and we played all the Swedish army bases. And it was one of the best tours we ever had. We got to be above the Arctic Circle, we could see the Northern Lights. We were treated great.

When you take your chances on these things … it’s new. And I’ve been playing long enough that I like new stuff. I know how to do what I’m doing. But I like a little challenge, occasionally.

Q: And it’ll be the full Jukes band, all the horns and everything?

A: Yeah, all the horns and everybody. We could all social-distance, because we all kind of stand apart anyway, except for the horns. But I’m sure the brain trust is working on that, how that’s gonna be.

PHOTO COURTESY SSJ

Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes at Stone Pony Summer Stage.

Q: I’m sure there will be a huge stage, so you can spread out.

A: Yeah. It’s gonna be, I guess, compensation for not doing the Fourth of July at the Stone Pony, which I really hate to miss, because it’s one of our big shows of the year, and I know people really enjoy it. So that’s kind of a drag. But this is some compensation for the that: For the fans, and for us. And so we’re gonna make the most of it.

Q: So how have you been doing in general in the lockdown? It’s hard for everyone, of course. But how have you been experiencing it?

A: You know, I live in this little town, Ocean Grove, and all of our neighbors have gotten together to talk, with distance between us, and it’s become much more neighborly and much more communal. The whole town has been really good to each other, and some stores are open. You know, everybody is kind of doing what they have to do.

I don’t mind not … I don’t go to bars and clubs and that kind of stuff. I’ve spent my whole life doing that. So I don’t mind staying home. But I do go out and get into nature, look at the birds, try to get a little air in the lungs. I’m lucky: The beach in Ocean Grove and the boardwalk are still open. So we have that. For me, it’s not that much of a hardship, except for not playing (music). It’s killing me not be be able to go out and justify your existence on the planet.

Q: I did want to ask you about a couple of other things. One, of course … during the pandemic Hood died, and I know how integral he was to the whole Jukes operation. Will it be hard to be doing this show, and whatever comes after, without him?

A: Yes. When you said “Hood,” right then, my heart just sunk, because …

Q: I’m sorry.

A: … it still is really painful. I mean, he was just so much a part of my life and the Jukes, and he had friends all around the world. He knew everybody. I just miss him terribly. It’s gonna be tough not seeing him on the side of the stage, bopping around. But there will definitely be a tribute to him (in the show). I’m sure I’ll come up with something to say.

I’m glad he’s not suffering. But God, I miss him.

Q: Was he there from the very start (of the band), or did he join later?

A: He came in only a few years later. But he was there forever. And all of the fans knew him. All of the other acts knew him. All of the crew guys in all those different places we played, they all knew him. It was really a tough blow.

Southside Johnny performs on the “American Music Shop” TV show in 1990.

Q: I also wanted to ask you about a song called “The Ballad of Sue and Earl” …

A: (laughs)

Q: … which resurfaced in an old (1990 “American Music Shop”) TV show appearance that I wrote about. And I really think it’s a great song. I was wondering … first of all, did you and Bobby Bandiera write that together?

A: Yes, we did.

Q: And was it you more the lyrics, or him, or both?

A: We both collaborated on the whole thing. (see video below) He had some great lines and, we knew we wanted to do a Chuck Berry-ish kind of thing. And that’s what came out. Writing with Bobby is like writing with Jeff (Kazee). Things just pop out. You take out a pad, you say, “I want to write a song like this” or “I’ve got this idea,” and it just works. And I always liked that song a lot. I don’t know what ever happened to it. (laughs)

Q: Did you consider it for the (1991) Better Days album?

A: No, that never crossed my mind. It’s just one of the many, many songs I’ve written that kind of fell through the cracks. When I started out, I didn’t realize that I was going to make so many albums, so many demos. I should have kept a record. (laughs) I should have made a note of certain things. I’m kind of a fly-by-night individual, anyway, so … whatever happens, happens. But I’m glad you liked it. I always enjoyed that song.

Q: Were Sue and Earl just kind of characters you made up?

A: Yeah. The term “Sue and Earl” is from an old doo-wop song by Eugene Pitt and the Jive Five. He wrote a song about, “Her name was Sue, yeah/His name was Earl/His love was Lorraine/She’s a wonderful girl.” (see video below) So I kind of stole that for the names of the songs. It’s called “My True Story.” That’s a great record. He’s a great singer. I mean, it’s one of my favorite doo-wop records.

Q: So are you able to do, at this time, any songwriting or even recording?

A: I’ve been able to do a little songwriting, and then it kind of dried up because … I just lost all motivation. Hopefully this show coming up will energize me again. I think I’m like a lot of people who are just in a COVID coma. Things that seemed important and necessary seem, now, to evaporate. I’ve tried to write, but I’m not pleased with a lot of the things that are coming out. I’m sure it will happen again.

It’s just, right now, I’m just drifting through the days. I mean, they just go by so fast. And I don’t even know what day it is, half the time. I’m sure a lot of people are in the same boat.

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