Acclaimed photographer Danny Clinch, designer-artist Tina Kerekes and singer-songwriter-instrumentalist Rachel Ana Dobken recently chatted with Makin Waves about the Danny Clinch Transparent Gallery in Asbury Park.
The Upstage is long gone and may be turned into condos.
Asbury Lanes is said to be coming back, but will it be the same?
Depending on how old you are, you miss one or the other or both of those historic Asbury Park music venues. But if you’ve been to Danny Clinch Transparent Gallery, a pop-up shop adjacent to The Asbury hotel, perhaps you don’t miss them as much. The welcoming, jam-friendly space embodies the spirit of both venues even though they’re many musical generations apart.
A world-famous Grammy-nominated photographer of Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam, Green Day, Foo Fighters, Metallica, Tupac and countless other music legends, Danny Clinch has made it his aim to unite the old Asbury with the new. He and his team, particularly gallery manager Tina Kerekes and music curator Rachel Ana Dobken, pair Upstage legends with young upstarts, fusing blues, rock and folk with spoken word, R&B and hip-hop. Each week, a show is presented as the soundtrack to Clinch’s heralded work, more than 100 prints of which hang on the walls or are printed onto them, as well as the windows.
Kerekes, owner of the former boardwalk gallery and furniture shop Here Today, Gone Tomorrow and an influential figure at Asbury Lanes, continues the comfortable yet funky, safe yet edgy vibe of both enterprises. Her vintage furniture makes Transparent Gallery even more comfy and is for sale, along with Clinch’s prints and books, new gallery T-shirts, and other items.
As for the music, coming up will be the NYC-based hard-rockin’ blues band The Blackfires, singer-songwriter-photographer Zac Clark of Burlington, Vt., and Asbury faves Lowlight on Dec 9; the hip-hop group New Star and singer-songwriter-rapper Jonathan Stamper on Dec. 17; and Outernational (a New York band produced by Chad Smith of Red Hot Chili Peppers), Don Giovanni recording act Amy Klein and local rockers Foes of Fern on Dec. 30. At any given show, Dobken and/or Clinch, also a respected blues harpist, may jam or play with an outfit they share called the High Anxiety Blues Band. Several surprise national acts also have stopped in to share the stage, including G. Love, Robert Randolph and members of Preservation Jazz Hall Band.
I spoke with Clinch, Kerekes and Dobken about the gallery, its impact on Asbury, Asbury’s impact on them, and the friendly, tasty jams that result.
Q: How did the gallery come to be? Who and what was the initial catalyst for its creation?
Clinch: I’ve spent a lot of time in Asbury Park, and I have a connection to a lot of the musicians who are from here. Certainly Bruce Springsteen. And I’ve been coming here for years photographing before Asbury got back on the map, so to speak.
There’s this woman (Lisa Poggi) … familiar with my work. She works for iStar, and she’s one of the realtors around here. And she said, “They have this space, and they want to do something with it and think you could do a pop-up store there. Would you be interested?” So I decided to connect with them, and we came up with this idea, and we started kicking the tires on what we would do here.
At the same time, Tina had a store on the boardwalk, and her lease was about to expire. They were going to renovate the building, so she was going to have to leave. We had just met a year ahead of time. We loved her space. It was just a really great space. It was open. It was friendly. It was like a coffee shop. They didn’t even put a wall up. They just let it be, so you could come over with your coffee and enjoy the artwork she had on the walls.
Kerekes: Anybody who was involved in the (boardwalk) mural project could display their work.
Q: What was the business called?
Kerekes: Here Today, Gone Tomorrow. It was a little pop-up shop.
Clinch: All this furniture was inside. So we had become friends. My wife, Maria, also. And this all really started to ramp up. I was like, “Tina, I think it would be really cool to put some of this furniture in this space. Let’s make it a really cozy space,” not like a white-glove gallery thing, you know? And she was like, “Yeah, I’d love to be a part of it.” And then I was like, “Well, who’s going to run it?” And then she was like, “Well, I just lost my space. Let’s cut a deal.” So we cut a deal. She brings in all her stuff here, she runs the space, she sells her work. She does a great job as a kind, welcoming hostess here, and running the show. It’s been great.
And then just serendipitously and organically, Rachel started coming by. And we were like, “Oh, we want to start having music in here. Rachel, you want to play?” “Yeah, I’ve got some friends. I’ll have them come by.” Her friends were like the raddest people and incredible musicians.
You know, I hear a lot of music. I’m around music all the time. Granted, everybody likes something different, but all the people she was bringing around, young musician, were kind of blowing our minds. It was like, “Damn, those people are incredible.”
Q: And this was just all informal? They would just come by and jam?
Clinch: Yeah. She would set it up, and we just kept building on that. Now we have people coming here all the time. We pass a tip jar around.
Q: So her and her friends’ level of musicianship got her the gig as music curator?
Clinch: Yeah, she plays drums, keyboards, guitar, sings.
Q: When and how did you learn how to play harmonica?
Clinch: I started playing when I was a kid. My grandfather had a harmonica. And then I started to really get into blues. A friend of mine turned me onto blues. I was assisting for a photographer named Timothy White. He and his assistant were really into Ray Charles and Muddy Waters … and then I picked up the harmonica and got into it.
Then I became friends with Blind Melon, and they invited me up to play harmonica with them. It’s Blind Melon, Soundgarden and Neil Young at the Arts Center in New Jersey. And I went up and played on a song called “Change.” That changed my life because then I really started to get serious about it.
Q: What impact do you think Tina and Rachel have had on the gallery?
Clinch: Everybody brings something different to the table. Tina, Rachel and my wife, Maria. My son, Max, comes in and runs the gallery. It’s teamwork, and everybody has their strengths. Tina is just a wonderful hostess with a great sense of style. People from all walks of life are attracted to her personality. She just really gets along with everybody and makes people feel welcome.
So does Rachel. I hope I am the same way and Maria. We want it to be a community thing. We want to be a part of what’s going on here. I’m from here. I’m from Asbury. I mean, I’m from Toms River. I’m from the Jersey Shore. I always felt that this community could be something really special again. The gay community moved in here. The artists moved in here. And then, of course, the corporations come in, and they realize this is the value of the great art and the great scene that was set up here.
It can be frustrating for some of the early people who were here first, who were priced out or who feel that they are being pushed away. I feel that a lot of these companies, like iStar in particular, have embraced the community and tried their best to give back in any way they can. They don’t want to come in and just drop themselves on top of Asbury Park. They want to come into Asbury Park and help people like us integrate, help build it, and keep the spirit.
Q: What impact do each of you think the gallery has had on Asbury Park and its arts, music and nightlife?
Clinch: I think we’re continuing to add to the culture here, the excitement of what Asbury Park is: art, music, community. We’ve embraced the community in many ways. We have had fundraisers for the Asbury Park Music Foundation and the Boys & Girls Club.
Kerekes: KYDS, which is Konscious Youth Development & Services. They teach children from early ages up until 20s meditation yoga, a positive voice. We give them a stage where they can do spoken word, hip-hop, bands. It’s super cool. They’re based in Asbury, but they just got a nonprofit, so they go into all these other schools and teach … wrap their arms around so many kids …
Clinch: … in the underserved communities. So we’ve done that.
And we have rock ‘n’ roll here, we have spoken word, hip-hop, we have R&B, the blues. If you look at my “Still Moving” book, and look at the people that I’ve photographed, we try to keep that spirit. I’ve got Metallica in there. I’ve got Tupac. I’ve got Tony Bennett, Johnny Cash, and Willie (Nelson), and Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters and Neil Young. It’s like everything in between. We just try to embrace everything. We want to contribute to the community.
Tina has her furniture in here, and we have stuff from other entrepreneurs and small business owners in here. And my son brings his T-shirts in here.
Kerekes: This has become a community hub for people from all over the town, all over the world, to hear up-and-coming bands, local bands, Danny’s friends, Rachel. They can sit here for hours and look at the photographs. And we tell them stories. It’s become a very cool, safe space for anybody to come through Asbury. I feel like it’s a huge thing for Asbury. It’s changed so rapidly in the last two years. You look on Cookman Avenue or Lake Avenue or even Bangs Avenue, those places where there was, like, one store on it 15 years ago, it’s changed so quickly, but I feel like we keep the old Asbury and the new Asbury together in one space.
Dobken: I agree with everything that Tina is saying, and I think that the greatest thing about this space is that it really has become a way for opening Asbury up. In particular, I’m thinking about the music scene and how geographically, Asbury is the perfect go-between between Philly and New York, and there are a lot of touring bands that come in and will be between those two places, but have not had a means to play here or even an understanding that there is a scene here. It’s more and more getting out that there is a scene here. I’m trying to integrate those scenes more into what is going on here in Asbury because I think there’s so much talent and there’s so much amazing opportunity here, and there’s such an amazing community of supportive people that needs to be known to the world. And to give all of the artists around here a springboard, an opportunity to get that potential exposure through somebody like Danny … is so huge and I think so important.
If you don’t think about playing outside of the Asbury scene, it can be very insular, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but when it comes to growing yourself as a musician or an artist and getting out there in the world, it’s a little tough. I think more so than ever, Asbury is becoming more known, and I would like to think that we’re helping to make that happen.
I really like to make things interesting by booking bands that are from Philly … from New York, like Joe Michelini. Although he is an Asbury guy, American Trappist are a Philly band.
It’s just become such an amazing place to hang out. There’s so much love in this room. Everyone is so supportive. We have the regulars who come to our shows every week, which is amazing.
Q: Tina and Rachel, what do you like most about your roles at the gallery?
Kerekes: Mentoring. So many young creatives come through here inspired by Danny’s work, my work, Rachel’s work. For a lot of them, the question is, “How did you get here? What got you to this level?” So I work with them. I teach them about sewing and art. I tell them stories about Danny, how he didn’t take no for an answer, how he sent out a letter to nowhere to get it to Bruce Springsteen. With all these things that he did, they’re like, “Oh, wow! I should be doing that too.”
Dobken: That I get to bring in all this amazing talent and give them the opportunity to get the exposure that they deserve. That’s what makes me happiest. And to see how happy Danny and Maria are and everyone else each week when we have a super successful show. Like my birthday, I just invited all my friends, like Renee (Maskin) and Dan Apy and Joe Michelini, and Avery Manville came and played with her band. There were, like, eight musicians. I made them all play a song of their own and then I had them play a song with me. It turned into this beautiful, organic, collaborative thing, which is really what happens here. That’s what is the most amazing thing about this.
Q: Danny, what do you enjoy most about the jams that happen at the gallery and how do they express your passion for music?
Clinch: My passion for music is clear in the love I have of documenting musical history. I like community, and I like camaraderie, and I like to see when people come in and they start to jam with each other. One day we had this kid in here, Jonathan Stamper, a young musician who’s going to Rutgers right now. A really incredible lyricist, as well as the way he sings and raps and blends all this stuff together. And then, my friend Joseph Arthur, who’s a musician and an artist as well – he’s just an all-around incredible Renaissance man and tech guy – came down here and saw Jonathan and couldn’t believe it. Here’s this young kid who’s not even 20, and he’s just like blowing our minds. And he’s real shy. Then he finished and went off and was kind of hanging out, then Joseph went up and did a set. I was like, “I think Jonathan should go in and freestyle over Joseph’s beats.” And Jonathan was like, “No, no, no.” And then Joseph’s like, “C’mon, man.” And then the next thing you know, they’re up there creating something that’s never been heard before between the two of them for only a select group of us hanging out here. It’s just magic, you know?
Phil Lesh & Friends were playing over at Convention Hall, and Stringbean & the Stalkers were playing here afterward, hoping that they would come over. Sure enough, most of the band came over. Phil didn’t come over, but the guitar player, Ross James, comes over. And we’re like, “We know that you’ve been playing for three hours, but if you want, come up and sit in with the band.” And he was like, “Sure.” Everybody up there has chops. Everybody up there is incredible. This guy just took the whole thing to another level. He was just crushing it on my Gibson SG guitar that I brought over. I was like, “Yes!” It was so good. We did “Stormy Monday.”
Q: Rachel, what do you like most about backing Danny musically, and do you play music with him outside of the gallery?
Dobken: I love backing Danny because we just have so much fun. And it’s very loose and casual. Usually, we’re both so busy that we won’t have time to rehearse, so we’ll rehearse the day of. It’s a little stressful, but we always know it’s just about having fun. There’s no pressure, no you have to get it perfect. It’s just all about the moment.
When we play together, we play the blues. When you listen to all the old artists, like Jimmy Reed and James Brown, it’s so much about being there in the moment. That organic nature of music and the moment is what this space is about.
We had G. Love play Fourth of July weekend. It was amazing, just drums, harmonica and acoustic guitar. And he had this little baby, who was the cutest thing. It was the most organic thing.
We’ve had three guitar players onstage at once. You’d never get that in New York. They’d all be trying to outplay each other.
Kerekes: There’s such a great chemistry between everybody.
Dobken: Yeah! Here in Asbury, there’s so much love. The three of us are really intent on making that happen here … We pass a tip chair so the musician can go home with a little bit of money. And there have been days where we’ve had $400 in tips, and I’ve been able to pay each band a hundred bucks, all because of the community here that comes every week to our shows.
Mickey Raphael came by. He’s Willie Nelson’s harmonica player, one of the best of all time. He came by when Willie Nelson was at the PNC Bank Arts Center.
And Gary Clark Jr. came by before he played the Pony, and Danny played with him, and then they just sat around talking, looking at photos that Danny had taken of him. That’s the kind of stuff that happens here.
And there’s just so much amazing talent here, like Renee (Maskin) and Lowlight, Dan Apy and the Mercury Brothers, and Cranston Dean, who I think is one of the best songwriters ever.
Q: Are drums your first instrument?
Dobken: No, guitar, but I’ve been playing drums for 10 years, and I studied jazz drumming in college at Bard. I studied jazz drumming and photography.
Q: No wonder Danny likes you so much. Does curating the music and playing at the gallery keep your band from playing elsewhere on Saturday nights? If so, why is that worthwhile?
Dobken: My band doesn’t usually play here unless it’s a special event. Usually, it’s just me. If I have to play on a Saturday, I will, but usually, it’s a lot because I’m working. I’m here at 1 o’clock setting up for the show. We usually take one weekend off a month because we all need a break. If I have a show I booked, I play it. I work it out somehow.
The gallery closes at 8. It’s a gallery first and foremost. Music is secondary. Unless we have a very special event, we won’t stay open late just because it’s exhausting. We don’t have a production team. I don’t have a sound guy. I get lucky because my friends can do sound and my bandmate helps out with sound all the time when he’s here, but for the most part, it’s just us.
It’s all about fitting it in. The music and the arts industry is a hustle and a grind. I still have plenty of time to do my own gigs. You figure if you’re going to play New York, you’re going to play once a month. You’re not going to want to play more than that. And playing around here … I won’t play until 9 or 10, so I can fit it in.
And it’s worthwhile because there’s so many amazing opportunities and people that I meet here. I mean, we have Dhani Harrison showing up, and we’re jamming on a Wednesday night. Danny met him at the Algonquin Theatre, and he brought him back here, and we just had a little private party. It was a lot of fun, but that’s the kind of stuff that happens here, so I am more than happy to help Danny with whatever he needs with music stuff, and I’m learning a ton. It’s an amazing opportunity every week.
Q: The gallery seems like such a permanent structure, yet your operation continues to be extended by The Asbury as if it’s temporary. The latest extension appears to be for another year, which is until the end of next year. Should the gallery’s stay at The Asbury no longer be extended, will it move someplace else in Asbury Park or elsewhere?
Kerekes: Definitely. We all agreed that if we keep creating great content, it’s going to be hard to be replaced. If we don’t continue on, Danny’s business continues, my business continues. If it works out that we can do it again, I’m all for it.
Clinch: I don’t know. I feel like this is a really special opportunity. I wouldn’t say no. If it was serendipity, like this place is, and it was in the stars and we found the right spot, and we could just move things over seamlessly, yeah, I would be into it. It’s incredible. It’s really creative, just a great community of people.
When we have our music events, there are a handful of core people who are always here. There’s a couple who drives in from Pennsylvania every time we have live music. The musicians who play here, even when they’re not playing, they come and hang out.
Q: Danny, what do you prefer to shoot, portraits or concerts, and why?
Clinch: I like the photograph as a document. Within that, a lot of things fall in there, but I like being somewhere someone is making music backstage or in a recording studio because it’s such an honest moment.
Q: You have some really special settings, such as Eddie Vedder in the swamp with a ukulele on a paddleboard or Green Day in the trunk of a New Orleans taxi cab. Is that kind of setting spontaneous or do you plan it out ahead of time?
Clinch: It’s a collaboration. You call somebody. You find out what they’re doing. With Eddie, he was making a ukulele album, and he took a lot of inspiration from Hawaii, so I went to Hawaii. We came up with this idea of being on his paddle board, paddling around with a suit on.
Sometimes it’s my idea, but a lot of times, it’s a collaboration. With Green Day, I was in New Orleans, which has a lot of super-cool taxi cabs in really wild colors, so I thought it would be cool to get them in a cab, so I put them in the trunk with all the color around them.
Q: Out of all the artists you’ve shot, which shoot was the most memorable and why?
Clinch: They’re all interesting, but shooting the album packaging and publicity for the Eddie Vedder ukulele record, “Ukulele Songs,” I was asked by Eddie Vedder to come out to Hawaii to photograph the record and make short films. So he flew me out to Hawaii. We’d get up in the morning. He would make us a smoothie, then we’d go surfing for a little while. I would try to surf. He would surf. And then we would shoot all day. Wander around Oahu, the North Shore, and then his neighbor would come over at night with a couple of six packs of beer, and we’d all sit around drinking beer. And his neighbor was Sean Penn (laughs).
Then other one is the Metallica shoot that I did in San Quentin. I was camera operator for a music video that was being directed by the Malloy Brothers. They invited me out to shoot some B-roll for this video and photograph as well. We had to go in there and they said to us basically, “If you happen to be taken hostage in this prison, we are not going to guarantee that we are going to do any sort of exchange for your safety, so you have to be okay with that.” And everybody signed, including the band.
Q: Tina, you had an association with Asbury Lanes. What do you think of what iStar is doing with the Lanes now and do you know if anyone from the original club is involved in its reopening?
Kerekes: Well, since we’re sponsored by iStar, the conversation is always there. We have not sat down and said, “Hey, what are you doin’?” It would be hard for me to say yes or no at this time. I feel like it’s still going to be the same idea, which is a rock venue/bowling alley/cool place to hang out and be. They tried save a lot of things that already were in the Lanes, but the ball returns were from 1961, so that needs to be replaced. There’s nobody who can fix those returns anymore. … I think it will be computerized, whatever the new thing is that they do at bowling alleys, and the green room will be a lot more special. And it will have working electricity and AC and all that fun stuff. I feel like it’s going to have the same spirit and not be the same. And I hope it’s not. I want it to be something different. I want it to grow and be something more. I have so many great memories from the Lanes, but I have to move forward. I can’t think about the past. It’s one of the reasons that I left years ago to continue my business. I could have stayed there forever and not get paid. I really was just someone who came in to do the interior, and if they needed help, I’d be there for them. I spent a lot of time there.
Q: Besides the gallery, what else is coming up for each you in regard to events, promotion and product?
Clinch: I’ve been working on a Blind Melon film for a long time. I hesitate to say too much about it because it’s been a long road. Any film is difficult, but this has been a tough one. I hope to finish that film sometime in the next year.
Not only am I doing this in Asbury Park, but I do this other thing called The Listening Room in Toms River. It’s a $25 ticket. It’s BYOB and bring snacks. We have a visual artist and two bands. We have a local opening band that plays for 30 minutes and then a bigger band that plays for a while. All the money goes to the musicians. They walk away with a good hang and can sell their CDs and T-shirts. It’s all people who love music and want to go and sit there and listen, not talk and drink beer. We do it once every couple of months.
Kerekes: I work seven days a week. I’m at the gallery four days a week, and I also work for two German fashion houses in New York City Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. And I do one-of-a-kind pieces for a lot of fun people.
Dobken: I’m getting ready to go into the studio to record a new album. I have a bunch of new material. I have one EP out. I’m either going to do a full-length or two EPs.
I have some shows. I’m playing the Asbury Park Holiday Bazaar on Dec. 10 and on the 28th, I’m playing a huge showcase at the Wonder Bar. I’ll probably book a New York show for January, and I know I’m playing Light of Day, but I don’t know where.
And we’ll be doing stuff here into the New Year, stuff for the film festival. I try to have something big here at least once a month.
Q: Is there anything I didn’t ask on which you would like to comment?
Dobken: I love working with Danny and Tina. We’ve become like a little family here. I’m happy and excited for what we can do next. I’m excited for the summer because the summer is when we blew up and now that we’re here, people know. Being able to get the acts who play the Pony and the Summer Stage to come here again.
Kerekes: A lot of times, they’ll be in their tour bus, and they’ll be like, “Holy shit! That’s Danny Clinch!” And they’ll run in real fast to say hi.
Dobken: It’s a whole different energy when Danny is here.
Bob Makin is the reporter for MyCentralJersey.com/entertainment and a former managing editor and still a contributor to The Aquarian Weekly, which launched this column in 1988. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Like Makin Waves at facebook.com/makinwavescolumn.