I’ve been going to the Stone Pony since 1979. I’ve had the honor of playing the stage with some of rock’s biggest names. I’ve been through many of the club’s changes and have met many wonderful people who worked its many jobs. The Stone Pony is like home to me. The current staff are my friends, and I’ve seen many great acts come through the doors in that time frame. But to get the real story, I’ll let the club bio tell most of the actual story. I’ve left much out due to space, but anyone who knows the club can fill in the blanks and comment on this piece below:
“Ever since the Stone Pony first opened its doors back on February 1974 with the local band Rathbone, much has transpired. So many local groups went on to become some of the world’s biggest stars. The Stone Pony was originally a part of Mrs. Jays, which at one point took up most of the entire Oceanside block. Pony founders John P. ‘Jack’ Roig and Robert ‘Butch’ Pielka first met up while working at a club on the boardwalk in Seaside Heights. Roig purchased the building which at the time housed an abandoned disco call The Magic Touch and enlisted the managerial skills and construction talents of friend and former co-worker Pielke who became general manager and minority partner.
For many years, the Stone Pony staff and early patrons believed the club’s name came to Pielke in a dream. But in December of 2014, Roig revealed that he was out with a young woman in October of 1973, and she was wearing a shirt with little horses all over the front of it. That, as Jack says, is where the name of the bar came from. But one thing is for certain. Butch nor Jack could not foresee that their venture would become an integral and irreplaceable part of Asbury Park history. The Stone Pony was about to take a prominent place in an evolving music scene which began at clubs such as the Upstage, the Student Prince, and the Sunshine-In.
But the Stone Pony’s success seemed far away on its opening night. There were seven inches of snow, the heater blew out and the night’s receipts totaled about a dollar. By December of 1974, the club’s creditors were about to come calling, and foreclosure seemed imminent. That’s when the first of the Stone Pony’s many ‘house bands,’ the Blackberry Booze Band, began playing regularly, and the large crowds they drew saved the club from closing down.
Popular bands performing at the Stone Pony during the 70’s included Salty Dog, Stir Crazy, Winfield, the legendary Shore party band Holme, Salvation, Mad Dog and the Shakes (featuring former E Streeter Vinnie Lopez), The Shots, Cold Blast and Steel, Cahoots and the Acme Boogie Company.
Not all the Pony days were beautiful, though. In the late 80’s many clubs offering live music closed due to rising costs of insurance, DUI, and other business hurdles. A decision in 1991 to file for protection from creditors brought a forced sale of the Pony in bankruptcy court ending the Jack and Butch years for good.
An ensemble of employees made an unsuccessful attempt at buying the club before Deal resident Steve Nasar purchased it in bankruptcy court. With the help of former Asbury Juke and concert promoter Tony Pallagrosi, The Stone Pony continued with national concert acts, with bands such as Hootie and the Blowfish, Live, David Byrne, Helmet, The Ramones, Hole, Guster, Silverchair, Culture, King’s X, Joan Osborne and so many more. In 1998, Nasar decided to convert the club to a dance club and called it Vinyl. The Pony closed the following week after a surprise showing from Southside Johnny.
The club was once again purchased by a new owner in 2000. Domenic Santana and several silent partners bought the club and worked hard to bring it back to its former rock glory. His renovation process included the addition of a permanent exhibition of art and artifacts from the history of Asbury and the venue itself. He also added brand new state of the art lighting and sound equipment, a redesign of the outside Stone Pony Landing area, tenting and a small food facility.
So many great shows came into play at that time including fundraising events such as the Jersey Shore Jazz and Blues Foundation, the Acoustic Musicians Guild, and, of course, Bob Benjamin’s Light of Day fundraising event for Parkinson’s disease. LOD quickly outgrew the Stone Pony and although they still utilize the venue for many of its shows, the main event has moved to The Paramount Theater down the street.
The Pony was sold once again in 2003 to The Asbury Partners. Santana stayed on as a consultant for a time and helped pave a smooth transition into the future. Concert promoter John D’Esposito formed Max Cruise and began an aggressive campaign for new music acts for the club. The first weekend of July 2003 saw performances by Rick Springfield and Billy Idol. With assistance from Max Cruise and then, as of 2008, the one and only Live Nation, the club has seen acts such as Joan Jett and The Blackhearts, Patti Smith, Sean Lennon, Lisa Marie Presley, Johnny Winter, Dicky Betts, Steve Forbert and many others. And of course, longtime house promoter Kyle Brendle has been putting together shows for all the owners since the mid-1980’s. Brendle is a constant champion of Asbury Park’s music scene past and present, and his finesse and dedication in the areas of promotion and local bookings have made him an integral part of the club’s longevity and success.”
With the resurgence in Asbury Park over the last 10 years, the musical offerings have only gotten bigger and better and the outside “Summer Stage” is responsible for some of the world’s biggest stars on any given night of the week from June through September. With new sound and lighting and air conditioning system upgrades as well as a new roof in 2009, the Pony continues to play host to bands such as The Black Crowes, the Pretenders, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, Peter Frampton and Snoop Dogg to name a few who performed during the premier season.
The Stone Pony continues to succeed on its diverse terms. With new and exciting acts coming in droves, its future of this Jersey shore club is brilliant indeed. Asbury Audio, headed by Jason Dermer, has turned the Pony into a world-class room wired with great new sound and lighting. It is with that conviction that I want to invite everyone to the Stone Pony this weekend on February 26 and 27 for a celebration with the Stone Pony’s own Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. They will be closing out the 42nd annual party with “Soultime Dance Party.”
That’s right, Southside and crew will be performing for two big nights, and everyone is welcome to celebrate with them. Tickets are available at the Stone Pony box office from noon to 5 p.m. daily except for Tuesday. You can also get them at the box office night of shows or Ticketmaster. For more information on the Stone Pony, schedule head over to stoneponyonline.com.
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