Danny Clinch: Sustainability Rocks in Asbury Park

Photographer, filmmaker, and Sea.Hear.Now festival co-founder Danny Clinch is an Asbury Park hero. In addition to being known for his extensive photography of Bruce Springsteen, Clinch is also the go-to photographer for the Dave Matthews Band, Pearl Jam, and many more. But, despite having such a high-profile, home is always in the heart of the 55-year-old Toms River native.

That’s why he helped develop the Sea.Hear.Now festival in Asbury Park with childhood friend, Tim Donnelly—also a Jersey shore native. The festival, which made its debut on the Asbury Park boardwalk in 2018, is billed as a celebration of live music, art, ocean sustainability, and surf culture.

“Tim Donnelly and I grew up on the Jersey shore, we knew each other in high school and we both were big music fans,” Clinch told AQ in a recent chat about this year’s Sea.Hear.Now festival, which features headliners Dave Matthews Band and The Lumineers, as well Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, the B-52’s, Bad Religion, and an extensive curation of up-and-coming talent, such as guitar sensation Marcus King and his band, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, Brick + Mortar, and Lowlight. 

“We were always going to Asbury Park as kids, and when Asbury was kind of experiencing a downward spiral, we would still be going up there…. We’d go to The Stone Pony, and then Timmy ended up moving to Asbury Park. 

“One year, we started to do things in Asbury. I had put up like a little gallery in the Grand Arcade and at the Convention Hall, and even before that, we did a show called ‘Be True,’ which was a Springsteen 60th birthday gallery show…. We started to do these little gallery/surf art shows where we bring in a band to play, and it was called ‘Sea.Hear.Now’.”

With the success of these smaller endeavors, Clinch and Donnelly saw the burgeoning potential the Asbury boardwalk presented. 

“We had been to Bonnaroo a bunch of times together. Tim would help me produce if I was there—when I was making a film or when I was doing portraits there. And we just always had this thing in the back of our mind, like, ‘What could we do together?’”

The desire to do something on a grander scale led to the organization of the Sea.Hear.Now festival in earnest. Last year’s festival was hailed by many as one of the best of the year, with artists like Jesse Malin, Social Distortion, and even Springsteen himself all making appearances. But beyond the music and the vibe, the festival’s commitment to sustainability gives Sea.Hear.Now the distinct honor of having a vast and impressive green footprint.

On the topic of sustainability, Clinch says “We tried to do our best to create a place where we care for our environment and what we do there, and the footprint we [leave]. You know, the idea of bringing your own bottle or having water stations and trying to keep single-use plastic down…. Just continuing to care about that stuff and its impact.” 

The effort and care paid off, as last year, the festival won singer-songwriter Jack Johnson’s “All At Once Sustainability Award” for U.S. festivals, and the leadership the Sea.Hear.Now organizational team showed in the movement to green the music industry wasn’t just talk; In fact, the results were quite tangible: festival services in 2018 collected nearly 12 tons of recycling, plastic bottle use was reduced by nearly 36 thousand bottles thanks to hydrating stations placed strategically throughout the boardwalk, and over 500 fans chose eco-friendly transportation by opting to bicycle to the festival instead of traveling by car.

Aside from the positive environmental impact these efforts have made, perhaps the biggest impact the Sea.Hear.Now festival has had has been on the Asbury Park community itself. “It’s bringing business to town,” says Clinch. “In fact, last year, on the Monday after [the festival], people obviously stayed Sunday night—they’re not going to drive home since there were a lot of people from out of town. 

“So, you know, they stay in town, and you know what? They’re going to take Monday off and  go up to up to Cookman and wander around and see the local businesses,” says Clinch. “They’re going to have breakfast, they’re going to have lunch, they’re going to go to the coffee shops up there…. And those [places], they see a spike in their business from years past.”

Indeed, with so much depending on tourism in the city, the Sea.Hear.Now festival has provided a late season economic boon for Asbury Park.

“Bringing in 30,000 people to Asbury Park on an off weekend is going to help any seashore town that is really seasonal,” says Clinch. “So this extra bump for them going into the winter, I think it is probably a real blessing for them right now. The hotels, the food vendors, Uber drivers…. So, I think it has helped the community.”

The Sea.Hear.Now festival will take place on Saturday, September 21, and Sunday, Sept 22. For a complete listing of performers, as well as general festival information, please visit: seahearnowfestival.com