Advertisement

You will be redirected to the page you want to view in  seconds.

Former Gov. Christine Todd Whitman addresses the Memorial Day weekend crowd outside the Stony Pony in 2000. / Asbury Park (N.J.) Press

ASBURY PARK, N.J. -- In the last year, not only rock stars zeroed in on the Stone Pony, but big-time politicians, too.

Gov. Chris Christie hit the club for a re-election party in November and President Barack Obama looked toward the iconic club while on the Asbury Park boardwalk last May.

"Shows were sold out at The Stone Pony," said Obama to cheers, referring to two Gaslight Anthem Memorial Day weekend shows on the Pony's outdoor stage.

Now, the Pony will mark its 40th anniversary with shows upcoming in February and throughout the year. The spotlight has never been brighter.

"After Sandy, I think a lot of people did look to see if the Stone Pony was still standing," said Stone Pony general manager Caroline O'Toole. "It made it through and it helped them get through a tough time."

Post-storm shows at the club served as events that unified the community.

"The Pony was built on solid rock in the beginning" said manager Kyle Bendle. "It's still a great place for anyone to go to hear great music."

The beginning

The Stone Pony opened its doors in February 1974, under the ownership of Jack Roig and Robert "Butch" Pielka. Bob Santelli of Point Pleasant Beach, N.J., was there.

"The sound of the Jersey Shore was loose and free and expressive," said Santelli, now the executive director of The Grammy Museum and a producer of concerts at the White House. "There was a sense that something exciting could happen every single night."

The scene centered around the R&B fueled, horn-driven rock 'n' roll of Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. The performers played for the audience, not for each other, and showmanship was job one.

"A lot of the local musicians were heavily into R&B and they saw performers like James Brown and Jackie Wilson," said Billy Smith, the former owner of the Asbury Park Rock and Roll Museum. "The influence was you got to give 100 percent and make people listen and dance. Asbury Park is a town where you go to have fun. You work all week, it's a blue collar town, you want to go out and have a drink and see a good band."

In '75, Jim Babjak took a break from working at his father's bar in Carteret, N.J., and drove friends Dennis Diken and Mike Mesaros down in his '69 Barracuda to the Pony to see the Jukes.

The Pony was sold out.

"We listened outside of the building, to me it was exciting," Babjak said. 'I said 'Man, I hope we get to play here one day.' "

Babjak, Diken, Mesaros and Pat DiNizio did get to play the Pony as the Smithereens, first opening up Thursday nights for Lord Gunner, and becoming headliners themselves. Since then, Babjak's 18-year old son Tommy Babjak has also played the Pony with his death metal band the Lucifer Experiment.

"It was hard to believe that I was playing as such a legendary place, it felt otherworldly," said Tommy Babjak of Manalapan, who plays drums. "I guess it even felt more so because Dad got his start there."

The Springsteen effect

Speak to those who were there in the early days, and they'll tell you: Bruce Springsteen did not get his start at the Pony.

But he did play a lot there.

"Bruce has never been an announced act, guest appearances have been his thing, " Smith said. "He had two albums out (when the Pony opened) and he already had a reputation as the local star. By '76, '77, when he was going through the lawsuit (with manager Mike Appel), he wasn't recording and it was a perfect time for the Pony. He was home and there a lot to play."

The Springsteen appearances stopped in the late '70s.

"(E Street Band keyboardist) Danny Federici got roughed up by the bouncers and they threw him out," Smith said. "Bruce got (upset) about that."

The Boss eventually returned to the Pony, playing regularly with Cats on a Smooth Surface during their Sunday night gigs there.

"The place was packed on Sundays in '82," Smith said.

However, Roig and Pielka closed the club in September of 1991 after they went bankrupt and it reopened under new ownership later that year. There have been several openings and closings since then until Madison Marquette purchased the Pony in 2005.

O'Toole said that there are no plans to relocate or demolish the Pony and Donald Sammet, the director of planning for the city, said that the Pony currently stands in the city's waterfront master plan. Yet, its challenge to keep a rock 'n' roll club profitable.

"It's a struggle," O'Toole said, "but the fans who are supportive enough to carry us through the winter months and into the summer, who come in and buy a shirt or a ticket, they continue the legacy."



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: One rockin' ride: The Stone Pony turns 40

More In

test

Real Deals

Flip, shop and save on specials from your favorite retailers in central Ohio.

GET DEALS | COUPONS

Things To Do

SUN
20
MON
21
TUE
22
WED
23
THU
24
FRI
25
SAT
26

CLASSIFIEDS

Classifieds from across Central Ohio
Lancaster
Chillicothe
Newark
Marion
Bucyrus
Mansfield
Zanesville
Coshocton

Weeklies & Shoppers

10TV Headlines

Dispatch Headlines

METROMIX