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Asbury Park Mainstay Celebrates Ten Years Of Live Music
The Saint
With Scott it's not about politics or money or draw. It's about melodies and lyrics. I mean, sure, he sets up the evening, so that the club can make some money. It's a business. But, I will still swear that, no matter what, at The Saint, the music comes first. - Mimi Cross
by Josh Davidson
Terry Little of Juice performs in front of The Saint logo in December 2004
Terry Little of Juice performs in front of The Saint logo in December 2004 (Credit: Michael Kazmierczak)

For more than 10 years, The Saint has maintained consistent success in Asbury Park, where it has continued to stay opened in a city where other clubs, even the legendary Stone Pony, have experienced their dry spells and closings.

"The Saint has continually brought great songs that you have heard on the radio to the live environment and that's what keeps me going," said Scott Stamper, co-owner of the club.

Mimi Cross, one of the first artists to perform at the club after it opened on Nov. 18, 1994, attributed the club's diehard success to one word with many facets - love.

"Love of music; different styles and genres, it doesn't matter, as long as it's good and it's original," she said. "Nothing gets in the way of the music at The Saint. Again, Scott Stamper is there, behind the bar, behind the scenes, and he is totally supportive of original music. With Scott it's not about politics or money or draw. It's about melodies and lyrics. I mean, sure, he sets up the evening, so that the club can make some money. It's a business. But, I will still swear that, no matter what, at The Saint, the music comes first."

Bobby Strange, who like Cross and The Saint has been providing quality original music to the Jersey Shore for years, attributed the club's ability to stay open to its rawness.

"I think The Saint has lasted so long, because it is a raw, straight-ahead music room," Strange said. "People don't go there for the decor. They go there to hear good and new original music. The Saint never fails to deliver. Other clubs change with the fads and come in and out of style. The Saint is a classic rock club that defies fads."

To this day, the club has consistently provided some of the best-sounding shows on the Jersey Shore, thanks to its top-notch PA system. Stamper said he is very particular about preventing even the smallest sound glitches. Music fans can experience sound at a high intensity of quality at the Saint, he said.

The Billy Hector Band on stage at The Saint in March 2004
The Billy Hector Band on stage at The Saint in March 2004
(Credit: Michael Kazmierczak)

Strange said that he has played the club at least 100 times.

"As a performer it is the most intimate of all the clubs in the area," he said. "Also, it is an original club, plain and simple. You play your own songs and the audience either likes them or they don't. It doesn't get any more real than that! There is no corny cover band schlock to deal with."

The Saint has always been a stomping ground for local veterans and a place for younger musicians to aspire to.

Teenage artists now take part in all-ages matinee shows, hosted by Jerseyshows.com, which hosts its popular Battle of the Bands at the Saint.

And, the club has been no stranger to national acts.

Following a morning performance on "Live With Regis and Kathy Lee," Jewel headed to the Saint in the evening to play what would be her first New Jersey show.

Though the club was afraid she wouldn't be able to perform due to an illness, "She sat in her car and got better," Stamper said.

An appearance of the Ben Folds Five is also one that almost never occurred at the Saint. Prior to sound check, the band's truck broke down, and it barely made it to the club, Stamper said. However, the band showed up and played a great set, he said.

Stamper has become proud to see a number of local bands reach the national status over the last couple of years. He has seen the highs and lows of bands like Borialis, who recently toured Japan, and was able to witness the birth of Val Emmich's career, when he played his first show at the Saint. Both are now signed to major labels.

"Knowing it's a pretty cool scene they made it in and knowing they're out there bringing the scene out to the world," is what Stamper said has left him feeling proud.

Aside from Strange and Cross, early bands at the Saint included Psychedelic Kitchen, Brown and Stem. Some of Stem's members eventually formed Dragpipe, which has seen some major label success. Psychedelic Kitchen got its start at T-Birds, the club Stamper ran prior to becoming the co-owner The Saint.

"They actually helped paint the Saint in the early years," Stamper said.

Psychedelic Kitchen wasn't the only band to help in that department. The band enlisted the help of Jon Fishman, the drummer from Phish, who painted a face on the Saint's entrance door.

Daniel Cartier performed at the Saint's Acoustic Cafe in July 2004
Daniel Cartier performed at the Saint's Acoustic Cafe in July 2004 (Credit: Michael Kazmierczak)

"I think he baptized the Saint early on," Stamper said.

Stamper originally opened the club with his friend Adam Weisberg, an attorney with offices in Ocean Township and New Brunswick, who had worked at T-Birds and the Fastlane. Located on Main Street, in Asbury Park, T-Birds once played host to Jeff Buckley. When T-Birds closed, the two opened the Saint through the Asbury Music Company at 601 Main St., the former location of O'Shea's Rock & Blues in Asbury Park.

After it opened, the Saint continued T-Birds' theme of being purely original and providing up and coming national and local bands.

"The whole thing was the live experience," Stamper said.

The club's sound was upgraded to provide what he described as a pure, quality listening experience. And it, of course, kept up the tradition of offering 20 to 30 different types of beers.

"Our most incredible show was the Deftones," Stamper said.

It's most memorable one, however, was what would be the late Joey Ramones' last New Jersey performance, Stamper said.

"It was the ultimate, ultimate musical candy store that day," Stamper said. "My dream of supplying the best live music acts in the world was accomplished that evening."

Ramone was in the area for a radio interview on FM106.3 and asked DJ Michelle if she could get him a show while he was down at the station. His band, Joey Ramone and the Dream, performed at the club, along with former Ramones bassist, the late Dee Dee Ramone.

Stamper said he has always stressed the importance of networking with national bands, to local ones. More important is the ability to network and share shows with regional bands, he said. This gives less experienced bands the chance to learn from more successful artists and find out how they attained success, he said. By doing so, newer bands can gain insight on how to support themselves financially during a tour.

"A fountain of information comes into The Saint every night and bands should be picking (their brains) apart," Stamper said.

The club also hosts the Asbury Cafè, a chance to hear acoustic music in a non-smoking environment. Listeners are told to remain quiet during performances to provide the purest possible experience.

One of he most memorable Asbury Cafè shows for Stamper was that of Josh Ritter. Ritter left about 100 people speechless to a point where only his music could be heard, Stamper said.

"He had the place to where you were living, breathing what he was talking and singing," Stamper said.

The Saint
(Credit: Michael Kazmierczak)

Cross has also given her fans a chance to hear her live sound stripped to a bare minimum a number of times during Asbury Cafè.

She still remembers the club's early days.

"I played at the Saint when it first opened," Cross said. "I remember I had my band Pictures and Stories, with Wil Hercek and Chuck Mills, and we opened for Chris Whitley. There wasn't even a stage yet! I've played a lot of cool shows there over the years, my favorite shows."

At a capacity of 200, the club offers shows five to seven days per week, according to its web site. Its stage is 14-by-14 feet and ticket prices range from seven to 15 dollars.

Asbury owes a large thank you to Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi for making it popular, Stamper said. Over the past 30 years, young musicians have learned that Asbury has become a music Mecca thanks to those artists, he said. Its central location to New York City and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, has also helped. The Saint opened in Asbury to provide bands with a place where they could strategically plan tours to the aforementioned cities.

Now with the success of clubs like the Stone Pony and Asbury Lanes, the city has become the perfect location for Stamper.

"I claim it to be the live music capital in New Jersey, because it has the most original clubs," he said.

And for many artists, The Saint will continue to be the gas in the tank of the Asbury music scene.

"Well, even when the Pony was closed and Asbury Park was a ghost town, The Saint stayed open," Cross said. "Scott Stamper - who really is The Saint of Asbury Park - has always had a gig for me. He has always been there, believing in original music and the artists who create it. He started out at T-Birds Cafe supporting original music and he has never stopped. He is a music fan, and has a good soul, and those two things combined make him unique in the music industry. Without Scott, The Saint would not be the club that it is. And, without The Saint, the Asbury music scene wouldn't be what it is either. The Saint is the Heart of the Asbury original music scene."

[ Website: www.thesaintnj.com ]

Josh Davidson
Josh Davidson has written music feature articles for Jersey Style and served as the Jersey Shore rock columnist for Steppin' Out Magazine. Other music writing credits include Aquarian Weekly, Jersey Beat, Backstreets and njcoast.com. He has written free-lance for the Asbury Park Press' Community Sports section and has written featured articles for its news section, as well as covering campus news and sports weekly for the Signal, the College of New Jersey's (formerly Trenton State College) student newspaper. He has worked as a staff writer for The Independent, and his work for Greater Media Newspapers has also been published in the News Transcript. He is a former beat reporter for the Ocean County Observer who presently is a news writer for Symbolic Systems Inc. supporting the US Army's Knowledge Center. His music writing covers a vast range of topics, from the current cover band craze, highs and lows of the original scene, to the early days of the Jersey Shore rock scene in Asbury Park. He is also a musician, having written hundreds of songs as a singer/songwriter, and playing them out as a solo/acoustic artist. He has also played with cover bands, including It Doesn't Matter, and several original bands, including as the guitarist for the solo project of singer/songwriter Dave Eric. He continues to work on solo material and is presently the guitar player for Jersey Breeze.
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