Sid Bernstein

With A Little Help From Our Friends

Mr. Kite would have been duly impressed! A "British Invasion" themed benefit for the Kamala Grammar School in Phuket, Thailand raised funds, morale and ultimately the roof at the legendary Stone Pony in Asbury Park on March 20.

Topping the bill was Sid Bernstein, the famed Beatles promoter who graciously presented this benefit, to raise funds to rebuild a school that was devastated by the Dec. 26 Tsunami, which struck southeast Asia, claiming more than 174,000 lives and destroying communities in Thailand and Sri Lanka.

Rock bands included the Jersey shore's "topper most of the popper most" at a marathon event lasting more than seven hours.

Headliners included Tim McLoone, Ed "Kingfish" Manion of the Asbury Jukes and Bobby Bandiera. This tight-knit band played a highly-energetic set stacked heavily with the greatest music in the world: The Beatles! They were joined by Jim Celestino, his son Ryan Celestino and Bruce Foster. A surprise appearance from the charismatic Boccigalupe heightened the excitement.

They opened with "A Hard Day's Night," and it was immediately clear that these musicians were all polished and quite passionate. All of the band members are locally very well known for their high level of talent, and each has their own specialty. McLoone played keyboards; Manion is a known saxophonist who also plays with the Fab Faux; and Bandiera plays a spanking note-perfect guitar. When these musicians roll up their sleeves to jam, a regular evening becomes highly enchanted.

"But when I get home to you / I find the things that you do / will make me feel alright," sang Bandiera and the band. "You know I feel alright!" This spirited performance genuinely uplifted the audience and the incredible jamming caused a powerful surge of energy in the crowd. We danced, clapped and it was all such a thrill.

"Can't Buy Me Love" is another early Beatles great. But not just anybody can pick up a beloved rock classic and prove that "I don't care too much for money / money can't buy me love." Bandiera did it well. He gave the audience all he had to give, and musically his up-tempo tunes and slow ballads were so magical that the crowd loved him. His low-key personality, coupled with passionate guitar strumming, were the perfect combination to turn on the audience.

This technical perfectionist joked loosely with the band, sometimes smiled at the audience, or made faces. Bandiera visibly enjoyed teasing the other musicians and it was all in good fun.

Bandiera is known for playing solo, as well as with Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. It is evident why Bruce Springsteen had Bandiera join him and play at the Christmas Jam to benefit Asbury Park at Harry's Roadhouse in December. The Boss was right on when he recognized Bandiera for being a most talented unsigned artist.

Each song from Bandiera and friends seemed more exciting than the next. These included "Ticket to Ride," "I Should Have Known Better," "I Call Your Name," "Yellow Submarine," and "I Want To Hold Your Hand." Fans sang and screamed the words to each and every one of these Beatles classics.

McLoone's jams on the keyboards were intense and he played with sheer passion. His personality was laid back and friendly. McLoone owns McLoone's Riverside Dining in Sea Bright, NJ, and is also the founder and president of Holiday Express, a volunteer non-profit organization dedicated to bringing music, gifts and holiday cheer to those less fortunate. This caring man sang several songs made famous by Elvis Presley, including "Return To Sender" and "Little Sister."

This was my first time seeing Bandiera and it was a complete surprise when he dedicated the late, great Buddy Holly's song "True Love Ways" to me. It was personally meaningful, because I've always been a Holly fan and it was such a warm gesture! "Sometimes we'll sigh / sometimes we'll cry," sang Bandiera. "But you'll know why / just you and I / now true love ways." It was so unexpected and his vocals matched the tenderness and beauty of the lyrics. It added another measure of fun to an already memorable night.

"Peggy Sue" was played with some awesome energy and it is rare and special to hear this live. It got the audience hopping once again. Final songs included Roy Orbison's "Running Scared" and Holly's "Not Fade Away."

The show was my first time seeing Boccigalupe, another great musician. The interplay among band members had a fun, lighthearted quality because it was evident they were close, long-time friends.

According to Boccigalupe's website, his name means "off center, a little crazy, or kind of nuts." And guess who gave him this nickname that stuck? The only boss I listen to, Springsteen, and Little Steven Van Zandt, according to Boccigalupe's web site.

The encore blew us away as the well-known Jody Joseph joined the band to sing "Me and Bobby McGee." This petite whirlwind of energy, known as the "Suburban Janis Joplin," put her heart and soul into this Joplin classic and easily won over the audience.

Earlier in the evening, Joseph performed a set that involved mostly original and powerful tunes that were a mix of blues and rock. Her band, The Average Joes, kept up with the revved-up, hip singer, who even left the stage to sing to people on the floor. It was a whimsical move.

Joseph is Jon Bon Jovi's cousin and a talented performer in her own right. Quite fittingly, she received the accolade "Best Female Artist" from longtime Jersey shore music critic Bob Makin of The Courier-News. Her soulful performance earned a nod from Bernstein, a moment any artist would enjoy.

In between each set, artists read a variety of poignant, sad and funny letters that were written by local youngsters to send to their peers overseas in Phuket. This letter writing campaign serves as a morale booster.

Denis Couglan of Belmar played seven songs early in the evening, including the classic song "Please Come to Boston." Couglan said it was a pleasure to play at the benefit and to have the chance to meet Bernstein.

Ronnie Wetstein of West Long Branch played a set featuring a handful of Beatles songs and a handful of originals inspired by the Fab Four. A stand-out tune by Wetstein was the psychedelic "Trippin' All Over The World," a song he was hired to write for Ronnie Spector. It was inspired to empower her to respond to past difficult relationship problems, according to Wetstein.

Wetstein's rendition of Beatles songs were fun, especially "No Reply" and "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)."

"This charity was a wonderful chance for all the Jersey shore musicians to come together, right now, and make a difference," Wetstein said. "When I was invited to participate, it was clear that 'yes' was the answer."

The atmosphere was Beatle-esque all night until the Pony closed. How appropriate that Bernstein presented this "British Invasion" themed cause. After all, it was 40 years ago Bernstein brought the Beatles to America to play. His Phuket Grammar School benefit is a worthwhile cause, and if you read his book, "It's Sid Bernstein Calling...," you will likely learn that helping those in need is part of the Bernstein charm and style.

Maureen Shames

Maureen Shames has written for the Sentinel, a Greater Media Newspaper in Middlesex County, and was Editorial Assistant of The Jewish Voice of Greater Monmouth County. She has also freelanced for the Asbury Park Press and The Atlantic City Press. As a hobby, she enjoys honing her writing skills by writing music reviews, and these are her true passion! She has written reviews for the Greasy Lake website of Bruce Springsteen concerts, and for Beatles cover band websites such as the Fab Faux and the Fab Four.