Words by Audra Tracy | Photos by Rod Snyder

Hoist the flags, sound the bells, and raise a glass to the rock gods – Sea Hear Now is back!! The third annual music, surf, and arts festival returned to Asbury Park, New Jersey on September 18-19, with an impressive line-up that included Patti Smith, Billy Idol, Smashing Pumpkins and yes, Pearl Jam.

While the event was originally slated for September of 2020, Sea Hear Now organizers rebounded and came back swinging this year. Seriously, we should all be sending Danny Clinch and his team some flowers, chocolates, and love letters for making this incredible weekend happen. Despite COVID restrictions and against all odds, Sea Hear Now 2021 was a seamless experience from start to finish.

Music therapy was in session all weekend long as fans from across the country gathered to revel in the beauty of ‘local summer’ on the Jersey shore. Keep reading for highlights from Day 1 of an epic festival…


Straight out of Seattle, Reignwolf took over the Sand Stage on Saturday afternoon to deliver a surge of pure ‘electric love’. And if you were looking for real bluesy, noisy, rock n’ roll from some shaggy dudes in ripped jeans, this was definitely the place to be. Guitarist/vocalist Jordan Cook led his power trio through a heavy, feedback-filled set that included songs like ‘Over and Over’ and ‘Palms to the Sky’.

Writhing around the stage, howling, and jumping off monitors, Cook embodied all those edgy, unpredictable rock star qualities that make live shows so damn satisfying. ‘We’ve been waiting 2 years to see you!”, Cook bellowed in between riffs, and based on the crowd’s thunderous reaction, the feeling was absolutely mutual.

Patti Smith

Living legend Patti Smith graced the shores of Asbury Park with a heart full of nostalgia and a setlist stacked with national treasures. “The Stone Pony was my mother’s favorite place for us to play”, she shared with her congregation at the Surf Stage on Saturday. Today, she’d once again make her mark on the city’s historic music scene.

Her gorgeous silver hair shining in the late afternoon sun, Smith sang with true power and conviction in her unyielding, unwavering voice. Together she and her iconic band performed classics including ‘Dancing Barefoot’ and ‘Free Money’, plus a cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘One Too Many Mornings’. Of course, her biggest hit, ‘Because the Night’, made the cut, too – after all, it was co-written by the king of Asbury Park himself, Bruce Springsteen.

Dr. Dog

Philly indie rockers Dr. Dog are currently on a ‘farewell tour’, so their Saturday set at the Sand Stage was a bittersweet one. But man, did fans pack it in to show their support and celebrate the band’s stellar songbook one last time, together.

Armed with a catalog of gems, Dr. Dog played a tightly weaved setlist that showcased their uniquely sublime chemistry onstage. The sentimental crowd soaked it all up, singing their little hearts out to heavenly harmonies like ‘Shadow People’ and ‘The Old Days’. One fan got so worked up in the middle of ‘I Only Wear Blue’ that they collapsed near the rail. A few songs later, during ‘The Breeze’, a couple in the crowd got engaged. Yes, the spectrum of emotions were on full display as fans said goodbye to a great American band.

Avett Brothers

There’s something about the Avett Brothers that really brings people together. The folk rockers have an incredibly devoted fan base that turns each and every show into a special event. At Sea Hear Now, members of the ‘Avett Nation’ were even passing out homemade stickers on the beach in anticipation of the band’s set. And you best believe that they all lined up early at the Surf Stage to take in a little Americana on Saturday evening.

With toes in the sand and souls aflame, the audience enjoyed an absolutely stunning scene as the sun set over the Jersey shore. The band’s sixteen song setlist ran the gamut from soft and humble (’Murder in the City’, ‘Live and Die’) to playful and poppy (‘Kickdrum Heart’, ‘High Steppin’). And, naturally, they had to fit in their tune ‘At the Beach’, because, well, duh.

Pearl Jam

‘My god it’s been so long / Never dreamed you’d return / But now here you are / And here I am’

Eddie Vedder’s heartfelt lyrics really hit home on Saturday night at the Surf Stage. Because, for the first time in 3 years, Pearl Jam was playing a show!! And it just so happened to be on the beach of a little town in New Jersey.

Sea Hear Now was the band’s first opportunity to perform new songs from their latest album, Gigaton…which had the unfortunate release date of March 27, 2020. Vedder joked that the band thought they would ‘gig a ton’ last year, so on this night they made up for lost time by performing a slew of new songs, like the opener, ‘Dance of the Clairvoyants’, followed by ‘Quick Escape’ and ‘Seven O’Clock’.

The veteran rockers then proceeded to remind the Garden State just why they are one of the greatest touring acts around – even 30 years after the release of their debut album, Ten. Hit after hit filled the set, with fans letting loose to the sounds of ‘Corduroy’, ‘Even Flow’, ‘Daughter’, ‘Elderly Woman…’, ‘Given to Fly’, ‘Better Man’, and ‘Porch’.

The encore started with an obligatory Springsteen cover – Pearl Jam chose ‘My City of Ruins’. Next came ‘Alive’, a 90’s anthem that found guitar god Mike McCready dropping jaws all over Ocean Ave, and even teasing a bit of Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Voodoo Chile’, too. Before the crowd could even catch their collective breath, Lenny Kaye from Patti Smith’s band joined our headliner to close out the show with a cover of Neil Young’s ‘Rockin’ In The Free World’.

It was euphoric. It was cathartic. It was one of those ‘once in a lifetime’ moments that David Byrne sings about. And it was only Day 1!

Check out coverage of Day 2 here!

TheWaster.com | Asbury Park