Words by Audra Tracy | Photos by Rod Snyder

Greetings from Asbury Park! The 2023 Sea Hear Now Festival returned to the historic seaside city from September 16-17, hosting another magical feast for the eyes, ears, and taste buds. With two stages on the shoreline, and one stage across the street in Bradley Park, Sea Hear Now created a paradise for beach bums and flower children alike.

Day 1 featured performances by The Killers, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, Sheryl Crow, Greta Van Fleet, Living Colour, Oteil & Friends, Tash Sultana, Cory Wong, Babe Rainbow, and Surfer Girl, but there was so much more than just music in store.

Designed by and for music nerds, Sea Hear Now also hosted the Transparent Clinch Gallery pop-up tent, where fans could explore iconic rock photography by festival curator Danny Clinch. Various artwork from acts across this year’s lineup filled the tent too, from Nathaniel Rateliff’s collection of Polaroids, to Sheryl Crow’s signed guitar. Best of all, with the right timing, ticket-holders could catch ‘secret’ acoustic sets throughout the weekend, too. 

Read on for highlights from Saturday, September 16…

Locals Love Yawn Mower

Asbury Park’s own Yawn Mower kicked off the first set of the day at the Park Stage, and plenty of locals lined up early to bless the occasion. Even the neighborhood taco spot showed their support – a sign floating above the crowd read, ‘MOGO Hearts Yawn Mower’. The ‘doom pop’ outfit performed a mix of music from their catalog, including from their latest release, To Each Their Own Coat. The set was filled with lots of ‘fuzzed out’ sounds, creating a warm and grungey feel that evoked the 90’s in all the best ways. Fans of Dinosaur Jr. or Presidents of the United States of America should definitely add Yawn Mower to their rotation. 

Australians Do It Better

All the way from down under, ‘stoner pop’ darlings Babe Rainbow played their first-ever show in New Jersey on Saturday, quickly charming attendees with their blissed-out ‘party in the park’. Songs like ‘Peace Blossom Boogy’, ‘Love Forever’, and ‘Johny Says Stay Cool’ gave off ethereal Tame Impala vibes that made for a perfect afternoon set. Frontman Angus Dowling was definitely in the running for best dance moves of the weekend – in between professing his love for Sheryl Crow (who would play later in the day), Dowling bounced around the Park Stage with his tambourine, swiveling his hips and spinning like a bohemian ballerina. The Aussies seemed to like Asbury Park so far, as Dowling suggested, ‘Let’s all meet at the beach later!’

Oteil Burbridge Has Really Cool Friends

Next, Deadheads wobbled over to the Surf Stage for Oteil Burbridge, the two-time Grammy winning bassist known for his time with Dead & Company and the Allman Brothers. Billed as Oteil & Friends, the set featured an all-star cast of musicians: keyboardist Melvin Seals, guitarist Steve Kimock, guitarist Duane Betts, multi-instrumentalist Jason Crosby, drummer John Kimock, and Lamar Williams Jr. on vocals. Burbridge just released Lovely View of Heaven – A Tribute to Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter this week, and fans were treated to classic covers including ‘Rubin and Cherise’ and ‘Stella Blue’. And, seeing Duane Betts play guitar on ‘Whipping Post’ to close out the set was the perfect way to wrap up the nostalgia-filled performance. 

Australians Do It Better: Part Two

Described by one astute fan as ‘a better-looking Keller Williams’, gender-fluid multi-instrumentalist, producer, and singer-songwriter Tash Sultana made multi-tasking look easy at the Park Stage. Throughout the Saturday evening set, fans watched in awe as Tash gracefully switched between singing, playing bass, guitar, drums, keys, flute, trumpet, and saxophone, looping beats and riffs together to form some glorious grooves. Golden hour was approaching as Tash performed ‘James Dean’, a song from their latest Sugar EP, as well as tunes like ‘Pretty Lady’, and ‘Notion’. Honoring their roots, they closed with ‘Jungle’, the viral hit that sent this ‘one person band’ from busking on Bourke Street in Melbourne to playing festivals worldwide.

Just Add Fire

Grammy-winners Greta Van Fleet are currently on a world tour plugging their new album, Starcatcher, and they brought all the rock n’ roll necessities to Asbury Park. Specifically: sequins, great hair, howling vocals, monster guitar riffs, and of course, tons of pyrotechnics. Their Surf Stage set started with the new song, ‘The Falling Sky’, followed by ‘Safari Song’, which quickly sent a sea of fans into a frenzy. Every aspect of their show was a true spectacle, from the flashy wardrobes, to the fireworks, to the mesmerizing musicianship. Frontman Josh Kiszka showed off his golden vocals while brother Jake Kiszka dazzled the crowd with his guitar mastery, even playing behind his head during ‘The Archer’. Fans of Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith can rest assured: the next generation of rockers are carrying the torch. 

Dancing in the Dark

One of the most popular acts of Day 1 was undoubtedly Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, who packed the Park Stage on Saturday night, and then some. Fans overflowed onto Kingsley Street, and pretty much covered the entire surrounding area to catch Nathaniel’s incredible voice in all its gravelly glory. The band played all their Americana favorites, including ‘I Need Never Get Old’, ‘Survivor’, ‘Look it Here’, ‘A Little Honey’, and ‘Shake’, plus a few surprises. Ben Jaffe from Preservation Hall Jazz Band joined the mix during the band’s big commercial hit, ‘S.O.B.’, and NRNS also snuck in a cover by the king of Asbury Park himself, Bruce Springsteen.

New Jersey’s Most Wanted

Just a day after headlining the Bourbon and Beyond Festival in Louisville, Kentucky, The Killers ambushed the Jersey shore, boasting top billing on the Surf Stage, too. The Las Vegas rockers were coming in hot on Saturday night, opening their set with the scorching ‘Mr. Brightside’. Dressed in a bold magenta blazer, lead singer Brandon Flowers sauntered along the stage as he led his band through radio hits including ‘Smile Like You Mean It’, and ‘Human’, while die-hard fans, aka ‘Victims’, gleefully danced along, toes in the sand. Soon, laser beams lit up the night sky as the band tore into ‘Somebody Told Me’, a song that’s tailor-made for a festival singalong. Hit after hit followed, plus, the final Springsteen cover of the day: ‘I’m on Fire’. The Killers closed out Day 1 with ‘When You Were Young’, sending fans out to Ocean Ave with one burning question: ‘Who are we seeing tomorrow?’

See highlights from Day 2, here!

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