When I pulled into my parking spot near The Stone Pony on Saturday, I was ready. I had a gameplan (because only the best and coolest have a game plan for having fun.) But the second I stepped out of my car, God laughed at me, “stupid human, plans are a fool’s folly,” he probably laughed jovially.
With one parking meter broken and the other sporting a long line, I decide to walk to the farther end of the lot. Ten feet away from the meter I stop dead because in front of me The Front Bottoms are casually walking, followed by fans holding posters, and being filmed. I stand there open mouthed for way too long, taking in the whole scene. To be honest, the guys filming The Front Bottoms probably got me in the background of their shot and I am very scared to see what that would look like.
At the entrance a security guard rifles through my bag stopping, not at my pink container of mace, but at my headache medicine. She informs me I have to put that in my car. Fearing I won’t have the chance to experience absolutely everything, I flat out run to my car holding my pants up with one hand and keeping my purse closed with the other.
I am at Shadow of the City. I also severely miscalculated. I really didn’t need to run. The music starts with a performance by Sam Dew and I finally relax. Music is universal. No matter if you know who is playing or know the songs, live music is exhilarating and calming. Being on the waterfront at Asbury Park, Shadow of the City felt like a day at the beach; seagulls breaking through the din of the crowd between sets, water misting on the wind from the boardwalk, and the smell of saltwater working its way into every strand of hair, fiber of clothing, and inch of skin.
The crowd is open and relaxed. Throughout the day there are groups of people sitting down on the pavement, drinking, talking and taking in the music. There was a backyard party vibe to the entire festival that was derivative of New Jersey summers.
Jack Antonoff, Bleachers frontman, surpassed his goal. He made Shadow of the City to bring recognition to New Jersey. He wanted to honor his home state and show the rest of the world that New Jersey has a lot of musical influence. As Brian Sella yelled during The Front Bottoms set, “We are in the most beautiful place in the fucking world.”
The festival was close knit and intimate. Jack, his sister Rachel, and his father Rick all took turns at the dunk tank for The Ally Coalition tent. The Ally Coalition was created by fun. and Rachel Antonoff to inspire others to take action for LGBTQ youth and raise awareness.
The bands and their families freely walked through the grounds, though understandably they didn’t stray too far from the VIP area or backstage. The artists drank on stage. Tom Krell of How to Dress Well did a short, impromptu Q&A with the crowd. The Front Bottoms polled the crowd, asking if they should play “Lipstick Covered Magnet.” Mandy Lee of Misterwives sang directly into the cameras of the photographers taking pictures at the edge of the stage. Jack Antonoff stepped as closely as he could to the crowd, grabbing as many fans hands as possible.
Shadow of the City was what a festival should be. Live music is like a freaking drug. I am still running on a high of emotions. All the artists love to play music. They genuinely enjoy what they are doing and want everyone else to join in. Everyone had a standout performance and added to the lowkey hype.
Where the stellar performances by How to Dress Well and Sam Dew eased fans in the festival, the two half hour sets from Bully and Cults finished the job, building a pulsing force that rippled through the crowd. The fans came out strong during the phenomenal Misterwives performance and the frenetic energy that started, wouldn’t end until the last notes of Bleachers, “I Wanna Get Better.” The Front Bottoms performance contained some of the most dangerous and raucous fans. The crowdsurfing became wild until “Twin Sized Mattress” where the security guards could barely keep up with the people being thrown over the barrier. Charli XCX, singing covers of “I Love It and “Fancy,” as well as her own “London Queen,” “Body of My Own,” and “Break the Rules,” had the crowd singing at the top of their collective lungs.
The night ended with an intense and wild performance from Bleachers. It was incredible. Jack Antonoff had the time of his life and he wanted you to join him. He was all over the stage, jumping from platform to platform. The band was filled with restless energy and played the whole stage with their entire body thrown into the music. Antonoff’s dad, Rick, played a solo on a preview of a new Bleachers song, “Shadow of the City” and Charli XCX danced around the stage for one chorus of “I Wanna Get Better.” Bleachers kept up an almost continual stream of music for their entire set.
I could continue to list every little, minute detail that made up this day and the Shadow of the City Festival. But already the feelings and emotions of being at a live, all day, music event are becoming fleeting. It’s hard to bottle the pure euphoria. I ended my night with a profound mix of utter sadness and elation. As the vibrations ran through my veins and the bass pumped in my ears, I screamed along to “I Wanna Get Better” and jumped until I couldn’t feel my feet.
Shadow of the City was a roaring success for music fans and New Jersey natives.