Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes return to the stage Saturday night (July 11) for their biggest concert since the COVID-19 pandemic, performing a drive-in concert at Monmouth Racetrack in Oceanport, N.J., not far from their longtime home on the Jersey Shore.
Led by John Lyon, the “Grandfather of the Jersey Shore Sound,” Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes will perform in front of more than 1,000 cars holding up to four passengers each for what is being billed as one of the largest drive-in concerts in the U.S. yet. The concert is presented by the Count Basie Center for the Arts in Red Bank and is being built out to include a full stage with four large screens for enhanced viewing and sound delivered from a PA system as well as FM signal for vehicles.
Tickets went on sale on June 5 and sold out within a few hours for the hometown show, which benefits the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund.
Billboard recently caught up with Lyon to discuss Saturday’s show and find out how he is holding up during the COVID-19 pandemic.
You’ve been back in your hometown of Ocean Grove now for a little more than a decade. Do you ever miss California or Nashville?
I fell in love with California playing the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano and seeing the electric blue sky every evening and told my wife, “Let’s move here. Let’s see how it goes.” And we did for about three years, and then she said, “I miss the seasons.” So now I’m back in New Jersey and she’s in Marin (California) where they don’t have seasons either. We’re still friends and still married, but we’re separated right now. After living in Jersey for a while I got fed up and Garry Tallent, Bruce’s bass player, moved to Nashville and told me I would love it there. And I did, it’s an amazing place to record and perform but at that time I was playing all the time on the East Coast and in Europe and the commute was killing me. So after five years I moved back.
How are you preparing for the drive-in show?
I’m just trying to get my head around it. We’re playing in a gigantic 1,000-car parking lot. And when I first saw the lot I was kind of intimidated. It was a little daunting and I thought, “Oh my God.” But we’re just going to go up and do what we do and try to enjoy it and have fun. I’ve got a great audience. They’re out to have fun. We’re not one of those emo bands, we’re there because we enjoy playing. And it’s actually going to be a little bit different and we don’t know what’s going to happen. And I love that. I love the adventure of it.
Has anyone offered you any advice on how to pull this type of show off?
No, because very few of these shows have happened before. It’s a challenge and I love a challenge ’cause I trust my band, I trust our material, I trust myself and I trust the audience. They’re going to figure out a way to express themselves.
How does it feel to be precedent setting?
I don’t think much about it, but my manager, Harvey Leeds, works at Live Nation and says they’re monitoring this very closely to try to figure out what works and what doesn’t work. And we’ll be the guinea pigs for this show. And that’s fine with me if this is the way it has to be done so people make music and people can hear music. People can’t stay in their houses for the rest of our lives. It’s just not gonna happen.
Have you spent a lot of time in the past at the racetrack? Is it a special place for you?
Are you asking me if I am a degenerate gambler that goes to racetrack? Yeah. I haven’t gone in a while, but I used to go with my father and mother, they loved going to the track and they would take me and they’d let me bet on horses. And, you know, they’d drink their gin and tonics and eat the sausage sandwiches. And I really loved it. I think the racetrack is a great place and it’s only a few miles from the ocean. It’s the real Jersey Shore, not like on the TV show. I live in Ocean Grove, which has a great neighborhood feel. Everybody is out on the street each day. We’re all talking to each other, through social distancing of course. If someone has a birthday, they put chairs out on the street, have a cake and sing happy birthday. That’s what the Jersey Shore is really all about.
How is Ocean Grove holding up during the pandemic?
We are a real tourist town and we draw in all the Bennies, that’s what we call out of town visitors. We make jokes about ‘em, but we’re glad to see them. We have so many shops that are open now and restaurants and we need them because we need the revenue. I mean, I don’t, but the people I know who own businesses do. There’s so many people out of work right now. I always think about the musicians and the crews that service musicians, you know, how much they’re hurting, but it’s waiters, waitresses,, people who own flower shops and movie theaters. It’s a lot of people who are really hurting, but i also believe staying at home is necessary.
Are you taking all the precautions they tell you to take?
Of course. I’m at risk because of my age (71). I think that the wearing the mask and social distancing is, is a good thing. But people need to get out. I think eventually we’ll have concerts again that feel like they used too. There’ll be separate areas for fans and the band would play on the stage — I don’t think it’s going to be drive-in theaters long term, but who knows?
Do you think of yourself as making history?
No, I just want to play. That’s it really, I just want to play for our fans. Maybe I’m taking it for granted, because i know it is going to be a monumental undertaking. Fortunately, there’s a good crew of people who know what they’re doing and will make sure the sound and the visuals are good. Thankfully all I have to do is try to remember the words to my songs. And if I can do that I’m ahead of the game.