Bamboozle Festival Returns to Asbury Park

Bon Jovi Hard Rock Calling - H 2011
Jim Dyson/Getty Images

Bon Jovi Hard Rock Calling - H 2011

Next weekend, The Bamboozle festival will return to the city that started it all: Asbury Park, NJ.

The famed beach town that launched the careers of Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi will welcome the festival, celebrating its 10th year of existence, back with open arms and a big coup-Bon Jovi will headline the three-day lineup, which includes Foo Fighters, My Chemical Romance (in place of Blink 182, who pulled off the tour due to drummer Travis Barker’s tonsil surgery), Incubus, The Gaslight Anthem, Jimmy Eat World, Brand New, Jersey Shore reality star, DJ Pauly D and comedian Andrew Dice Clay.

Just how did a festival known for punk rock, emo, and hardcore acts score one of the biggest mainstream arena rock concert draws to the sand and surf of the shore? Locality may have had something to do with it, said Live Nation talent buyer Christian McKnight.

“[Jon Bon Jovi] is from Jersey,” said McKnight. “We wanted to go back to the beach in Asbury and we were thinking about what would make a special performance. What would mean a lot to Bamboozle fans and the people of Asbury Park? We thought he would never do it.”

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To everyone’s surprise, the band enthusiastically accepted, and promoters faced the next hurdle: Who do you get to play with Bon Jovi and stay in the Bamboozle format?

“Well, that’s the thing. Bamboozle is the biggest rock show. Bamboozle and Coachella are like the two gigantic rock shows," said Clay, who hits the Bamboozle stage on Sunday. “Normally, they don't even have comedians, and I'm going on before Bon Jovi, but that's my element.”

Including Clay on the bill is another score for the festival. The 54-year old comedian’s 30-career has been on the upswing since his appearance on HBO’s Entourage, and is poised for a comeback with several projects in the works, including a Showtime special on New Year’s Eve, an autobiography, and a possible biopic that Dice reveals could feature James Franco in the lead role. 

“It’s an honor to be able to do a rock show that big. They have all these comedy festivals in Montreal, and it’s a funny thing that nobody wanted to invite Dice, the biggest-selling comic ever in history as far as concerts go, but yet Bamboozle, a rock show, a rock festival, that's who invited me to perform," he said.

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McKnight said the addition of Foo Fighters is an exciting bonus for Bamboozle fans. The band has never appeared on the stage before, and for many, this will be their first experience seeing Dave Grohl in action.

“Foos is another band that so many Bamboozle kids grew up liking, be it  Nirvana or so many of Grohl’s projects,” he said.

The festival last played Asbury in 2005 before it moved to Giants Stadium at the Meadowlands in East Rutherford. The buzz surrounding this year’s lineup and its breezier beach location has resulted in brisk pre-sales. With attendance expected to top 90,000 attendees, McKnight couldn’t be happier about the move.

“As cool as it was to be at the Meadowlands, it is a parking lot and Asbury Park has a real identity,” said McKnight. “Every great festival in the country has a city that goes along with it, and Asbury Park is really ‘Bamboozle City."

“A lot of people travel for Bamboozle, from as far away as Europe and the West Coast,” he said. “It’s a three-day party on the beach, with hotels, restaurants and a rich music history.”

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The idea of Bamboozle sprouted in 2002, a few years after the city lost The Warped Tour, a touring skate/punk festival, to another market.  The Warped Tour was a boon to the city’s local economy in the ‘90s, as festival goers plunked down cash in nearby bars, eating establishments, and local residents charging $5 for concert attendees to park their cars in empty parking lots.

“My memory of The Warped Tour is driving down that one lane road on Asbury Avenue, and it took forever,” said McKnight.

Local promoters John D'Esposito and Kevin Kopacko attempted to create the Warped Tour vibe with the “Skate and Surf” festival, but decided to take it one step further with the creation of Bamboozle, a home grown answer to bigger events like the Indio, Calif. Coachella festival or Lollapalooza. The two envisioned a show that gave a platform to East Coast acts of all musical backgrounds. At first, the show had a hippy vibe, incorporating jam bands, but as music trends changed, the festival began including alternative, punk, emo, and hardcore.

“That really set the standard for what Bamboozle became, as far as the style of music and stage set up,” McKnight said.

Since then, Bamboozle has expanded to shows on the West Coast as well as the travelling Bamboozle Road Show.  McKnight said that Bamboozle has earned its reputation as being the show premiering acts before they strike it big.

“We really are an artist-development festival,” he said, noting that Bamboozle featured LMFAO before the world knew they were sexy. “We are continually looking nationwide and worldwide at what act is going to pop next.”

One of the festival’s biggest successes includes, of all bands, the G-rated Jonas Brothers.

“They played at the first Bamboozle in Pamona on the West Coast, literally on a handball court in 2006, before they blew up,” he said.

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This year, Bamboozle will repeat its reputation as tastemaker with the electronic act Skrillex, headlining on Friday night’s bill. Skrillex is the stage name of Sunny Moore, who first came to the attention of Bamboozle concert goers in 2005 as lead singer of the hardcore band, From First to Last. Moore went solo with his project, Sunny, in 2009, but rang up McKnight with a simple request: Could he please play the electronic stage at the West Coast show?

“The electronic world was new to us, but we knew him so we put him on,” McKnight said. “There were 150 people watching him that night, and they all thought he was going to be huge. To us, he was a kid from an emo band.”

Skrillex has since blown up in the electronic world, and is one of the most anticipated acts at this year’s festival.

Additional acts include New Brunswick’s The Gaslight Anthem. The band recently filmed a new video at The Stone Pony, and has many ties to the shore -- including Springsteen, who has been known to jam with the band. Will he show for Bamboozle?

“If he wants to come, we would love to have him,” he said.

To alleviate a perceived parking problem, promoters plan to bus in festival goers from Long Branch’s Monmouth Race Park. Bus service will be available until 4 a.m., as to accommodate the crowds from the numerous after parties hosted along the Asbury Park “strip” that will go into the night after the main stage acts conclude their sets.

The after parties are as crazy as the festival. Alternative pioneers Fishbone will kick off the weekend Friday night at an 11 p.m. after show at the Pony. The next night, Tragedy: The All Metal Tribute to the Bee Gees, will hit the stage at The Wonder Bar. DJ Pauly D will host an additional after party inside Asbury's Convention Hall Saturday Night. with assorted DJs and Outasight, a singer and rapper experiencing top 40 success with his hit, “Tonight is the Night.” Electronic artists White Panda will host their own soiree on Sunday night at Wonder Bar. One band with Jersey roots, seminal rockers Dramarama, will do multiple shows-a main set at The Paramount with an additional after party show at The Stone Pony Sunday night.

“We are so diverse,” McKnight said. “We have acts that appeal to different types of age groups.”

Skrillex, Incubus and Mac Miller headline May 18; Foo Fighters and My Chemical Romance headline May 19; and Bon Jovi, Brand New and The Gaslight Anthem headline May 20.

Festival doors will open 5 p.m. Friday; 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.  Tickets are $65-$75 for a single day; $190 for a weekend pass. Tickets for after show parties may be bought separately. Roundtrip shuttle passes cost $10 for a single day and $25 for all three days. Visit @TheBamboozle on Twitter for updates, or look online at