Christine Martucci still remembers the first time she heard Aster Pheonyx play.
"Aster was playing and I was like, 'Damn, this girl is good,'" Martucci said, thinking back to that night in 2008 where she caught a show by the up-and-comer at De Cicco's in Raritan at the recommendation of another musician.
"I had never heard of her before, and then I'm watching and I'm like, 'Oh my God, this kid is good, this kid's like the next Ani DiFranco, she's that good,' and the attitude and everything, she just had it all,'' Martucci recalled. "So I said, 'I've got to work with her, I've got to help her,' and here we are."
"She's definitely opened my door,'' Pheonyx said of Martucci, "because I mean (previously) I was just this acoustic (artist) playing dive bars. I remember the Asbury Music Awards in 2008, like right before we met, I was talking to my friend Jo Wymer and I'm like, 'I'll never play the (Stone) Pony (in Asbury Park), there's no way I'll get the status to play here.'
"And sure enough, that night (Barbara Young, Martucci's manager) comes up to me and goes, 'How do you feel about opening at the Stone Pony?' and I was like, 'Get the fuck out of here, really? I was just talking to someone about how I will never play there' and sure enough, I opened it up March 1.''
Martucci, of Flemington, and Pheonyx, of Brick, will return to the Pony on Saturday (June 5) for Pride at the Pony, a show tapping into the vibe of the New Jersey's 19th Annual LGBTI Pride Celebration, which will be taking place in Asbury Park the next day.
"So, 'the Stone Pony,' my friends are saying, 'is gay for a day,''' Martucci said. "They're an honorary gay venue. And you know what? It's very gay-friendly and the people there are awesome and at the end of the day it's always about the music anyway.''
Discussing the open and welcoming attitude in Asbury Park, Martucci said, "This place reminds me of New Hope (Pa.), everybody gets along. Wherever you have artists and musicians, you'll always have a more accepting crowd.''
And Pheonyx agrees. "I like it, it's very open and accepting, it's real chill. I mean, because my fans are very mixed, it's cool that they can all just come together and hang and have a drink and listen to great music.''
Sharing the stage with Martucci and Pheonyx that night will be a slew of other local and regional artists, including Deepa Soul, Tara Elliott and the Red Velvets, Kelly Carvin and Virago.
"They don't suck and that's what I love, there's such talent here and given the chance, these girls can skyrocket,'' Martucci said. "You know, it's just the right audience and the right people here and that's all they need, they're all just one earshot away of that right person, and so this show is more than just a gay pride show for me. ... I've got every genre and they're all so good.''
Asked about the impact they've had on each other's work over the years, Martucci said that she and Pheonyx challenge each other, particularly when they're playing on the same bill together.
"I feel as a musician or as an artist, it's always great to see another artist step up their game; you feel their energy (and) I feel that that's important to do the same,'' she said. "So when Aster's out there and she's doing her all and never leaves anything on that stage, I owe it to my fans and myself and to Aster to do the same thing. If I do anything less, how am I going to mentor her and vice-versa? We learn from each other.''
Martucci said she's currently at work on her new album, the follow-up to her 2007 sophomore disc "I'm All In,'' which she plans to release in the fall before heading out on tour.
"I'm going to have one opener, that's it, no more five million openers,'' Martucci said. "Aster Pheonyx, that's it, she'll go out on tour with me once everything gets going, just one person, I think it's better that way.''
And what's next for Pheonyx? The singer/songwriter, who alternately plays with a backing band and as a solo acoustic act, laid out her plans for the future: "shows, playing out, coming out with a CD, just working it like you're supposed to.''