Fan-favorite jam band moe. has turned rocking the Stone Pony in July into an annual tradition, with its fourth summertime throw-down scheduled for Friday (July 15). But Al Schnier - who holds down vocal, guitar and keyboard duties in the band - can't quite put his finger on what it is about Asbury Park that jives so well with the band.
"It certainly feels good, there's something that's really easy about it," said Schnier. "Asbury Park's nice because there are no pretenses. It's a lot like the area that we all come from in upstate New York, the Utica area, which is pretty blue collar, it's middle class and as crazy as some of the people can be on the Jersey Shore, people are pretty normal at the end of the day, and there's something about that that just sort of works for us.
"Plus," Schnier added, "we're right there on the beach, we're playing at the Stone Pony of all places, which is awesome, so it works for us on so many levels."
While moe. typically hits the Pony on Fourth of July weekend, their visit year comes a little later in the month.
"For whatever reason," Schnier said, "we're just going to end up there a couple of weeks later and we ended up taking the Fourth off this year, which was kind of nice, because I actually got to spend it with my family for a change."
The band - which marked its 20th anniversary last year - has roots that run deep in the Garden State: in its early days, moe. cut its teeth on the New Brunswick music scene.
"We used to play at Rutgers and in and around that scene quite a bit when we were getting started, so Jersey has always been really good to us," Schnier recalled.
On April 6, Schnier shared the stage in Boca Raton, Fla., with Furthur, a band featuring former Grateful Dead members Bob Weir and Phil Lesh, and another very special guest: E Street Band member Clarence Clemons. Clemons, who died June 18 at age 69 of complications from a stroke, had a history with the jam band scene, having performed with both the Dead and the Jerry Garcia Band throughout the years.
"I'm a huge (Bruce) Springsteen fan, I'm a big fan of the E Street Band and have been ever since I was 12, and I had no idea that Clarence was going to be there that night," Schnier said. "So (Furthur) had invited me to come down and play, and Bobby (Weir)'s manager, who has also been a longtime friend of ours, is also a big Springsteen fan and knew that I was a big fan, so he didn't say anything until I got there, so that was such a huge treat for me."
Schnier, who saw Clemons with his band the Red Bank Rockers at a community college in the Utica area when he was 12 or 13, recently took his son, who he said was around 10 at the time, to an E Street Band show at the Nassau Coliseum in Long Island, N.Y.
"I got to convey some of that stuff to (Clemons). I'm sure he hears it all of the time but he was really gracious about it. ... At that point, and he was still using his walker and stuff, he needed some assistance to get around, but he was there because he wanted to play music and he was still passionate about that. He didn't have to be there but wanted to be there, and that's really great for me to see guys like that who are still passionate about playing music and are there just because they like it."
Schnier's performance with Furthur and Clemons included runs through the R&B classics "Turn On Your Love Light" and "Little Red Rooster."
Recalling his time onstage with Furthur and Clemons, Schnier said, "So I'm standing onstage, between Phil and Bobby, and Clarence was next to Phil, and the whole time I just had this huge grin on my face. And every time he played, I kind of stopped playing just to listen to him play."
moe. with special guests Assembly of Dust, Little Jimmy and the Jack, gates open 5 p.m. Friday, July 15, at the Stone Pony, 913 Ocean Ave., Asbury Park, $27.50 in advance; $32 at the gate, 732-502-0600; http://www.stoneponyonline.com.