"We're from the Jersey Shore and we missed this huge hurricane that f-cked everything up," says Brandon Asraf at the outset of an online PSA for RebuildRecover. Speaking from the backseat of a moving vehicle, the bassist-singer for Jersey's drum and bass duo Brick + Mortar peers out from beneath an explosion of curls and holds up a hand-written sign to the camera. Asraf (whose push broom mustache would make Daniel Day-Lewis jealous) explains that although his Toms River two-piece is on tour, they want to help their hurricane-ravaged home state.
"Red Cross is doing their best, but they can't do it all, so a couple of friends of ours started an organization to give food, clothing, anything they can do," Asraf continues. "Please contact them on this website that we wrote on this sh*tty piece of paper while we're in the car. Where we're from is the Shore, so it's up to us to make it better."
As a musician who calls Jersey his home, Asraf is making a plea for Asbury Park and the surrounding coastal stretch that's been ravaged by Hurricane Sandy. With thousands of people in evacuation shelters and nearly 1 million still without power, the destruction along the Jersey shoreline is staggering.
People are cold, hungry and often homeless thanks to flooded or burned-down homes. And although the famed Asbury Park—where Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi and the Gaslight Anthem honed their skills locally before going national—fared better than other coastal towns, Jersey's musical mecca is still ailing. So it only makes sense that many of the people pitching in for the relief efforts are musicians who give life to Jersey's cultural cradle.
That's what brought Asraf to RebuildRecover. His friends started the charity organization last week after becoming dissatisfied with the progress of a corporate-sponsored charity. In one week, RebuildRecover has blossomed into a makeshift, yet entirely effective, drop-off and distribution point for supplies.
Operating out of a storefront for a wedding DJ company in northern New Jersey (co-founder Anthony Setaro works there), dozens of volunteers—some of them local musicians—gather each day to sort through donated food, clothing, cleaning supplies, blankets and cat litter (i.e., any and everything people drop off). Subsequently, they reach out to shelters and match up the supplies they have with victims' needs.
"There were plenty of people in the area who wanted to help, but just didn't know how," co-founder Ashley George explains while volunteers toss the latest load of supplies into a pickup truck. Inside the store-turned-distribution center, the shouts of organizers bark over the sound of Springsteen (naturally) playing softly on the stereo. "We're so grassroots, it's silly," George says. "If there's any problem, it's that things are moving at lightning speed."
Volunteers Loading a Truck At RebuildRecover
The org also brings local musicians to shelters for impromptu acoustic sets. "Not only do people need food and supplies and clothing, but they're also losing their minds at the shelters because they've been there so long," George points out. "So what are you going to do to help them relax and feel a little better? Music."
These joyfully slipshod post-hurricane concerts aren't limited to shelters. "When [Asbury Park bar/pizzeria] Porta opened back up, they wanted free live music to keep spirits high," said Jef Plate, a local music mainstay (he's part of Sikamor Rooney, Manatee and a frequent Nicole Atkins band member) whose house is still without power. "So I put together a three-piece with my friends Sam Bey and Dave Rosen of the Parlor Mob and we threw together a sloppy set. There were people there—friends of mine—who lost their entire houses. Their houses floated off the foundations and were just… gone. And they haven't been anywhere or done anything fun the whole week. So to see them dancing and having fun and smiling and cheering each other up felt pretty good."
Realizing there are plenty of out-of-state musicians who still want to help the relief efforts, RebuildRecover has been reaching out to a variety of acts who are all too happy to help. Local artists like the Gaslight Anthem and Nicole Atkins—as well as the Avett Brothers, Passion Pit, Mick Fleetwood and Kevin Devine—recorded short videos asking people to pitch in and help out. (Speaking of Atkins, the singer-songwriter rushed back to her home state and lent a hand at RebuildRecover just yesterday.)
Musicians who weren't caught out-of-state on tour have been helping out on the ground. "Around Asbury Park, it’s just been about getting on your bicycle and finding people who need help," says Pete Steinkopf, guitarist of long-running Jersey punk band the Bouncing Souls. Steinkopf leans on his vintage bike in front of the Stone Pony, a legendary Jersey venue the hurricane has temporarily shuttered but thankfully left untouched, despite sizable boardwalk bits being blown about several blocks away.
"Yesterday we saw 10 people moving this huge chunk of boardwalk, so we stopped by and lent a hand," Steinkopf said. "We left an hour later and there were 40 people there. So the Asbury Park community is getting together to help each other out. That's happening a lot more now that things are getting settled."
Bouncing Souls' Guitarist Pete Steinkopf Outside the Temporarily-Closed Stone Pony
For members of Jersey indie outfit River City Extension, "hurricane relief efforts" have been far more personal. In addition to cramming in storm-delayed practice sessions before their upcoming Australian tour, Tacon says she's been helping bandmate James Ramirez sort out his family's losses.
"James’ stepfather’s house was completely ruined by the storm, so the past few days we’ve been there cleaning up the house," she says. "And, because cars have been ruined and transportation is shut down, we've been scrambling to get together for practice. We have like 35 hours of practice to do within the next four days."
As River City Extension's resolve to soldier on illustrates, local musicians aren't allowing the hurricane to derail years of musical history in Asbury Park. "If you're any good, you come to Asbury and then you launch into New York and Philly from here," Plate opines. "I think people will still coalesce to Asbury, especially since other shore towns got hit harder."
Bouncing Souls' Steinkopf echoed that sentiment. "Now that power is starting to come back, the community is getting together. The music scene here is a tight-knit community. If anything, people are helping each other out more. If you have time, just get out there on your bike, man. There's stuff everywhere. Fallen trees or whatever. Just help people out."
River City Extension In Their Temporary Rehearsal Space