By TOM CHESEK
If you’ve spent any time at all navigating the brackish channels of the Jersey Shore bar scene, chances are excellent that you’ve encountered Rob Dye in one of his several musical incarnations.
Or perhaps it was a breeze-kissed Saturday in the shade of Asbury Park’s Convention Hall, where Dye and his R&B combo The Extras rocked the thatches off the tiki bar with a little Motown mayhem.
Maybe, just maybe, you stopped for a pushcart hot dog in downtown Asbury and were lured inside The Saint by the wafting sounds of the Rob Dye Band, there to showcase a set of original songs.
If the Atlantic Highlands-based songwriter and guitarist had to be pegged to any particular time and place, however, it would have to be his near-legendary Sunday night residency at the former Downtown Café (now, simply the Downtown) on West Front Street. There, he emceed a series of impromptu “open jam” affairs in which anyone from accomplished veterans to amateur vagabonds could take the stage with Dye and an ever-morphing roster of side players.
In the process, they’d rip through an iPod’s worth of song possibilities and, more often than not, strike a happy medium between the fabled Upstage club and that well-lubricated office party you attended a couple of years back.
The Downtown reopens tonight after extensive improvements to the two-story building (two buildings now, actually) at the Broad and Front nexus. But during the 20-month interim, Dye stayed true to his roots. He moved his Sunday soiree across the intersection to Red Restaurant and Lounge at 3 Broad Street (like the Downtown, owned by Danny Lynch and Matt Wagman).
The local music linchpin who cites influences that veer from Bob Dylan and Tom Petty to Uncle Tupelo and The Replacements won’t be serving in any official capacity with the Downtown (Chris Masi of the band Brown will be handling the entertainment bookings at the club). But he will be taking his place in a mix that he describes as “seven nights of live music, on two stages” at the club.
“They’ll be continuing what they’ve always done, and bringing in national touring acts,” he says of Masi & company. (Masi’s band, Brown, plays the Downtown at its official reopening tonight, and again Saturday with Philly funk/rock band Solid, featuring Masi’s childhood pal Chris Maute on bass).
Dye, who’s currently working on his debut CD release of original songs (his MySpace page allows you to listen in on some of his music), is focused upon recapturing the energy of the most fondly recalled nights at the old Downtown, surfing the buzz generated by the club’s long-awaited rebirth, and re-branding the Open Jam feature as a newly resurgent populist powerhouse.
“I encourage all kinds of different people to come and play,” Dye insists. “All levels of talent, including karaoke wannabes.”
And as for the challenges of presenting live music in a town that tends to give the stinkeye to those who pump up the volume and pack in the patrons?
“I’m a trouper,” declares the passionate proponent of the Monmouth County soundscape. “I’m in it for the long haul.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: What was formerly the Downtown Café is now simply The Downtown. redbankgreen had the name wrong in a couple of earlier stories.