thespringstandardsThe Songwriters in the Park series brings the Spring Standards, above, and former Bongos member Richard Barone, below, to Red Bank. (Click to enlarge)

richardbaroneIt’s been the backdrop for more wedding party photos than any local scenery this side of the “hobbit” pergola at Deep Cut Gardens, the setting for school commencements, and the preferred parking place for the borough’s distinctive holiday ice boat. A place for kids to congregate on weekend nights, and a place for candlelit vigils and makeshift memorials in the days following 9/11.

Ever since Riverside Gardens took shape on the former site of the long-gone apartment house of the same name, a generation of Red Bankers has wondered how they ever got along without the West Front Street park along the Navesink. No more so than in the weeks after the end of the school year, when the waterfront walkways host a beach-blanket brigade of neighbors in search of some music and movies, under the setting sun and stars. It all comes to you courtesy of the hardworking folks at the borough’s Department of Parks and Recreation, working in concert with sponsors and co-organizers public and private.

It’s that warm and breeze-kissed time of year when the municipal government — the people who normally incur your wrath over not filling in potholes fast enough — gets to fill your evenings with music and all-around good vibes.

Beginning this week, Riverside Gardens will see the return of three proven and popular attractions — Movies in the Park, Jazz in the Park and Songwriters in the Park — all presented free of charge (with complimentary river sunsets) throughout July and much of August. It’s a slate of entertainments that was preceded by an appetizer in the form of June’s LunchMusic series — and the menu continues, right after the break.

chucklambertLocal favorite Chuck Lambert takes the stage in the Comcast Jazz in the Park series July 29. (Click to enlarge)

MOVIES IN THE PARK series (Tuesdays at 8p, July 6 – August 24)

The schedule’s not official as we post this, but anyone who’s attended one of these pleasantly free events in the past can attest that the feature is secondary to the overall experience. The films are of recent vintage, the seating is “Lawnchairs are Everywhere” and the fare is largely family-friendly, in a PG kind of way. All in all, it’s a good opportunity to catch up with something you may have missed on the multiplex screen — as well as an extended-family gathering alternative to the epic loneliness of the home-theater viewer. All listings are subject to weather conditions (there’s a penciled-in rain date of August 31); call the Parks and Recreation office at (732)530-2782 for updated info.

COMCAST JAZZ IN THE PARK series (Thursdays at 7p)

The grandaddy of all Riverside Gardens events returns with a slate of seven concerts between July 8 and August 19 (with a rain-date fail-safe on August 26). The 2010 lineup of acts — every one of them a returning favorite — boasts no less than three  big-band aggregations in Funktion 11 (7/8), Tom Timko and the Horn Dogs (8/5), and the traditional series closer, the Shore’s homegrown “Bib Band” The Jazz Lobsters wrapping up the tail end on 8/19.

Also on tap are those ever-popular zydeco cats The VooDudes, saxman/author Don Carter and the intriguing jazz flutist Keith Marks — and of course, no Red Bank roster can be complete without an appearance by the borough’s unofficial musical mayor, Chuck Lambert (returning Riverside in the wake of his LunchMusic date with A Cool Blues Duo).

Funktion 11 – July 8

Keith Marks – July 15

Don Carter – July 22

Chuck Lambert – July 29

Tom Timko & the Horn Dogs – August 5

The VooDudes – August 12

The Jazz Lobsters – August 19

(Rain date) – August 26

SONGWRITERS IN THE PARK series (Fridays at 7p)

Back for its sixth year, the series sponsored by Brookdale Community College listener-supported radio station 90.5 The Night has been downsized to just four evenings in July for 2010 — although you could make the case that 90.5’s Kaboomfest Rock the River event at Marine Park served as the quasi-official kickoff for the season of Navesink nocturnes.

Presenting some fairly high-profile talent in a relatively laid-back, acoustic-oriented setting, the Songwriters schedule has previously put forth free shows by Dramarama, Steve Forbert, Jeffrey Gaines, John Wesley Harding, Astrid Williamson and the Smithereens’ Pat DiNizio, just to name a few. Featured on the first freebie Friday is an artist who’s appeared several times at Monmouth University (both solo and as a member of Cry Cry Cry) — Jersey-born, Argentina-based Richard Shindell, the veteran folker whose album of covers South of Delia includes a refreshingly non-anthemic take on the Bosstune “Born in the USA.”

July 16 sees an appearance by Philly-based indie trio Good Old War (with an opening set by staggeringly talented local prodigy Quincy Mumford), while July 23 brings in The Spring Standards, a band that evolved from the Spring Awakening-spawned Old Springs Pike (and featuring actress-musician Heather Robb). The series wraps on July 30 with the Red Bank debut of a Jersey artist too infrequently seen down the Shore — Richard Barone, former Frontman of the much-missed Hoboken new wave band The Bongos, and a savvy performer who virtually perfected the whole songwriter-circle format (but don’t just take our word for it; track down his live chamber-rock masterwork Cool Blue Halo).

Richard Shindell/ James Dunigan – July 9

Good Old War/ Quincy Mumford – July 16

The Spring Standards/ The Amboys – July 23

Richard Barone/ Bruce Tunkel – July 30

DOO WOP NIGHTS (Wednesdays at 7p)

Details don’t appear to have been finalized, but things look good for a fifth season of the midweek series that’s traditionally unfolded on Wednesday evenings in August — and that for the past four years has spotlighted the streetcorner serenading skills of the Shore-based vocal quintet RB Express. So grab a beach blanket, stake out a space on the ‘green, and park it right here for updates.