“I’d wish you a merry Christmas,” Southside Johnny Lyon told Count Basie Theatre crowd during one of the many Hope Concert fundraisers that he’s participated in over the years. “But it would be out of character.”
Maybe Christmas and Southside Johnny are an uneasy mix. This, after all, is the guy who’s been introduced by no less a Santa surrogate than Bruce Springsteen as the Grinch incarnate onstage. But you can hardly call him a holiday humbug in light of the traditional Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes New Year’s Eve party that returns to Red Bank following a one-year hiatus.
Ask the man about warmly cherished traditions and he’ll likely answer, as he did when we interviewed him a few years back, that “I’m not interested in chronology — only when it comes to old records. I’m really not a nostalgist, and my attitude is, let’s move on.”
The truth, however, is that for many of us here on the greater Red Bank Green and beyond, Lyon has staked rightful claim to the mantle of Mister New Year’s Eve, a legacy that the big-band frontman inherits from the long-gone likes of Guy Lombardo and Dick Clark — and a responsibility that he fulfills with far more panache and pizazz than smiley-guy Seacrest.
Our own master of ceremony and his 2015 edition of the Jukes therefore make for some satisfying stewards of an occasion that comes weighted with the regrets and regards of the Year That Was, in addition to arriving freighted with the outsize hopes and dreams of the months to come. Having just marked his own 67th lap around the sun, Lyon stands poised to deliver a set that draws from the band’s 40-year history and its signature standards (Steve Van Zandt’s “I Don’t Want to Go Home,” Springsteen’s “The Fever,” Sam Cooke’s “Havin’ a Party”) — while displaying flashes of the can’t-stand-still musical explorer whose recent excursions have included an album of Tom Waits interpretations, and a stripped-down side gig with the Poor Fools that finds him opening up the big tent and big heart of his encyclopedic love for American music. And the kid who learned the blues from the record bins on Asbury’s Springwood Avenue will still race you to that rare side of wax, should you find yourself at the same flea market as he.
The 9 p.m. New Year’s Eve show (which detoured to New Brunswick’s State Theatrein 2014) boasts an opening set by a fellow Jersey music legend: singer-guitarist and Grammy nominated songsmith (“Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough”) Glen Burtnik. The former member of Styx (and original castmate of Broadway’s Beatlemania) teams with Bob Burger in their acclaimed band project The Weeklings, for a savvy set that explores the lesser known compositions of Lennon and McCartney, plus a good many other surprises. Take it here for tickets ($29 – $99).