The What a Wonderful Year (WAWY) festival, Dec. 29-30 at Wonder Bar, is “Asbury Park’s annual after-party,” says Joe Pomarico, co-organizer and exec at Telegraph Hill Records.
“It is an event by the music community for the music community,” he says, adding it, “draws a passionate audience from throughout New Jersey who come for their longtime favorite performers and inevitably find new favorites.”
Adds co-organizer Jim Lenskold, “a lot of our audience is the other bands that aren’t playing at all. I joked that for all you musicians, it’s your office party at the end of the year. That’s where I think the community vibe really comes out.”
WAWY is truly a celebration of and for the Asbury Park creative community—and, of course, that extends to all of us who live outside AP but visit often for cultural fixes. The lineup this year spans genres, from hip hop to rock to folk and more, and the shows serve as fundraisers for local nonprofits: the Asbury Park African-American Music Project, which works to preserve and celebrate AP’s robust African American music history; and The Project Matters, which helps aspiring young artists launch their careers by providing financial, business, legal, educational and emotional support, as well as providing instruments for in-school music education.
Too, the folks behind Last Wave Brewing and the recently opened AP brewery Wild Air Beerworks are brewing up What A Wonderful Beer, a festive, crushable amber ale.
“We really believe in the idea that this show should be a diverse celebration of Asbury Park. We’ve seen the history and been around town, and this is sort of that one big celebration of that,” says Pomarico. “We just couldn’t let that go.”
Indeed, WAWY started a little over five years ago by The Burns, a local band, but when they split ways, the festival was in jeopardy. Enter Telegraph Hill Records, Pomerico, Lenskold and Matthew Fernicola, who took it over, and WAWY is stronger than ever. It even withstood the pandemic; though it had to move out of the Wonder Bar temporarily, it took place live (and streamed) in 2020, when it seemed like that was impossible. Now the event returns to Wonder Bar, with a What a Wonderful Cheer event at Transparent Clinch Gallery on Dec. 29, featuring interviews with the non-profits, a red carpet photo op and an opportunity to mingle with the festival performers just prior to the Wonder Bar shows kick off.
Critical to the vibe of the festival is creating a diverse lineup that covers the many different types of music that’s taken root in AP.
“We really incorporated a lot of that hip hop. I think know that ever since we set that tone we try to make sure theres’ a handful of that sort of genre getting placed as well as highlighting some of the rock and folk that really make up what the town is,” Pomarico says—then the group tries to parse out which mainstays should come back, and maybe which should yield for newcomers. It’s all a fine balance, which takes several weeks to wrangle.
To accommodate 10 bands each night, the festival will have two stages alternating acts. Special attention was paid to blending the disparate musical styles together in a lineup that keeps folks engaged.
“The most important thing is we’re always trying to make it something we would enjoy if we didn’t put the show on,” says Fernicola. “Anytime we put on any event, we’re thinking why would anyone come to this? … You come to the show because you’re coming to our curated event.”
As the scene has revitalized over the past few years and begun to attract creatives from the region, it’s getting harder to undertake such curation, the organizers say. Music was one reason Asbury Park emerged from the pandemic better than other locales, and because of the growing number of venues and good bands that are playing at them, “it’s more difficult for us to figure out who’s gonna play the show,” Pomarico says. “More people are moving down here because they’re hearing what’s going on on the creative side.”
But, it’s ultimately a sign of the creatively fertile grounds of Asbury Park. It’s a good thing—certainly one to celebrate.
What A Wonderful Year. Wonder Bar, Asbury Park. 7:30 p.m.-12:30 a.m., Dec. 29-30. Advance tix are $20/night or $35 for two nights, available at the Stone Pony box office, from the performers, or here.
Night One Lineup: Jarod Clemons & the Late Nights, The Extensions, Candy Cavity, Olivia Bec, Levy Okun, Renee Maskin, Drewsie, Nikki Nailbomb, Izzy Miz and a special guest to be announced.
Night Two Lineup: Alexander Simone & WHODAT? Live Crew, The Foes of Fern, Pamela Flores, Blaise, Karma Gambit, King Ramses, 8DayzStr8, Dan Apy, Lexx Banko and Scxtty.
Hosts: Meg O’Shea of 90.5 The Night, Matt Daniels and Sandy Froonjian.