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Stone Pony: Symbol of Jersey Strong

ASBURY PARK ( TheStreet) -- On page 2 of this article, you'll find a photo of the famed Stone Pony, one of the main rock clubs at the Jersey Shore and one of Bruce Springsteen's most famous haunts.

It's a historic place, although you wouldn't know that to look at it.

The only real clue would be idiots like me standing outside taking pictures of it. And there are plenty of those.

The Pony has hosted hundreds of famous bands since the club opened its doors in 1974. More importantly it continues to serve as a venue for smaller acts, an incubator of sorts.

Stevie Van Zandt got his start playing there before he joined Springsteen's band. The Asbury Jukes, of course, who Van Zandt managed, came to prominence there. A whole ocean of bands you've probably never heard of entertained crowds there, specializing in new wave, hard rock, classic rock, reggae, cover bands, originals, tribute bands . . . . you name it. All the while, national acts like Sam & Dave, Gary U.S. Bonds, the Talking Heads, The Ramones, Blues Traveler, They Might Be Giants, the Black Crowes, Snoop Dogg, Weezer, Jimmy Eat World, Bouncing Souls . . . Those names are selected arbitrarily. It might be easier to list who has not played there.

Rocco Pendola wrote a recent article on TheStreet talking about how difficult it is for local bands to survive in the L.A. club scene. It's a little easier in New Jersey, but not much. The big problem here is there are just too few venues like the Stone Pony where groups can gain the visibility they need to build their audience. Too few college radio deejays that have both the freedom and the inclination to weed through thousands of demos and then play the hell out of the ones they like. Too few bars offer live music at all and the ones that do tend to stick with those performing watered-down cover tunes.

Asbury Park is different in that respect. Most of our businesses are mom-and-pop shops, one-store enterprises, and there is a lot of interest here in live music and the arts in general. As a result, scrappy coffee houses and bars with cramped stages pop up all the time, around every corner.

But a place like the Pony is in a class by itself. It's larger and has an international reputation. It won't, on its own, make a band's career. But it can help give a good band a necessary boost.

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