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The Evolution of Sea Hear... Now How it all Began

Photo by Kevin Doherty...

…Shortly after New Year’s Day in 2013, Tim Donnelly and Danny Clinch hosted a Hurricane Sandy benefit in Asbury Park. Donnelly, a music journalist turned event promoter, and Clinch, a renowned rock photographer, invited a small group of bands, led by My Morning Jacket, to play.

Sounds nice-right? A couple of locals doing what they do best for a great and much-needed cause. Well, the highly successful event, along with modest art shows Donnelly hosted on the Asbury boardwalk, laid the foundation for what has become the annual—and beloved—Sea Hear Now festival. Attracting artists, surfers, superstar musicians and roughly 35,000 fans to Asbury Park’s waterfront every September since 2018 (except for 2020, because of the pandemic).

Music icons Stevie Nicks and Green Day are headlining this year’s festival, which will incorporate three stages and a diverse undercard including Cage the Elephant, the Head and the Heart, Gary Clark Jr. and My Morning Jacket, who return to the Shore nearly a decade after that initial relief concert.

My Morning Jacket played the Sandy benefit, and is said to be an integral part of the first and future events, coming full-circle this year.

Donnelly and Clinch knew each other while growing up in Toms River, but it wasn’t until after Donnelly graduated college in 1990 that the pals began to bond over their enthusiasm for Asbury and music. Easy to do!

Leaning heavily on the musical friendships they’ve made over the years, the long-time friends have persuaded big acts like Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam, Jack Johnson, Dave Matthews Band, the Lumineers and Smashing Pumpkins to perform in a place that was stuck on hard times not too long ago.

Their love of Asbury Park and its history convinced them that the City would experience a come-back and the duo wanted to be a part of it.

Clinch and Donnelly helped that effort when they convinced Tim Sweetwood, a promoter and producer at C3 Presents—which produces large-scale events like Lollapalooza and is owned by Live Nation—to make Asbury Park the site of the company’s next big festival. That was the turning point.!

With the support of a reputable organizer, plus HM Wollman, another music industry veteran/surfer, a massive music festival became a reality. But Clinch and Donnelly wanted more than music. They insisted on a festival that highlighted all of their passions, including art, surfing and environmental sustainability. Sea Hear Now encompasses all of that. Just like the bands, there is a deep roster of wave riders who compete each year. Clinch, meanwhile, runs the festival’s Transparent Gallery, which sells artwork made by the musicians. Proceeds go to local charities. You can bet that Green initiatives will also be seen in action throughout the event.

The surfside event sees thousands of people gather on the beach each year.

Of course, presenting a Jersey vibe is also important. While headliners come from all over, the lineup always features local acts. Ensuring the all-important Jersey vibe!

This year, that includes Dogs in a Pile, Dentist, Fletcher, the Vansaders, and Lost in Society. All have Asbury roots. And food vendors from Sandy Hook to the tip of Long Beach Island provide the food.

“It’s reflecting the community that we live in,” says Donnelly, who’s been an Asbury resident for 15 years. “It’s reflective of the people who are coming to the festival.”

Donnelly and Clinch take immense pride in contributing to the Shore’s culture. Donnelly notes that people who live down the Shore year-round don’t necessarily experience summer the same way visitors might.

It’s a beach bash for everyone, but especially those who call Asbury Park home. Viewed by some as the last great party of the summer, it’s also for people who live at the Jersey Shore and beyond! If you're a fan of music, art, surfing and history - this is your happy place. 10 days and counting!


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