Holmdel’s PNC Arts Center continues to shine as a staple of summer at the Jersey Shore

By:  | June 22, 2024 Entertainment Holmdel

By Ray Schweibert

 

Some of the most memorable music performances in U.S. history happened in open-air environments, such as the Beatles’ Hollywood Bowl and Shea Stadium shows of the mid-1960s, and Bob Dylan’s notorious Newport Folk Festival “electric” gig occurring around that same time. Later that decade came the Monterey Pop and Woodstock festivals on the West and East coasts, respectively, which helped introduce some of the biggest names in the annals of rock and pop music to thousands of fans.

Despite hinging on the fickleness of Mother Nature – as Woodstock show-goers could attest in 1969 – seeing shows in an alfresco setting is often the preference among concert-loving fans, where one has the option to spread out under the stars or sunshine and feel more connected to vibe of the venue and the folks around you.

Los Angeles’ Hollywood Bowl and Denver’s Red Rocks Amphitheater are among the most iconic open-air theaters in the nation, tracing their roots back to the early part of the 20th century. Others have sprung up since, including Philadelphia's Mann Center in 1976, the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, located on the exact grounds of the Woodstock festival, and Boston’s Leader Bank Pavilion, both of which debuted in the mid-1990s. Chicago’s heralded Huntington Bank Pavilion arrived on the scene in 2005.

Small town, big stage

Another venue, now 55 years in existence and not sited in any major metropolis or iconic American milepost, is the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel. For more than a half century now, the backs of cherished rock concert T-shirts listing off tour dates in major cities like Los Angeles, Chicago and London have also featured the otherwise all but unknown town of Holmdel, NJ.

That in itself makes the Arts Center special, but it also holds sentimental value for many who have made memories at the venue over the years.

“It’s been a huge part of the summer for us since we were kids,” says Jude Foley, a North Jersey transplant now living in Freehold who recently attended the Beach Boys concert at the Arts Center in June.

“When I was a teenager, we would wait for them to announce the Arts Center’s summer lineup in the newspaper and then we would all run to buy tickets at the record store by my old house. That was back before you could get tickets online,” Foley remembers. “My friends an I could only afford the cheap seats back then, but there was something magical about sitting on the big lawn under the stars in the summer and listening to your favorite music. There still is.”

The amphitheater opened in 1968 as the Garden State Arts Center – and as part of state legislation requiring recreational facilities to be located along the newly created Garden State Parkway – and immediately began attracting many of the biggest names in the entertainment industry. Its unique saucer-like design allows for 7,000 seats around a partial enclosure, and a huge lawn area for an additional 10,500 show-goers who come to see between 45 and 50 musical and performing-arts events per year from May through September.

According to its website, the venue is regularly rated among the top-five performing amphitheaters in the nation. Its inaugural-year lineup consisted almost exclusively of classical orchestras, easy-listening solo artists and folk-rock troupes, among them Judy Garland, Liberace, Harry Belafonte, Andy Williams, Arlo Guthrie and Peter, Paul and Mary. Almost immediately thereafter, the venue began tapping into the youth-centric modern music of that era, bringing in such high-profile rock acts as Iron Butterfly in June 1969 and Janis Joplin in August 1970.

An archived revue of Joplin’s Holmdel show, which appeared online in the former Daily Home News of New Brunswick (and occurring less than two months before Joplin died of an overdose in Oct. 1970), described her as delivering “gut-churning, hard-pounding blues rock that seemed to surge up out of the visceral, volcanic regions where the well-springs of emotion, need, desire, doubt and desperation flow white hot and clear.”

Repeat offenders

There must be something in the water in Holmdel, because when artists perform at the Arts Center they tend to return again and again.

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers performed in Holmdel about a dozen times, dating back to their first show there in July 1987. Legendary folk artist James Taylor has performed at the Center more than any other artist, including multiple consecutive-night gigs. While not part of this summer’s lineup, Taylor was at the Arts Center last summer, and gave a tip-of-the-cap to the 45th anniversary of the founding of the Beatles’ Apple Records by opening with “Something in the Way She Moves.” Taylor was the first artist ever signed to Apple Records. He also sang “You’ve Got a Friend” as a tribute to his buddy Jimmy Buffett, who died shortly before Taylor’s last performance and was another frequent Arts Center presence.

Taylor’s multiple-night stands in Holmdel are somewhat of a rarity at the venue, though a handful of other artists have done it as well. In 1984, Elvis Costello & the Attractions played back-to-back nights in August, as did Frank Sinatra in both July 1986 and July 1987. John Denver played four straight shows there in 1983, Barry Manilow did three straight in 1986, and in the summer of 1992, Phish performed a solo show one night and was part of a music festival the next night that included Blues Traveler, the Spin Doctors and three other bands.

Live and on tape

The venue’s exceptional acoustics and state-of-the-art sound and lighting systems have garnered the attention of several artists who would record live material there. The PNC Bank Arts Center served as a recording site for Glen Campbell’s “Glen Campbell Live” in 1969; Jackson Browne's landmark live album “Running on Empty” in 1977; and the entire second set of the Allman Brothers Band’s 1994 live album “An Evening with the Allman Brothers Band.”

The Boss – a rarity at PNC

Perhaps somewhat ironically, Monmouth County’s favorite son Bruce Springsteen has never appeared at the PNC Bank Arts Center with the E Street Band, but played there in August 2006 to close out his Seeger Sessions Band Tour, performing three encores according to Setlist.fm. He also once made a surprise guest appearance – as he is known to do at various venues near his residence in Colts Neck – when Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys performed at the PNC Bank Center.

 

PNC Bank Art Center 2024 Summer Schedule:

7 p.m. Wednesday, July 3 – Alanis Morissette, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts and Morgan Wade

7:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 10 – Dave Matthews Band

6 p.m. Friday, July 12 – Dirty Heads and Slightly Stoopid

6 p.m. Saturday, July 13 – Jason Aldean

6:30 p.m. Sunday, July 14 – Third Eye Blind, Yellowcard and Arizona

7 p.m. Thursday, July 18 – Daryl Hall and Elvis Costello & the Imposters

7 p.m. Friday, July 19 – Santana and the Counting Crows

6:45 p.m. Tuesday, July 23 – Foreigner, Styx and John Waite

7 p.m. Thursday, July 25 –The Queens of R&B: Xscape, SWV, Mya, 702 and Total

6 p.m. Friday, July 26 – Halestorm and I Prevail

7 p.m. Saturday, July 27 – Sammy Hagar and Loverboy

6:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 30 – Limp Bizkit

7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 1 – Train, REO Speedwagon and Yacht Rock Revue

7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 2 – Hootie & the Blowfish

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 3 – Earth, Wind & Fire and Chicago

7 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 4 – Imagine Dragons

6:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 5 – Five Finger Death Punch

7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 6 – The Doobie Brothers 50th Anniversary Tour with Steve Winwood

7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 7 – Creed, Three Doors Down and Finger Eleven

7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 8 – New Kids On The Block

7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 9 – Kidz Bop Live (children’s theatre performance)

8 p.m. Monday, Aug. 19 – Tate McRae

6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 21 – Bush, Jerry Cantrell and Candlebox

7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 23 – Avril Lavigne, Simple Plan and Girlfriends

6:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 24 –  Cage The Elephant, Young The Giant and Bakar

4 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 25 – Kidz Bop Live (children’s theatre performance)

7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 30 – Bret Michaels

6:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 31 – Deep Purple: Celebrating 50 Years of Smoke on the Water

7:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 1 – Goose

7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 6  – Live and Stone Temple Pilots

6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 7 – Rob Zombie and Alice Cooper: Freaks on Parade Tour

5:45 p.m. Friday, Sept. 13 – Falling In Reverse

5:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 16 – Staind and Breaking Benjamin

7:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 23 – The Marley Brothers Legacy Tour

 

 

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