Atlantic City has a musical heritage that is less well-remembered than it should be. Once, AC played host to jazz greats including Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. It was where Eunice Waymon became Nina Simone and it was the long-time host city to crooners such as Frank Sinatra. Now, the big-buck beach concerts make headlines as often as not for storm evacuations and parking-lot gouging as they do for drawing big name performers. But behind the scenes, there are efforts to revive Kentucky Avenue as a destination for jazz clubs, to keep the Chicken Bone Beach Jazz concerts going and to support new music.
One of those efforts – the Off The Record festival – is returning to Atlantic City next month, from June 7-9 at The Claridge. The event brings together performers and music aficionados in a “boutique” music festival where attendees have the chance to meet, hang out and maybe even jam with the artists.
The man behind the festival, Jason Spiewak, is a long-time believer in Atlantic City as a music destination. Spiewak grew up in Bucks County and cares about the move to restore the shore, he says. Part of the idea behind the festival is to give back to a community that he says has contributed a lot to Off The Record in previous years. To do this, the festival organizers set aside time to take performers and guests to volunteer at the Rescue Mission. ““Atlantic City has been really generous to us,” he said. “It’s always been my feeling that you should give back to the community that you take from,” he said.
Off The Record is also a kid-friendly event (kids tickets are $49.99). “People aged 3 to 93 can come to Off The Record,” Spiewak said. The family tickets are an element of his interest in “being part of restoring the shore,” he said, noting Atlantic City’s reputation as more of an adult destination.
Performers at the festival are also bullish on Atlantic City’s revival as a music destination. “I think it’s the absolute perfect city to host this,” said Dan Monea, whose group Hey Monea will be performing at the festival. “The hotel, the venue… is perfect, it’s right on the Boardwalk, it just has this really great summertime vibe, it’s the perfect time of year and it just feels right.”
Rock of Ages star Constantine Maroulis, who grew up in North Jersey, remembers trips to Atlantic City as a child. “It’s a sort of almost mythical-type place to me,” he said. “I’ve been there in the off season, it’s just the kind of coolness about it,” he added, noting that he likes looking for the “old neon” and Boardwalk Empire-type spots.
“I think it’s got a great history of music,” Maroulis said, adding, “I played the House of Blues there shortly after my time on American Idol…I’ve had great shows there, but I haven’t been back to perform in many years so I’m looking forward to it.”
And as Monea said, for festival-goers who want other atypical Atlantic City experiences, there’s always… fishing. If you’re looking for the Hey Monea frontman outside of The Claridge, you should head to where the fish are. “I like to hang out at the beach and try to catch some fish,” he said.
Tickets for the Off The Record festival are available here and range from $100 for an adult one-day pass to $229 for a three-day pass.