By Chris M. Junior
There are bigger, better-known music festivals in America, but few (if any) take place in the suburbs, featuring top-shelf name talent and offering free admission.
The Union County MusicFest offers all of that and more, making central New Jersey the place to be every September for rock fans looking to check out legends, locals and the latest hit makers.
Previously held in Cranford’s Nomahegan Park, the UCMF moved in 2009 to Clark’s Oak Ridge Park, also the site of this year’s edition. On Sept. 11, the scheduled talent lineup included Willie Nile, OK Go, The Bravery and Train.
Taking the Overlook Hospital Stage around 2:30 p.m. that sunny Saturday was Soul Asylum, which got right down to business with a feisty version of “Somebody to Shove.” With a smile almost as big as the holes in the knees of his jeans, frontman Dave Pirner worked in a few lines of the Wings hit “Silly Love Songs” during his band’s own “Misery.”
Pirner took time during a well-paced set to dedicate a song to late bassist Karl Mueller, while also sending out “Black Gold” to the Gulf of Mexico and its oil-covered wildlife.
Later that afternoon on the TD Bank Stage, former D Generation leader Jesse Malin and his current backing band, the St. Marks Social, tore through tunes from his solo albums. While Malin’s between-song banter leaves something to be desired, his rough-and-tumble music is much more focused. “Queen of the Underworld” and “Brooklyn,” both from his solid solo debut, “The Fine Art of Self Destruction,” were highlights of the set; a cover of The Replacements’ rowdy “Bastards of Young” was transformed into a piano ballad.
The scheduled lineup for Sept. 12 rivaled that of the previous day and included Nils Lofgren, Suzanne Vega and Spoon. The conditions, however, were not nearly as good, a fact noted by Zombies singer Colin Blunstone, who during his band’s afternoon set apologized for bringing a bit of British weather to New Jersey.
Blunstone also provided a forecast of The Zombies’ future: a new album in 2011 to mark the 50th anniversary of the band. Following a performance of a promising new song called “Any Other Way,” keyboardist Rod Argent added that the new Zombies album is about two-thirds finished.
Of course, The Zombies also acknowledged their storied past, performing select songs from the cult classic “Odessey and Oracle,” including the hit “Time of the Season,” which featured a long, furious organ solo by Argent.