The fabled venue, shuttered in 1971 but still largely intact, is up for sale. The granddaughter of its original owners and Springsteen biographer Peter Ames Carlin are spearheading a crowdfunding campaign to raise $3 million to preserve the site before it's turned into condos or demolished by a wrecking ball. But Springsteen fans have not responded with the usual passion that they reserve for all things Bruce. Only $500 has been raised over a 14-month period.
“That club, in a three-year period of time, was a place where Bruce, Southside Johnny, Little Steven Van Zandt and others all got their start" in the late '60s, said Kevin Farrell, a contributor on Sirius Satellite Radio’s E Street Radio and a board member of Friends of the Bruce Springsteen Collection at Monmouth University. “They would jam until the wee early hours of the morning.”
As Springsteen wrote in the liner notes for Southside Johnny and The Asbury Jukes' first album, I Don’t Want to Go Home, “Everybody went there ‘cause it was open later than the regular clubs and because between 1 and 5 in the morning, you could play pretty much whatever you wanted… you could work it so you’d never have to go home, ‘cause by the time you got out of there it was dawn and you could just flop on the beach all day.” (The Upstage did not serve alcohol, which meant it was not required to close according to the state's liquor laws.)
Although those days are just a breezy Jersey Shore memory, the club is in danger of being sold once more to owners that want to transform the space into condominiums, according to Carrie Potter, the granddaughter of original owners Tom and Margaret Potter.
“I just want to get it saved,” she said.
The building is currently owned by Richard Yorkowitz, who purchased the Cookman Avenue building for $1 million at a public auction. Potter says she would like to see the three-story property, which once housed a Thom McAn shoe store on its ground floor, return to its roots of nurturing young musicians looking for a place to jam.
“We would like to see the third floor of the building used as a performance space similar to what was available to Asbury Park musicians in the late '60s/early '70s,” she tells Billboard. "The second floor, the former Green Mermaid [a coffee house where Springsteen also played], would be converted to a museum/exhibit space focused on the club’s history." Potter says that the ground floor could be converted into a coffee house or restaurant to help pay ongoing bills.
The City of Asbury Park approved a zoning change that would enable the top two floors to be used for commercial enterprise. Potter says it’s “a big leap forward," but adds, “Right now, we need money.” Potter estimates that $3 million will be required to buy and renovate the property.
Peter Ames Carlin, author of the 2012 biography Bruce, said the club-which still its original day-glow decor and paintings intact, could become a big tourist attraction for Asbury Park. Carlin learned of the fate of the club after he read about it on the Springsteen fansite Backstreets.com, and was so upset at the prospect that rock and roll history may soon be erased that he joined Potter in the fight.
“This was a grungy little rock n' roll club that happened to be the place where these seemingly ordinary kids got together and formed the nucleus of something that very soon became a part of world culture and an important part of the American cultural history,” he said.
Carlin, who also wrote Paul McCartney: A Life, notes that the original Cavern Club in Liverpool, where the Beatles played almost 300 performances, was torn down and replaced by a replica. "Given Springsteen's vast, global popularity, a restored Upstage, which people should know is the birthplace of the E Street Band -- that's incredibly important -- could be the epicenter of a revived, music-based tourist industry in Asbury Park.”
Although Springsteen stopped by for a private glimpse of the club in 2011, it is unclear if the singer is aware of efforts to save the venue from the current sale. Attempts to reach representatives for the singer were unanswered at press time.
Farrell says it would be a travesty of the Upstage were gutted and covered in “dust and memories.”
“It’s like a Hail Mary pass, but sometimes Hail Mary passes do work,” he said. “Maybe this is a time to do what I can and get enough muscle power and see if someone steps in to catch it at the other end. There should be a match there somewhere.”
Potter even suggests that Brad Pitt, whose Plan B production company is reportedly interested in producing a Springsteen biopic, The Boss, should step up and help. “Well, here we are!" she says.
Additionally, a petition -- signed by notable supporters like photographer Eric Meola, known for his photos of Springsteen, including the iconic Born to Run cover art -- is circulating to save the venue from extinction.
Sign the petition at Change.org.