An Asbury Park musician Al Holmes is scheduled for the Stephen Crane House Feb. 26 for “An Afternoon of Springwood Avenue Songs and Stories” presented with the Asbury Park African-American Music Project. Photo by Connie Freestone
He’s been making music on the stages of the Asbury Park area since relocating to the city in the late 1960s — most famously at the Turf Club, the West Side landmark where he once gigged as a member of the house band, and where he returned in recent summers when the nonprofit Asbury Park African-American Music Project brought live sounds and positive vibes back to that Springwood Avenue site.
On the afternoon of Sun., Feb. 26, veteran singer-songwriter-guitarist Al Holmes stakes out a new patch of turf, when he takes to the in-house performance space of the historic Stephen Crane House, 508 Fourth Ave., Asbury Park.
A collaboration between the music project and the Asbury Park Historical Society, “An Afternoon of Springwood Ave. Songs and Stories” is presented as a special public-welcome program for Black History Month, and an opportunity to learn about the people and places that helped the West Side scene craft a legacy that resonated throughout the Jersey Shore and the big world beyond.
A native New Yorker raised in Harlem, the 68-year old Holmes got in touch with his inner musician at an early age, singing and becoming proficient on the piano by the time he started school. Summer breaks would find young Al falling in love with Asbury Park, during frequent visits with locally based relatives — including an aunt who gifted him with his first guitar — and by the time he was in high school, Al Holmes was a year-round resident of the city, as well as a full time guitarist who was making his mark on the stages of still-vibrant Springwood Avenue and other Garden State locales.
While the Springwood scene’s standing as a destination for live music faded during the closing decades of the 20th century, the guitar man was among the younger generation of performers who kept the light burning well into the 1980s, as a bandleader and in-demand player for numerous combos at the reborn Turf Club and other venues. Performing regularly with drummer Poncho Donato, Holmes also worked frequently with the man who he’s cited as his mentor, blues guitarist Willie Mitchell.
In 2019, Holmes was among the veteran music makers who sat for an oral-history interview with the music project, and the experience energized a relationship that has found Holmes serving as “friend and advisor” to the board of the cultural education organization, sharing his stories and songs at events sponsored by the Project, and performing to audiences once again in the “topless” open-air setting of the former nightclub building on the corner of Springwood and Atkins, during the summer-season Tuesdays at the Turf concert series.
The 3 p.m. program will also feature screenings of three short videos produced by AP-AMP, on the “History of the Turf Club,” the signature “Stories of Springwood Avenue,” and a special “Tribute to Dolores Holland, Al Griffin, and Cliff Johnson.”
Complimentary refreshments will be served, and proceeds will be dedicated to the Asbury Park African-American Music Project’s ongoing efforts to rehabilitate the Turf Club building as an arts and cultural center. It served as a backdrop to a recent photo shoot for Bruce Springsteen.
Doors open at 2:30 p.m. for the limited-seating event on Feb. 26. Tickets to “An Afternoon of Springwood Ave. Songs and Stories” are $25 in advance from www.eventbrite .com, or $30 (cash or card) at the door.
Follow the Asbury Park Historical Society and the Stephen Crane House on Facebook for updates on this and other upcoming events, including a Women’s History Month salute to the award-winning Asbury Park author Margaret Widdemer, and a National Poetry Month event that showcases the work of Stephen Crane alongside a new generation of locally based writers.