On a cold November Saturday night, young blues star Samantha Fish brought her band to the Stone Pony. It was a return visit for her, but a homecoming for two of her new band mates, Sarah Tomek who hails from Ocean Township (formerly with the noted Asbury Park band Days Awake) and Jersey Shore Jazz & Blues Foundation’s own Matt Wade of Point Pleasant. Sarah is most notable for her work on Steven Tyler’s solo projects but has also been in demand for session work. Matt started as a 14-year-old in the Foundation’s Youth Project in 2004. Overseen by former Board members Patti Wade (Matt’s mom) and Katie Brower, along with musician and teacher Everald Williams, these youngsters rehearsed for and opened many JSJBF festivals during their high school years. Matt and guitarist Jeff Cafone, the son of former Board member Jerry Cafone, went on to form the band Outside the Box and played many Jersey Shore venues, even becoming the house band for the Stone Pony. Matt went on to form several of his own bands and also played in the Matt O’Ree Band, so he certainly had a lot of experience on the most famous stage at the Jersey Shore. Rounding out the band is bassist Ron Johnson, the only member not born in the nineties. He has an impressive resume, which in addition to his solo work, he has played with the Allman Brothers and Warren Haynes.
Samantha Fish is a native of Kansas City but for many years has called New Orleans home. She has been playing professionally for more than 10 years and has released a half dozen albums of mostly original material which has gained her a large following, as the sold out crowd at the Pony showed. Her powerful vocals, which ranged from a whisper to a scream, were matched by her guitar skills, whether playing chunky riffs or wailing solos. The set consisted of 17 songs from her entire career but focusing on the current album, “Faster “ which was released in September and the previous record, “Kill or be Kind” which preceded it. The opening song “Loud” began with a soft piano intro by Matt, accompanied with some subdued vocals but soon lived up to its title with Matt’s roaring organ, Sarah’s muscular drums, Ron’s lock step bass and Samantha’s terrific fret work on a Gibson SG. Even a busted string couldn’t slow down her attack and the guitar tech had her Fender Jaguar at the ready for the second song “All Ice No Whiskey,” also from the new release “Faster.”
Sitting about 10 feet from Matt gave us a bird’s eye view of his manual dexterity and I marveled at how far he has come since those Youth Project days to become a keyboard player at the top echelon of his profession. The third number “Hello Stranger,” written by Barbara Lewis, was given a more up tempo arrangement and Matt provided the most astonishing ending to a song I have ever seen, when he hit the last note with the piano stand collapsing and hitting the floor! Without missing a beat he and the tech got it back up and ready to go for the next number.
Speaking with Matt earlier he remarked the he and Samantha come from the same place musically and the astute observer could see that chemistry throughout the show as they worked seamlessly, trading solos at a glance with the smile on her face speaking volumes for the musical magic they were creating. Speaking of smiles, Sarah whose drumming has the authority of a John Bonham but the precision of a Keith Carlock, would occasionally look our way, thrilled that her family could be there to see her perform at this level.
It’s amazing how quickly two hours can pass when you’re in the company of their family members and fellow JSJBF friends like Matt & Eryn O’Ree, Billy Hector, Lou & Joan Acevedo, Gene Iadanza, Richard Skelly, Gary Neuwirth and Joe Weisbrod. As the set finished up with “Bulletproof,” the crowd roared its approval. For the encore, Samantha brought back Allie Vogler and Mattie Schell, the female half of the opening act River Kittens, to sing background vocals on the song “Dream Girl.” They had treated the audience to an opening set that included a beautiful rendition of native son Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City,” which they swore they did at all their shows on the tour, not just the Stone Pony. For the finale, “Bitch on the Run,” from 2015’s “Wild Heart,” the Kittens guitar player for the tour, Jacob Baxter, joined them to trade licks with Samantha to the delight of the crowd, sending everyone home happy, knowing they has witnessed a special performance that night.