While Atlantic City's casino-hotel scene is at a troubled moment, two events - growth spurts, really - point toward better days. At the very least, July 4's opening of developer Bart Blatstein's Playground at Caesars, with music venues booked by Bonfire Entertainment, and Saturday's unveiling of Borgata Festival Park, booked by Live Nation, prove AC won't play dead. And what better hopeful celebration than the locally based troika of the Hooters, G. Love & Special Sauce, and Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes?
The Borgata's park features golf course-green AstroTurf, upon which sandal-wearing crowds sprawled with blankets. There were food/beer kiosks, cabanas, and game areas for Ping-Pong and Cornhole. Aside from VIP watering holes, there is one square bar near BFP's entryway that on Saturday was descended upon by the drunky, sporty crowd like ravenous tigers to a deer stampede. How drunk? Can't tell you how many times I heard attendees refer to poor Garrett Dutton's band as "G. Spot," then laugh as if they'd had an original thought. Fans. Ugh. They're nobody's fault (not a band's or venue's) but their own.
Luckily, the acts they came to see acquitted themselves well. Southside Johnny and his ever-loving Jukes were, as always, a brassy soul-jam party band on the happily Springsteen-Lite tip. (There were more Southside Johnny T-shirts in the crowd than for other bands.)
G. Love did many things right. The honky tonk-hop crew's namesake guitarist sang loudly with a gruff edge on a particularly dirty take on "Sugar," thrilled the sports-loving crowd with a tough, bluesy "I-76" and its b-balling lyrics ("Big shots for Mo Cheeks and Moses Malone / Julius Erving called Philly home") and performed a handsomely ragged version of Cream's "Strange Brew." Stand-up bassist "Jimi Jazz" Prescott won the day's style award with his wide-brimmed Panama hat and off-white suit.
For the start of the Hooters' 35th anniversary ("almost to the day" said keyboardist Rob Hyman, recalling their first gig at Mattie's Place in Levittown) the now six-piece pop-ska-jig band hooted. As day turned to night and the inlet's breezes whispered, the Hooters took on such Dylan-ish recent songs like "Silver Lining," reggae-bouncing early tracks as "Hanging on a Heartbeat," and an aptly seasonal, handsomely burnished cover of Don Henley's "The Boys of Summer."