Jersey Shore legends Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes will start up New Jersey's yearlong 350th birthday celebration in 2014 with a rocking New Year's Eve concert at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank.
Southside Johnny Lyon has been closely associated with Bruce Springsteen since the mid-1970s and has often performed and recorded with the E Street Band. His New Year's Eve performances at the Count Basie Theatre have evolved into a local tradition, with 15 such appearances since 1993, according to officials there.
But Tuesday's performance will have special significance because it will open "NJ350," a celebration of New Jersey's anniversary that, as various events are held statewide, will be framed by three main themes: innovation, diversity, and liberty.
The sesquarcentennial celebration will be taken to every part of the state, with about 900 special events and programs in 2014 that will feature unique foods, music, people, stories, and traditions of New Jersey, according to Sara Cureton, director of the New Jersey Historical Commission and the New Jersey Cultural Trust.
Cureton said one of the centerpieces of the yearlong events would be "Arts Edventure - a New Jersey 350th Anniversary Festival" from May 28 to 30 in Verona, Essex County, and on June 5 and 6 in Trenton.
Three stages and a cultural village will let participants discover the crucial role New Jersey played in the nation's history, beginning with the Revolutionary War, through the discoveries of Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein, to a celebration of the state's diversity in music, dance, and the spoken word.
In the meantime, the Red Bank concert was chosen as the moment to get the festivities started.
"Combining one of our great historic theaters with one of New Jersey's music legends is a perfect way to begin a year of special performances, exhibitions, reenactments, and publications," Cureton said.
Adam Philipson, the theater's CEO, agreed, saying in a statement, "We couldn't think of a more appropriate artist than Jersey's own Southside Johnny to help us kick off the New Year together."
The circa-1926 Count Basie Theatre honors the memory of Red Bank native William James "Count" Basie, with the mission of serving New Jersey with a broad spectrum of entertainment and education programs that reflect and celebrate the diversity of the region. It has hosted world-class artists including Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi, John Legend, Crosby Stills & Nash, Tony Bennett, and Bill Cosby, and has undergone an extensive $20 million renovation over the last decade.
On New Year's Eve, the first of 14 NJ350 pop-up stores will open at the theater. The stores will travel throughout the state during the year, offering special New Jersey-centric merchandise, including Jerseyopoly, a Monopoly-like board game, and a children's book called Goodnight Jersey, a takeoff on the beloved Goodnight Moon.
The shop will also feature other Jerseyana, including state-branded merchandise and educational items as well as merchandise specific to Red Bank and the Count Basie Theatre. The shop, next to the theater's Carlton Lounge, will remain open through Jan. 6.
Similar pop-up shops are slated to open to coincide with various events during the year in Atlantic City, Boonton, Bridgeton, Hammonton, Highland Park, Newton, Montclair, and Westfield.
Sponsored by the New Jersey Historical Commission and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the organization Crossroads of the American Revolution is hosting the yearlong event's website at www.officialnj350.com.
"We're thrilled that Red Bank was chosen to kick off NJ350's pop-up store program," said James Scavone, executive director of the Red Bank RiverCenter. "We have a diverse and vibrant community that is representative of New Jersey's rich history. Red Bank has always been recognized as a center for culture and arts, and we look forward to hosting this unique and exciting adventure."
Southside Johnny Lyon said he was excited by the opportunity.
"Since the Count Basie Theatre's renovations, it's been one of my very favorite places to play," said Lyon, 65, a native of Neptune Township who grew up in Ocean Grove. "The sound is perfect, the staff is great, and the audiences are always enthusiastic. It's good to have such a venue right in my own backyard."
The show begins at 9 p.m. Tuesday, and seats are priced from $39.50 to $99. For tickets and more information about the concert, go to www.countbasietheatre.org.