Hop Sauce Returns to Beach Haven With All-Original Stage Lineup

Mercy Union Drummer Has Close Ties to LBI
By JON COEN | May 22, 2019
Photo by: Drew Gurian Benny Horowitz playing with the Gaslight Anthem at Governor’s Ball last summer. His new band, Mercy Union, will headline Hop Sauce Fest on June 1.

Beach Haven — Hop Sauce Festival, which returns to Beach Haven this Saturday, June 1, has always prided itself on originality.

Presented by Jetty and Spice It Up, the event was carefully designed on creativity and esthetic. And that meant inventive food, new brews, spicy tastes, an occasional acrobat and all-original music. Over the years, the festival has brought to the stage only original bands, from hip-hop to alternative, folk, surf rock, soul and pop. The aim is to provide something different from LBI’s steady stream of regularly scheduled summer cover bands.

“We take a lot of pride in booking the bands. For a small festival, we’ve stuck to original acts and have seen some great performances by the likes of Craig Finn, Jukebox the Ghost and Lee Fields & the Expressions among others,” said Jeremy DeFilippis, CEO of Jetty.

This year, among the dozens of hot sauces, 30-plus craft brew selections and 12 restaurants serving their local fare, are four original bands on the Barlow Buick GMC stage. Headlining the fest is Mercy Union, which did a 32-date national tour with the noted Laura Jane Grace (frontwoman of Against Me!) through early spring and is currently on a run of UK headlining shows. They will rock Hop Sauce this Saturday before heading back for a full European tour this summer.

The band has some ties to LBI. Frontman Jared Hart played the very first Hop Sauce. He also popped into Jetty Headquarters in March with guitarist Rocky Catanese to play an intimate set of his solo material and Mercy Union songs as part of the band’s Craft & Calling showcase series.

But drummer Benny Horowitz actually has a much deeper connection to LBI. Horowitz is also known as the drummer for the Gaslight Anthem, the New Brunswick alternative rock band that released five records in the last 10 years, appearing on Billboard charts and embarking on multiple world tours. They’ve been joined on stage by the likes of Springsteen and Eddie Vedder. Last August they played three sold-out shows at the Stone Pony Summer Stage to a crowd of 5,000 each night.

“My wife’s family has had a house on the Island since the early ’90s. It’s a classic beach bungalow and my father-in-law does all the work on it himself. Both of my brothers-in-law are surfers. My wife stays down a lot to have help with our kids when I’m on tour. When I’m down there, we go to the beach. I’m mostly keeping my kids from drowning,” says Horowitz, who lives in Jersey City. “The family has a couple of proper ’50s Schwinn beach cruisers that we ride around on. At the end of the day we have a couple of beers. We barbecue in the yard a lot, real family style … just LBI stuff.”

Hart, who had toured as an opening act for the Gaslight Anthem with his punk band the Scandals, and Horowitz formed Mercy Union in 2017 with Catanese on lead guitar and Nick Jorgensen on bass. There was a good deal of interest around their first record, The Quarry, released last October. They plan to write songs for a new record later this summer.

Horowitz is looking forward to Hop Sauce to feel like part of something on LBI.

“I normally feel like a fish out of water on LBI because I’m kind of the counter culture kid with tattoos and no tan and no beach body. My wife and kids have beautiful skin, but I’m like a big, sweaty Shrek pushing the dad cart up over the dune and down to the beach. And I don’t even eat fish,” he laughed. “My wife and I are vegetarians, so when we go to all these amazing seafood restaurants I’m the guy having mozzarella sticks and a salad.”

A lifelong baller, he admits he has yet to work himself into the pick-up basketball games at the Taylor Avenue waterfront in Beach Haven. But he’s looking forward to his young kids getting older so they can do more summer activities like boating and mini-golf.

“So it’s cool for me to have the opportunity to play on the Island, to share what I do with the people there. I know my father-in-law is going to be so stoked. I’ve spent all this time on LBI, but it’s never had anything to do with music,” he explained.

Rounding out the lineup are RFA, a four-piece garage outfit from Philly, the indie sound Pine Barons and wild surf rockers Black Flamingos.

Hop Sauce will take place at Veterans Memorial Park again this year. It was moved last year on account of work being done to Frank Panzone Memorial Park on Taylor Avenue. But the new location offered trees, space and was closer to the beach, so directors decided to keep it there.

This year’s food vendors are Spice it Up, K2, Holiday Snack Bark, Coastal Coffee, Country Kettle Chowda, Crust and Crumb, Parker’s Garage, Barry’s Do Me a Flavor, Tucker’s Tavern, the Woo Hoo, the Chicken or the Egg and El Swell. Festival goers are encouraged to experiment with the wide variety of fiery condiments on their cheesesteaks, tacos, clams, wings, chowder, pulled pork or crab cake. The festival had over 5,000 people in 2017. Last year saw a decent showing despite a rainy forecast.

Hop Sauce Fest is once again a fundraiser for the Jetty Rock Foundation, the 501(c)(3) nonprofit arm of Jetty that puts money into youth and community initiatives including Beach Haven’s new bayfront pavilion.

Tickets can be purchased online from HopSauceFest.com. A Beer Tasting ticket (21-plus only) is $45 with unlimited sampling. The general admission for non-drinkers and under 21 is $20. The VIP package, which includes comfy couch seating under a large private tent, front row views of the stage, food, beer and special amenities is $125. Tickets prices will go up the day of.

The fest is also being held strategically the weekend after Memorial Day to bring business to the Island during a traditionally slower shoulder-season post-holiday period. Patrons are being encouraged to make a weekend of it.

Horowitz definitely plans to do just that.

“I just hope it’s a nice day. Actually, I should really work on my base tan,” he joked.

— Jon Coen


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