By David Spatz
They hail from opposite ends of the musical scale – one is from the classical side, the other is a rock ‘n roller for an iconic pop band.
But Vince Lee, who debuted in 2020 as conductor of the Ocean City Pops, and Bruce Johnston, the keyboard player and a singer for the Beach Boys, have similar views when it comes to the Ocean City Music Pier.
“The first thing that hits you when you arrive at the pier is that it’s literally right on the ocean,” Lee said. “You look out those back windows and there’s the water. There are a handful of concert halls in America that are near the ocean, but I don’t personally know any that are right there on the water.”
After the Beach Boys made their Music Pier debut with four consecutive sell-out concerts in 2015 – then repeated the fete for the next three summers - Johnston said he was entranced by the view from the stage.
“I’m on stage looking out at the water thinking, ‘that’s where I surf,’” Johnston said after the band’s first show, forgetting for the moment he wasn’t in Brigantine, where he has some longtime friends and still surfs off their beach whenever he and the Beach Boys are in the area.
Although the Music Pier sits in the shadows of Atlantic City’s casino showrooms, the venue, like the casinos, offers a diverse lineup of shows and events throughout the year, but especially in summer.
Booking agent Bob Rose, who’s been buying shows for the pier since 1994, teamed up with BRE Presents in 2012 to co-book and promote the shows.
“The first summer we worked together, we had a very diverse lineup, everyone from the Bacon Brothers to Arlo Guthrie and Little Feat, among others,” Rose remembered. “Then a few years later we had the Beach Boys and that changed the whole dynamic of it.”
The Music Pier, which seats about 900 people, dates back to 1928, a year after the city saw a large section of its boardwalk destroyed by fire.
“(The Music Pier) took the place of a music pavilion, which was in the same location from 1905 to 1927,” Ocean City historian Fred Miller explained. “They moved that to 5th Street and made it the convention hall, and they built the pier in 1928 just for music and entertainment.”
The Music Pier was dedicated July 4, 1929 and quickly became a must-see stop for visitors and locals alike.
Music has always been an important part of Ocean City’s history back to when the resort was founded by four Methodist ministers in 1879, Miller, a former Ocean City lifeguard, added.
The Music Pier, he said, may have never happened had it not been for former Ocean City Mayor Joseph Champion, one of the city’s longest-serving mayors. The pier was built during Champion’s years in City Hall.
“If anyone deserves the credit for the Music Pier, it was Mayor Champion,” Miller said. “He wasn’t afraid to spend money.”
The pier retains the same basic look today as it had when it was built 94 years ago, Miller explained. But the pier has been updated over the years, which included a $400,000 sound system to replace one that had seen too many years and decibels.
The new audio was installed two years after Friends of the Ocean City Pops – which calls the pier its home – invested $150,000 in a big-screen video system that offered the audience an even better view of the stage than they had from their seats. The pier had upgraded its stage lighting system as well.
But it’s the view from the stage and out the back wall of windows that gives the pier its unique personality. There are fewer sights that scream seashore than looking out at the majestic and expansive Atlantic Ocean.
However, as conductor of the Ocean City Pops, Vince Lee can be forgiven for occasionally feeling jealous of the 25 musicians who respond to his baton when the orchestra is playing the Music Pier.
Like the real estate market, it’s all about location, location, location. Although Lee is their leader and they’re all performing on the same stage, it’s the orchestra that has the million-dollar view. As conductor, Lee’s back is to the audience – and the ocean – while his musicians have the best views in the house.
When this story was being prepared, Rose and BRE Presents were still filling out the entertainment lineup for the summer of 2022. Shows are generally presented Monday nights, which helps to hold over some visitors for an extra night after the weekend.
Mondays – actually, most weekdays – often offer entertainment buyers a chance to pick up an act at a bargain price if the artist is on tour and wants to squeeze in an extra paycheck or two after playing the standard weekend dates.
Folksy singer and songwriter Janis Ian, who was still a young teen songwriter when she hit the charts in the mid-1960s with controversial songs like “Society’s Child” and “At 17,” will kick things off with a pre-summer show May 6 with special guests Livingston Taylor and Tom Chapin. Ian’s tour is said to be the final road trip of her career.
Also signed, sealed and delivered for the summer is Killer Queen, a tribute show to the rock band Queen, which has been booked for July 11. On Aug. 1, the Happy Together tour – starring the Turtles, former Three Dog Night singer Chuck Negron, The Association, Gary Puckett & The Union Gap, The Vogues and The Cowsills – should have a Baby Boomer audience dancing in the aisles and singing along to familiar lyrics.
Tickets to most Ocean City Music Pier shows are available through ticketmaster.com.
Tickets and show information are also available:
- At the City Hall Welcome Center at 861 Asbury Avenue
- At the Roy Gillian Welcome Center on the 9th Street Causeway
- At the Ocean City Music Box Office (Boardwalk at Moorlyn Terrace)
- By calling (609) 399-6111