New Jersey’s Asbury Park hosted Bruce Springsteen’s first show in 1968, but the place has since toughened up. In 2020, it’s teeming with punks, drunks and rough tatted and leather studded bikers—the motorcycle show and swap meet Cheap Thrills gathers them under one roof.
I rolled through the Garden State with Brooklyn’s Dead Things. The gnarly thrash rockers had me shotgunning beers and chain-smoking the whole way from NYC to NJ.
Dead Things kicked off the Cheap Thrills pre-party at Bond Street Bar, followed by Pennsylvania’s Grave Bathers and New Jersey’s Sunshine Spazz. Each group brought their own dose of rock and the basement bar was packed, sweaty and messy.
With no vocals, Dead Things showered the audience in fuzzy guitar solos and animalistic drum breaks. “Sorry, none of us can sing, but here you go,” the Dead Things bassist said before the trio went into a deadly thrasher-metal jam.
Grave Bathers added a pinch of glam rock to the show. With a fishnet tank top and white suit, the frontman bellowed into the mic while on his knees in the middle of the crowd. Though all dolled up, they kept things rowdy.
Sunshine Spazz stuck to their New Jersey roots by ending the night with their garage pop-punk. Hooky choruses and melodic guitar riffs filled the air and assured everyone that even though they were the last band, the shenanigans of the night were far from over.
Once the show wrapped up, I went with Dead Things, a few friends and some Cheap Thrills bikers to a hotel party. Though the bars closed at 2 a.m. and most of Asbury’s residents were heading home, we kept going strong. After three noise complaints and one threat to call the cops, we all finally went our separate ways to rest our heads around 4 a.m.
The next day started off a little rough, with us all having to take tequila shots at breakfast just to survive. However, we eventually made it to Cheap Thrills around 3 p.m.
Asbury’s beachfront Convention Hall was lined with motorcycles and filled with people in leather jackets. Though most of the attendees, show bikers and vendors were intimidating, once you started talking to them or they caught you peeking at their bikes, they were the sweetest.
Families with their kids (also in cute mini leather jackets) sold homemade leather goods alongside cute young couples in all-black selling motorcycle parts. Even the bikers covered head-to-toe in tattoos with beards down to their waist and skull-embroidered leather vests smiled brightly and gave thanks readily.
After we left, the beer shotgunning recommenced as we started making our way back to Brooklyn. I have no idea how we all survived, but I’m willing to take my chances at Cheap Thrills again next year.