RIP Butch Pielka — What the Stone Pony meant to us
On Monday, we heard the sad news that Butch Pielka, the owner and founder of the legendary Stone Pony in Asbury Park passed away at the age of 71. By founding “The Pony”, Butch, along with Jack Roig, became one of the founding fathers of the legendary Asbury Park local music scene. Butch was the tough guy who oversaw the club that he loved with the kind of passion that you have for something that you created out of the bits and scraps of your dreams. You would try to befriend him (and it wasn’t always easy) so that he would know who you were and think you were important...because HE was.
If you knew Butch, and you were one of his regulars, sometimes you’d get a clue about when Springsteen would be there or sometimes he’d let you in the back way so you could get a better view of the stage.
Sure, there were other clubs in town where you could hang out and hear live music but Butch made sure that his club did it the best. For those of us who were there from the beginning (or in my case ALMOST the beginning), there were memories born there that could be born anywhere else. The Pony meant your first big night out in the gritty Jersey streets, your first concert, your first exposure to a local band, your first legal drink at 18, flirting with guys (or girls) at the bar. The Pony was where you heard the REAL Jersey Bar Bands: Bobby Bandiera with his cats on a smooth surface, Lance Larson and Lord Gunner, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes and later La Bamba and the hubcaps and the list goes on and on.
It is always said that Bruce Springsteen got his start at the Stone Pony, but those of us who really were there know that that is not true. I would imagine if you had to name a club that was more of a springboard for Bruce’s career it was probably the Uptown Club in Asbury Park. But that doesn’t take away from the legendary status that the Stone Pony has and will hold forever for music lovers here in New Jersey. Yes, the Pony is often associated with Bruce but it was so much more than Bruce. And Butch was so much more than just an owner or a bouncer. He was one of the architects of the Asbury Park music scene and one of the reasons why it has endured throughout the years— long enough to have even recently been reborn. They don’t make them like the Stone Pony anymore. Or like Butch Pielka. It’s the end of an Era. And he will be missed.
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