A Brief Summary of NJ’s Biggest Music Scenes

by Alex Kenney
Asbury Park, NJ music scene

Home of famed music stars like Frank Sinatra, Whitney Houston, Lauryn Hill, Bruce Springsteen, My Chemical Romance, and many more, New Jersey seems to produce talent after talent in the music industry. But they all started somewhere. NJ is also home to a great many local music scenes, which helped boost these artists into the mainstream. Here’s a list of some of NJ’s biggest music scenes.

New Brunswick


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College campuses tend to create hubs for people with common interests. New Brunswick, with its convenient location almost equidistant from New York and Philadelphia, unites North, South, and Central Jersey sounds, with influence and the occasional act from both cities.

New Brunswick’s specialty is the basement show, or DIY, scene. As the name suggests, most of the live music takes place in basements of houses typically rented out by Rutgers students and alumni. The artists tend to hover around the realm of punk, rock, or indie, but there is generally a venue or at least an act for just about any niche, including but not limited to metal, emo, R&B, soul, and acoustic/folk music.

One of the biggest acts from the New Brunswick scene is Looking Glass, who released the number-one hit “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” in 1972. But don’t let that year fool you; shows are still alive and kicking today.



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Montclair and Clifton are home to venues The Meatlocker and Dingbatz, respectively. The Meatlocker has more of an old school vibe and looks like the final boss of New Brunswick basements. Montclair-based Tula Vera, who have previously been featured in NJ Digest, have become a household name at The Meatlocker.

Dingbatz, on the other hand, is a bit closer to a typical concert venue with an elevated stage and a bar. The venue is particularly focused on rock and metal—”In rock we trust,” says their website. Definitely expect a mosh pit to form here.

Asbury Park


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Asbury Park is a huge focal point in the Jersey Shore scene with its more polished venues like The Stone Pony, The Saint, and Asbury Lanes. The Stone Pony was especially significant to Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi, who were born in Long Branch and Perth Amboy, respectively.


Of course, NJ’s most populated city has the music scene to match, but it’s a bit of a black sheep on this list. In Newark, house music dominates. Historically, the Club Zanzibar was a massive hub for house music and established artists outside the genre like Whitney Houston, Patti LaBelle, and Gloria Gaynor, some of whom would eventually incorporate house into their own music. The influence of house is ever present in Newark’s music scene today at citywide events like the annual Lincoln Park Music Festival.

Newark additionally has one of the state’s premier jazz scenes, culminating in the TD James Moody Jazz Festival in November. The city has witnessed the rise of jazz giants like Newark-native Sarah Vaughan, and James Moody, who also grew up in Newark. Today, Newark continues to be a proud jazz town that welcomes jazz names like Christian McBride and institutionally supports the music through Rutgers–Newark’s Institute of Jazz Studies.

On Local Music Scenes

As much as I throw around phrases like “the New Brunswick scene” or “the Jersey Shore scene,” the reality is that a lot of these artists travel throughout the state and beyond. So, they have to be defined with a degree of flexibility since, at this point, many of these sounds have interacted and mixed over the years.

Otherwise, local scenes and venues are a great way for small artists to get noticed, if that’s their goal. They’re also fun even if there isn’t a bigger goal since they enrich local culture and history. If you’re looking for weekend plans, consider coming out to a show near you!

About the Author/s

Alex Kenney is a third-year Journalism and Media Studies student at Rutgers University - New Brunswick. Having lived in Bergen, Essex, and briefly Hudson County, she calls anything north of Newark home. She is a big fan of NJ Transit and knows most major highways in her area like the back of her hand, even though she doesn’t drive.

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