The Stone Pony in Asbury Park opened at noon on Sunday to allow hundreds of fans to pay tribute to legendary saxophonist Clarence Clemons.
Clemons, 69, the "Big Man" in Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, died Saturday night after suffering complications from a stroke on June 12.
Springsteen and Clemons, who was 6-foot-4 and weighed 250 pounds, met at the Asbury Park bar in 1971, a story both men have told onstage for the past 40 years.
Fans of all ages came to pay their respects to Clemons at the very stage where he and Bruce began playing together.
Valerie Koelsch of Bear, Del., and Tony Tanzi of Ocean Township stood in front of the stage adorned with flowers, burning incense and photos, sharing memories of seeing Clarence perform live.
Koelsch moved out of Jersey in 1987 but has seen Clemons with the E Street Band at the Meadowlands.
Tanzi remembers the 2003 show at the Meadowlands where it was pouring rain all night and when the first chords of "Jungleland" were struck, the rain stopped and the sun came out.
Renee Salaowski of the Manahawkin section of Stafford Township came alongside her husband, Hank, her son, Ed, and her two grandchildren.
"I've seen Clarence over a dozen time—almost every year I try to take my dad. I asked [my dad] what he wanted for Father's Day and here we are," said Ed Salaowski, whose most memorable concert was at The Spectrum in 1985 during the Tunnel of Love tour. "I will always remember when Clarence did his solo and Bruce announced his name on stage. It was the first time I saw Clarence."
"I'm here for the same reason everyone else is here," said Hank Salaoski, whose been to half a dozen shows to see Clarence with his most memorable being the last show Clarence put on at Madison Square Garden. "I'll always remember when Bruce said, 'Here's to Big Man.' "
Laura D'Amico of Howell felt that she needed to be as close as possible to Clarence today, and The Stone Pony was that place.
"I haven't been here in 20 years but I wanted to be here with others," said D'Amico who donned her most memorable Bruce and the E Street Band concert shirt. "I wanted to feel the love and support, to pay my respects."
D'Amico has been to over 20 shows and in 2009, she watched as Clarence played at Madison Square Garden and was so close to the stage that she remembers feeling his prescence.
"The way Bruce interacted with Clarence was so special—the love between them was there," D'Amico said. "He touched my heart through his music and my soul through his words."
Maureen Benjamin of Harriman was emotional while standing at the foot of the stage.
"I haven't been to that many (concerts) but enough to feel (Clarence's) presence," Benjamin said. "I remember the last concert at Shea Stadium, I started to cry during the last song and I looked at the screen and Clarence was crying. I knew I wasn't crying alone."
"This is a serious musical loss," said Gregory Schwartz, head of promotion and the artist development program at The Stone Pony. "Clarence played above the band, his parts were written out past that and he was free to play how he interpreted the songwriter... Not every musician gets that one note and Clarence has that one note, and that's why he will take that place in history."
Schwartz recalled being outside one of Clemons' concerts at Convention Hall where he and his team were out on the street, handing out flyers and doing promotions.
"The saxophone comes rifling out of the building and it floats through the air and you can feel it," Schwartz said. "Your hair stood up, and we look around and we don't really need tickets. There's a unique connection, that means it's different than the audience connection... we're very humble and you can just feel it and we're like 'wow, that's the sound, that's it.'"
Madison Marquette, the company overseeing many of the Asbury Park boardwalk properties including the Stone Pony, announced today would be part of a "day of tribute to the great Clarence Clemons" Madison Marquette announced in a public statement. "We're celebrating his love of music in his honor."
As news hit of Clemons' death last night, the scheduled event at Convention Hall was a Jersey Shore Roller Girls roller derby bout, where game play stopped to hold a moment of silence.
Tonight's concert scheduled at the Stone Pony was San Fransico rock band Tea Leaf Green, and Madison Marquette announced it is now a free concert "for all our guests who have made a pilgrimage to The Stone Pony today."