From CHS cafeteria to The Stone Pony, Matthews of Exit 109 rocks the stage



Junior James Matthews of Middletown performs at The Stone Pony on March 4 in Asbury Park, NJ.

Ori Rosmarin

At 3 p.m. on March 4, 2023, junior and bassist James Matthews of Middletown was able to utter words previously spoken by New Jersey legends such as Bruce Springstein, Frankie Valli and Jon Bon Jovi: “Welcome to The Stone Pony.”

While CHS students may recognize the name Exit 109 from Coffeehouse posters, the Lincroft-based band is striving to advance further than the CHS cafeteria.

“I still remember the day we started Exit 109,” Matthews said. “We were in seventh grade and my three friends and I all played instruments. We made a joke that we should start a band and we had our first practice that day. Ever since then, we kind of stuck together.”

As the band’s repertoire includes The Backseat Lovers’ Kilby Girl, Declan Mckenna’s Brazil and Cage the Elephant’s Shake Me Down, some may define Exit 109 as Indie/ Alternative Rock. However, Matthews regards their genre as generally ambiguous and “sort of all over the place.”

“We haven’t found our genre, but we really don’t want a genre. We all have such diverse music tastes, we like to play around with any kind of music,” Matthews said.

Since their first performance at CHS’ 2021 Coffeehouse, the band has played for blockparties, open mics and Homecoming bonfires alike. While each venue offered a rewarding experience, none of them were quite as memorable as The Stone Pony.

“Just knowing that The Stone Pony is such a legendary venue where so many musicians we look up to have played in the past, to simply walk up on the stage and perform was a pretty big deal to us,” Matthews said.

While Matthews is incredibly grateful for the opportunity to perform at such a historic venue, what defined the performance was not the stage, but the crowd. The audience engagement throughout the set inspired a fun, high-energy experience. Audience members weren’t just listening to the songs, they were screaming-singing back the lyrics, chanting the band-members names and cheering at every opportunity.

“We had to do a lot of the ticket sales ourselves, but it wasn’t difficult at all to sell way more than we had to,” Matthews said. “It was honestly really fun, we had our friends, family, people we knew well and people we didn’t know that well. We were so grateful for everyone who came down and for all the familiar faces in the crowd.”