Story: Shanna Polignone
Photos: On location at Two River Theater with Melissa Amorelli
The name Brian Kirk is synonymous with a good time and great music. The man is a Jersey Shore legend, although he very much disagrees, stating that title is reserved for the likes of Springsteen. As the band leader for Brian Kirk and the Jirks, he has a larger than life image, and is a celebrity within our Monmouth County community as well as the tristate area. He has been playing music for over 20 years, gracing the stages of some of the most famous Jersey Shore clubs and creating the soundtrack for weddings and corporate events throughout the country. A span of generations has rocked out to his music and there is no end in sight. I had a chance to sit down and find out a little about the man behind the music. “I’m not any different on stage. I’m just that same guy, maybe a little goofier because I’m playing music and stuff,” he answered when I asked him to describe himself.
Music has always had a presence in Brian’s life. He remembers spending time in his parent’s living room playing Stevie Wonder and The Carpenters records, memorizing the lines. His dad was a drummer and would tap out the beat of a song on the dash of the car he drove. Brian would watch his older brother as he played music in his own band and Brian played music throughout high school. As far as a career, it never crossed his mind as an actual possibility. He thought his future would be in the Telecom business; he graduated from Rutgers and accepted a job selling phone lines while playing music on the side. He frequently played his guitar and sang songs at places like Donovan’s Reef in Sea Bright, and other popular venues throughout the early 90’s. He would bring in a handful of friends, but mostly the crowd was there to see the headlining band. He was there to keep the audience entertained so they wouldn’t leave while waiting for the main act to arrive. His gumption and grit got him where he is today. During that time, he would hear groans as he made his way to the stage. The reaction could have made him quit but instead, he decided to win the crowd over.
“Maybe I didn’t in that first show, but eventually I did at least win some of them over.”
Today, he always wins crowds over at every show. It was when he added a drummer and a bass player that his following started to grow and the attention of the crowd began to shift from the main stage to the three musicians playing songs hidden inside next to the grill at the former Donovan’s Reef. “It was one of those things that just worked,” Brian told me referring to the joining of the musicians. The groans were replaced with cheers and the most popular clubs on the Jersey Shore were calling, asking them to play. The dozen or so friends in the audience grew to thousands of fans and he began to sell out shows. His reputation opened doors to clubs, all the way to Hoboken and Montclair to name a few. Brian Kirk and the Jirks earned weekly gigs as the headliners at the hottest spots on the Jersey Shore. They became regulars at places like Jenkinson’s, the Norwood Inn, and Bar Anticipation for their famous “Tuesday Beat the Clock Nights”.
Brian Kirk became a familiar name, and became part of Sea Bright’s familiar sights, with his name gracing the marquee at Donovan’s Reef every Sunday. Through the years it just kept growing, the gigs, the band, the recognition, the song list and genres the band covered. They have been flown across the country to open for the likes of Joan Jett, Tonic and Better than Ezra. They are one of the top wedding bands, being voted best live band for Jersey Weddings at Brides.com. Brian doesn’t remember a time that he didn’t work seven days a week, but finishes by saying, “How can I call it work? I get to play with fans and friends.”
Through the years there have been many changes in band members. Brian’s focus is to always hire people better than he is. He knows he is a great entertainer, but he is in awe of the talent and capabilities of his band members. “No one comes to see me anymore,” he told me. “It’s all the band, they are so good at what they do.” He never set out to be the band leader -he actually never set out to even have a band. “I evolved as the guy the rest of the guys came up to and wondered where we were going, what should we do from here? And typically it just so happened that my opinion of where we should go happened to be right.” He continued, “The leadership of a band leader slowly evolves over time. I still believe I’m not exactly sure what I’m doing, but everyone else does, so when they give me that responsibility I have to make sure I come through for them. I think it through; what our next move is and where do we go and what do we play, and it has worked.”
He filled with humility repeating, “It just worked and I’m blessed for that.” Offstage by day, Brian is a real estate guy. He buys foreclosed homes, fixes them up and rents them out or sells them. He explained it as “kind of like the flip and flop shows you see on TV, but much harder, it’s so un-rock and roll.” His real estate career was one of those “rare meetings” he said. A regular at his shows one day asked him what he was doing with his money. When Brian told him he didn’t have a plan, he suggested Brian invest in foreclosures, so he did. “When you look back at the ridiculousness of it, you meet a guy at a bar, you’re having a couple of beers with him and he asks me about real estate and it literally changed my life. Music has been incredible, but what he did for me will never be forgotten and every time I buy a house I text him and thank him.” Brian explained that he said yes to real estate heavily out of insecurity. “I was certain that music had to end. It was too much of a fairy tale that a guy picking up a guitar and singing into a microphone can raise a family on that kind of money and do well at it, and actually pay employees and band members and live only by the band, which still astounds me.” Behind it all, he is truly a family man. When he speaks about music and real estate you can feel his excitement, his passion – he is all smiles.
As he told me about his family, it is then he began to choke up with love and pride. He has been married to Elizabeth for 12 years, describing her as “terrific” and telling me how proud he is of her for all of her accomplishments. He is the dad of two, a son Donovan and a daughter, Emerson. He told me the best thing he has done in about a year was take his daughter to the daddy/ daughter dance a few weeks ago. To watch her interact with her friends and to slow dance with her – “my heart just went.” Everything he needs is right here in New Jersey, on the shore with his fans, friends and family. He talked about how he never had the desire to tour the world with music, or leave home for very long. He was born and raised in Middletown and continues to live in Monmouth County with no plans to leave.
“There’s an old expression that all that you want in life is just at your feet, you just have to pick it up.” When I asked about his plans for the future, he said with a smile, “Eventually it has to end, I just hope I know when it’s time to get off the stage.” He paraphrased a Frank Sinatra interview he read. When asked about retiring Frank said, “Every time I thought I was going to retire I just missed the sound of the audience.” Brian continued on, “And I get that, you know if your day isn’t going well, there isn’t anything quite like it when the night in music goes well and you go home saying – ‘wow, wasn’t that a great time we all had together!’ I know the audience went home happy and the band clicked and the music was right. And on the nights that doesn’t happen, I go home and try and be a little better next time.”