The Hall: Part Concert Venue, Part Museum
Waretown — Each year on the first Saturday of November, the Jersey Devil is summoned to Albert Music Hall to partake of the down-home, acoustic sounds of classic folk, country, bluegrass and Pinelands music.
Nov. 2 was Devil Night at the beloved Waretown venue, run by dedicated volunteers who hold fast to history and keep the music alive, week after week, all these decades after the original founders, brothers Joe and George Albert, started the tradition.
The scene was as expected: a packed parking lot and a warm welcome within. The price of admission never goes up. The $5 entry fee and proceeds from Albert Hall merchandise and concessions (hot dogs, coffee, soft drinks, cake and brownies!) benefit the nonprofit Pinelands Cultural Society, which awards nine scholarships each year to promising young musicians, in addition to supporting other community organizations and, of course, keeping Albert Hall running.
“A lot of people don’t realize how much work it is after the doors are locked,” according to Danielle Rozinski, Albert Hall’s public relations coordinator. “Saturday is the reward.”
It’s a special place, which PCS President Elaine Everett attributes to “the atmosphere.” She further remarked on the extreme loyalty and appreciation displayed by the music lovers who support the organization so religiously. Hundreds fill the seats each Saturday night, from children to seniors. The musicians, too, recognize the importance of the one-of-kind acoustic hall: none of them get paid to play there.
“It’s a feeling,” Rozinski said. “It’s a family. The best way to preserve history is to pass it on.”
Rozinski is the author/ editor of the new 240-page book Sounds of the Jersey Pines: The History of the Pinelands Cultural Society and Albert Music Hall, due to be released Saturday, Nov. 16. She said the 3½-year project was the result of “many working as one. Everybody had a hand in it.”
Over the years, and especially during the process of compiling the book, people have readily contributed old photographs, news clippings and artifacts to help piece together the past. The Hall is part concert venue and museum, its walls adorned with memorabilia and musical instruments – can you identify the dulcimer, zither, chromoharp, accordion and mandolin? – that tell the organization’s story, including Joe Albert’s gut bucket (i.e. washtub bass) and George Albert’s fiddle.
“Everyone needs to have their own connection to the place,” Rozinski said. “Objects are the key (to that connection). They symbolize the human factor, and it becomes alive.”
Everett’s niece, Lee Bradley, has had the honor of portraying the Devil for the last seven or eight years running. She makes the trip from her hometown of Andover for the occasion, getting into character by channeling her inner fun-loving monster.
“It’s a lot of exertion,” she admitted. And the latex max – a red head with horns and a menacing grin – does get pretty hot and uncomfortable. The rest of the costume is “a mishmash” of parts collected from thrift shops and various other sources, she said. Wings are sewn into the back of an old suit jacket; she wears leggings with furry boots.
During the 8 p.m. set, she makes her entrance onto the stage, acting out a game of cat-and-mouse with one of the band members as the rest of the band continues to play. She then makes her way down into the crowd. It’s not totally scripted, she explained. The content and duration of the scene “depends on my stamina,” she said.
“The kids love it,” she said. She prowls the audience, “harassing everyone,” tickling the tops of heads with her long claws, looking for willing dance partners. “I’m a ham,” she confessed. Part of the fun is “nobody knows it’s me.” And while her cover may be blown in this week’s issue of the SandPaper, next year’s returning fans and newcomers alike are sure to be caught up in the magic of it all over again.
Saturday night’s program began with duo O’Neill and Martin, who offered a fitting cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil”; followed by the full M&M Band, complete with a standup bass, and a vocalist swept off her feet by the Devil’s antics; the Basement Musicians, whose lead singer you’d swear was Johnny Cash reincarnate, and who melt hearts with their covers of the Everly Brothers’ “Let It Be Me” and Neil Diamond’s “Play Me”; and the River Drivers, a four-piece, Celtic-tinged folk rock group who had made the journey all the way from Bristol, Pa.
Coming up this weekend is the always-popular Veterans’ Show, which will bring six more acts to delight and salute all veterans in attendance, who are asked to wear a cap, pin, badge or piece of clothing to indicate their service, and will be formally recognized and thanked. As always, doors open at 6 p.m. and the music goes from 7:30 to 11 p.m.
— Victoria Ford