You can’t fool me. Even as a kid, I didn’t buy into Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. Now Bigfoot? That’s a different story. I’m down with Aliens and Loch Ness monsters. Hey – I’ve seen the real-life pictures. I could even buy into an occasional mermaid; but until last week I was up in the air about the Jersey Devil. Who knew he liked bluegrass music? Who knew I liked bluegrass music? I’m not even sure what it was. But a trip to Albert Music Hall on Wells Mills Road in Waretown New Jersey changed all that.
Every Saturday night, this little hall showcases five or six bluegrass groups. Maybe you’ll catch the Glimmerglass Band’s version of “Choctaw Hayride”. Or the Piney Hollow Drifters in revolutionary era garb featuring Sylvia on the hammered dulcimer. If you go through life missing a good hammered – well, it’s on you!
The moment you step inside, time stands still. Only five dollars to get in? You’d drop an easy hundred between parking, the cover and a drink at the Tiki Bar in “Point” NJ. Here it’s two bucks for a hot dog with sauerkraut. An appreciation of a good dog with kraut is important because if you end up sitting in the back, that’s what you’re smelling.
A concession stand sells cowboy (and, of course, cowgirl) hats, CD’s, and books like the Pioneer Village Cookbook and the Cowboy Chuck Wagon Cookbook. In fact, except for “Clamtown-The History of Tuckerton”, all the books are cookbooks. The eatin’ must be pretty good down those parts. Tee shirts and bumper stickers: “Proud to be a Piney” and “Proud to be a Piney from my Nose Down to My Hiney”. Even if you’re “not from round here”, these stickers make a good gag gift on your buddy’s car.
Then there’s Danielle, one of the most pleasant friendliest people you’ll ever meet, volunteering behind the counter. Actually everybody volunteers: the lady at the door, the people cleaning up, the musicians. Nothing here is about the dough. All money goes to the maintenance of the building operated by the Pinelands Cultural Society or to scholarships at Southern Regional. Danielle wrote and illustrated a little book, “The Jersey Devil Visited Albert Hall”. (That’s how I know he likes music.) She also performs there occasionally. Word around the hall is she’s a great yodeler. You’re not going to find that at the Stone Pony .
I took a seat, one of about three hundred folding chairs so precisely arranged they might as well have been bolted to the floor. Definitely not for the reclining, cup-holding, food-serving, pampered Fandango crowd. This is all about down-home. At the rear, a long picnic table just a few feet from the food stand. The walls are festooned neo-Mammy Yokum style: washboards and banjos; hand augers, shovels, a horse collar and one dressy cowboy shirt. The stage backdrop is a facsimile of a hunting cabin embellished with an American flag, some glitzy Valentine’s Day hearts, a few beehives and a stuffed owl.
The night starts with the Star Spangled Banner. Everybody stands. Everybody sings. Everybody vigorously claps. This scenario will be repeated later on when North Country plays “Proud to Be an American”. First up is O’Neill and Martin, an acoustic duo that offers, among other things, Rockabilly tunes. I mention this only because I like to say Rockabilly. But they’re fantastic. Listening to Jeanne O”Neill is like listening to a canary; you want it to never stop. Innovative lyrics in “Train, Train” and “Working on a Building” entwine into her harmonies with Tom Martin.
The Basement Musicians, two guitar pickin’ guys were the highlight of the night for me. Pat, who plays Wednesday nights at Europa South in Point Beach, has a dry witty North Jersey edge to him that makes you feel like he’s just hanging out in your living room. He’s got a kind of Willie Nelson rasp to his voice. I caught up with him after their set and he talked a bit about Willie; about his phrasing and how it concentrates on the backbeat. Pretending to know what he was talking about, I agreed. Tony (his steady gig’s at the Rivoli in Howell) got the crowd stomping and clapping to his “Boot-Scootin’ Boogie”.
Before I left, Danielle called me over to her stand to show me the sheet music in “The Sounds of the Jersey Pines Songbook”. Time-worn standards like “The Crawdad Song”, “Julie James” (based on an actual murder), and “Whaling along the Jersey Shore”. One number is called “The Forked River Mountain Blues”. Bet you didn’t know Forked River has a mountain. Yup! And, at 200 feet above sea level, it just may qualify as the world’s smallest mountain.
It’s different. It’s cheap; and it’s fun. Only two minutes off exit 69 on the Parkway, it’s easy to get to. As for me, I’ll be back there next Saturday. Danielle’s playing and I’m gonna’ hear me some yodelin’.