WARETOWN – The Sounds of the Jersey Pines came alive as music enthusiasts gathered to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Albert Music Hall building on Wells Mill Road.
The 350-seat concert hall features artists from near and far, who perform country, bluegrass, and old-time music. Compensation comes solely in the form of thunderous applause from audiences who regularly pack the venue.
The $5 adult and $1 children’s cost of admission covers the building’s expenses. A gift shop on one side of the venue offers guests the opportunity to purchase country-looking attire or books about the local area. The snack shop provides simple fare like hot dogs and donuts. And there are absolutely no alcoholic beverages on site.
Many of the attendees at the special show were repeat guests. In the past, some have fallen in love with the venue so much they’ve come to volunteer. Others ultimately hit the stage and become part of the show.
Danielle Marrone of Manchester said that she first started coming to Albert Music Hall six years ago to see her friends perform. As she wandered into the gift shop, she started talking with the gentleman taking care of sales.
“It turned out to be Roy Everett, who was president here for over 20 years,” said Marrone. “He asked me if I liked the hall, and I told him I loved it. He then asked me if I loved it so much if I’d come back and run the gift shop.”
As she put her guitar case to the side, Marrone touched the brim of her top hat. It turns out that she was on the evening’s lineup as a part of the Redbird band.
Marrone’s performance struck a chord with more than one audience member. Christine and Arthur Chapais were there with their small son for their first visit to the venue.
“Danielle was really fantastic,” Christine shared. “Her voice is amazing and has a Janis Joplin quality.”
The other performers gained similar appreciation from those gathered in the packed concert hall. A reminder the aisles needed to be clear seemed to be the only thing keeping people from getting up and dancing to the music.
A Special Opening Blessing
Elaine Everett, president of the Pinelands Cultural Society, opened the show by acknowledging the original inhabitants of the venue’s land, the Lenape tribe.
At Albert Music Hall’s 1996 groundbreaking and dedication ceremony, Roy Everett arranged for a special blessing by Chief Whippoorwill (Chief of Lenape Turkey Clan and Chief of the Eastern Lenape Nation) and Clan Mother Diane.
Clan Mother Diane’s performance of the 25th anniversary blessing was somewhat bittersweet. Both Roy Everett and Chief Whippoorwill’s passing left two strong women to carry on traditions.
As she walked through the audience dressed in native regalia, the Clan Mother held onto a beautifully decorated cane. Her long grey hair was pulled back in a colorfully beaded barrette. The native woman’s captivating blue eyes bore the wisdom of age and time.
“This is the first time I’m doing this without him (the chief) by my side,” admitted Clan Mother Diane. “I was elected as an elder at age 51, when I married my wonderful husband. He was 75.”
Before the show began, the Lenape native shared a bit about her role in her tribal community. She divorced her first husband after he treated her poorly, and feels her experiences allow her to provide special counsel to younger women.
Clan Mother Diane now resides in Browns Mills, although she previously lived in Levittown, Pennsylvania. She could not estimate the number of Lenape natives but said there are just a few little bands in the area.
“I have a drum circle once a month,” Clan Mother Diane shared. “I am also a legend teller and will soon have a book on Amazon called ‘Legends of the Lenapes.’”
Albert Music Hall’s History
“We opened this building in 1997,” shared Everett. “However, our actual history dates back at least a decade before then.”
According to Everett, Joe and George Albert came up with the concept for the music hall when they fell in love with the Pine Barrens. The two brothers came down from Sayreville every weekend to hunt fox and enjoyed overnights in a small cabin on Route 532.
“They called it a cabin, but it’s really more of a cinderblock building,” Everett explained. “Eventually, Joe and George became animal enthusiasts and decided to invite their friends down to the cabin to make music.”
At the time, there was little to do in Ocean County south of Toms River. Word got out that the Alberts set up regular jams and locals started to visit them. The brothers ultimately outgrew their original space hidden away in the dirt roads just before Wells Mills Park.
“Big newspapers like the Washington Post and the Philadelphia Inquirer started writing about our music hall,” said Everett. “People started coming like crazy and Joe and George realized they just couldn’t handle the crowds.”
The Alberts decided to rent space on Route 9 in the strip mall now known as the Waretown Town Center. Unfortunately, a fire destroyed the premises, and the music hall went in search of another venue.
“That’s when my husband and I first started going in 1985,” Everett shared. “We would come down from Monmouth County on Saturday nights and enjoy some really good shows.”
After the fire, the music hall took to the shopping center’s parking lot to produce shows. They threw a rug on the ground, set up mikes, and the musicians went back to business. A local church donated chairs, so audience members didn’t have to bring their own.
Sometime after that, Ocean Township’s Board of Education made the music hall an offer. For five years, musicians performed in the all-purpose room of the Frederick Priff School, located right next to Albert Music Hall’s current location.
Organizers had long ago decided to put away money for a building of their own. The good news came when the school pointed out they had acres of property they would sell to the venue. However, the purchase of public property came with its set of challenges.
“The state unanimously passed a bill in Trenton that allowed us to buy the land,” said Everett. “One of the requirements was for us to become the Pineland Cultural Society.”
Albert Music Hall functions as more than a music venue as it continues to promote student awareness as part of the Pinelands Cultural and Historical Preservation Society. It’s easy to appreciate the significance of the building and its museum set up as a step back in time.
“When I started going through all the thousands of archive materials and seeing our vast history, I started to get goosebumps,” Marrone said. “You either feel a connection with this place and love it, or you just come one time.”
“The connection you get here is what draws people back,” continued Marrone. “Whether its nostalgia, the music, the collaboration, or the community – you’ll see people come back time and time again.”
Marrone dedicated three years to review archive materials, which has resulted in a book that brings Albert Music Hall’s past and reviews to life.
More information about the Albert Music Hall can be found at alberthall.org.