WARETOWN – On the porch of the Albert Music Hall, a few musicians are talking about what to play next. A suggestion is made, and everyone goes all in. The guitarist leads them off. The bassist builds the rhythm, the foundation. Then the banjo lends its voice. These instruments can be played individually, sure. And these musicians probably practice quite a bit on their own. But here is where individual players can create a song together.
A handful of other musicians have gathered over in the Pickin’ Shed next door. The shed is a large garage, wired with microphones. They talk shop. They share trivia about each other’s instruments. Those who know each other catch up. Those who don’t find common ground and talk about music.
Larry Ditton, who listed his address as Florida and Forked River, grew up in this area. He said he figured he’d come down on a Saturday night and see if he could learn something from some of the other players. He wound up sitting near Sam Allen, who was tuning his 1958 Fender.
“It’s the best music in New Jersey,” Allen said of the hall. “You always find people who are a lot better than you that you can learn from.”
There’s one main stage – inside the hall. One wall has historic farm tools, the other has classic instruments – work and play. The stage is designed to look like a front porch, where someone living in the Pinelands would play, either for loved ones or just for nature to hear. There weren’t too many people in the Pickin’ Shed or out on the porch this night. Everyone was inside for the main event. That was where they were putting on a tribute to Roy Everett, who passed away this year.
Roy was the president of the executive board, and spearheaded just about everything for 22 years, said his wife Elaine Everett, who is also deeply involved in the operation of the hall.
“He designed it to the inch,” she said, and then a professional architect made it work. There is soundproofing between every room so that when people are practicing in the back, they can’t hear the concert in the front.
In order to build it, he reached out to theater people to learn more, she said. The Two River Theater in Red Bank was instrumental in this regard.
This meticulous approach came from his career as an engineer. Despite his love for old fashioned music, and the old fashioned feel of a community, Roy was an inventor. According to his obituary, he was issued 12 patents during his career. He helped build the Courier satellite, and was the lead designer of communications equipment used by Special Operations forces and on Air Force One. He used his engineering know-how to build an intricate town for his model railroads, and to make a working concert hall even though he had never done so before. There’s a small scale version of the Albert Music Hall in his railroad town.
The Pickin’ Shed was another invention. People were always playing in the parking lot. Now, they had a roof over their head to do it.
Originally the Pinelands Cultural Society, they became the Pinelands Cultural and Preservation Society for legal purposes. They aim to recreate the feeling of southern Jersey in the 40s and 50s.
Every show has been recorded, and are part of the National Archives.
The musicians – and the fans – come from all over, Elaine said. Travis Wetzel, for example, is a fiddler who played with the Grand Ol’ Opry, and always makes the hall part of his tours.
“It’s a niche audience, but once they hear us, they come back as much as they can,” she said.
Roy was instrumental in running it, but there were so many volunteers that gave of their time. Some are gone, now, as well. But there are still some who come to help out. They sell tickets. They help the musicians. They clean up. They also work the concession stand, selling hot dogs and arguably the best apple pie in the world. Roy laid the foundation, and led the rhythm, and the other volunteers built the song together.
“I’ve never known people who volunteer for something as long as they have,” she said. “They love what they do.”
And all of those people were brought together for the memorial ceremony. It began with a few words from speakers, a short film, and then the hall did what it does best: play music. There were 18 acts scheduled to take the stage that night.
Kelly Kehr hosted the night, and said that the Pinelands Cultural and Preservation Society was adding a ninth scholarship to be named after Everett.
“He brought us all together as a team and I think we can all learn from him,” she said.
Local politicians were invited. Proclamations were read from the Ocean Township Committee and Ocean County Freeholders, and senators Chris Connors and Diane Allen spoke. Allen’s husband plays there regularly.
A digital screen descended from the ceiling of the stage’s porch backdrop. Hooked up to an unseen computer, the screen showed pictures from his life, and short videos, including one of people singing at his memorial service.
“Things change, but Albert Music Hall tends to stay the same,” she said.
Before the first act went on, Kerr revealed a sign that christened the stage as “The Roy Everett Stage.”