Sandy Can't Stop the Music: Bluegrass Stands Tall This Weekend at Albert Music Hall in Waretown
Like New Orleans jazz musicians returning to the Mississippi delta after their homes were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, many of the bluegrass musicians and audience members who will attend the 38th annual Ocean County Bluegrass Festival at Albert Music Hall on Sunday also suffered the same fate, or at least some water damage from Superstorm Sandy, according to Pinelands Cultural Society spokeswoman Elaine Everett.
“Sandy hurt a lot of the members of our audience, and musicians have lost their homes,” Everett said. “Some have been traveling from places that are not home – rooms and apartments that aren’t theirs.” Despite this, she expects attendance to be high as usual, and there will be no shortage of musicians, as nine bands will play from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“It’s a way to get back to a normal feeling, and it feels good. Whenever everything else is going wrong, there’s still Albert Music Hall,” Everett said of the venue in Waretown that keeps bluegrass, old-time country, and American traditional songs alive.
Sunday is all bluegrass all day, however, and it seems little will quell attendance at the biannual bluegrass bonanza at the revered Albert Music Hall, previously honored by the Library of Congress as an inductee into its American Folklore Center.
A longtime performing band even penned a song called “Heart of Gold” in honor of the venue. “It’s a wonderful place to play,” Everett said. “The responses of people that sit in the audience are so wonderful. You can feel and watch the musicians absorb this feeling, and it shows.”
Everett describes the atmosphere as family-oriented. Many of the musicians on stage, were taught bluegrass by older generations of family. Three in this year’s lineup are led by women – Heidi Olsen & The Night, Cindy G & The Rising River Band, and Past Times – dispelling the notion that bluegrass is a male-dominated genre.
Musicians play for the love of it and are unpaid. The $10 admission fee for adults goes directly to the Pinelands Cultural and Historical Preservation Society, mostly to provide scholarships and maintain the hall.
Everett acknowledges that New Jersey in general is not a big bluegrass state, but the rarity of bluegrass venues in the state helps keep seats at Albert Hall full, with many traveling from far and wide to be there, especially for all-day indoor concerts in the winter. The music was popular in South Jersey after Bill Monroe created it as an offshoot of country in the 1940s and ’50s, as neighbors played together to entertain themselves in the then extremely isolated Pine Barrens.
Albert Hall follows up its Bluegrass Festival with an Irish Show on March 23. For more information, head online to alberthall.org. —M.M.