Christmas at home this year! It's nice to be back with family after having not been in Philadelphia for the last two Christmases (last year was Colombia and two years ago was Japan). All the old traditions are looking so good! Eggnog anyone?
And, what better way is there to celebrate both the season AND being back in the good ole' U. S. of A.? How about some Bluegrass and Country Christmas music? It's this slice of Americana that my dad had in mind when we loaded up the car and headed "down the shore" to the Albert Music Hall in the Pinelands:
The Albert Music Hall, not to be confused with Royal Albert Hall, is a community/volunteer-run music venue where each Saturday night they feature local musicians who play mostly country-style music. It's a fitting genre if you know anything about the Pine Barrens, also known as the Pinelands, of New Jersey. Think Deliverance and it'll be a good approximation of what folks from "outside" think about the area. Between you and me, let's just say that if you want a slice of real middle America without actually going to the middle of America, this is about the best place to find it.
The weekly show starts at about 8pm but my dad was adamant that we arrive early so that we could check out something called the "Tuning Shed". The shed, it ends up, is a large industrial-style garage next to the main hall where the musicians can warm up before going on stage. There's a combination of local folks "sitting in" and jamming with the performers and, since no one seems to be aware that they can go in and watch, it's a cool up-close-and-personal look (and listen):
After we checked out the Tuning Shed, we went inside the main hall to wait for the show to start. On the way to our seats, we stopped at the kitchen area and bought some hot coffee and a couple of pieces of what my dad told us was the best carrot cake since Hector was a pup:
Don't tell anyone but we stopped by the gift shop to look at some New Jersey Devil (which, I believe, is the patron saint of south Jersey) as well as Albert Hall merch, which we didn't end up buying...maybe next time.
In a bow to the modern world, the show started at 8pm with a YouTube video of some kids up in Alaska singing the Hallelujah Chorus. It was cute and the old folks enjoyed it, I think. Anyway, the "real" show began with the "Warm Hearted Christmas Carolers". The country-style band was made up of mostly of people from the same family with daughter number one leading the show and the granny-like mom belting out some serious tunage:
The WHCC played Christmas hits for about 45 minutes are were surprisingly good. The next band to take the stage, "The Santa Set", was co-led by Santa and a guy who was the spitting image of Don Imus:
The band, which wasn't that good, was nice enough to invite every kid in the place up onto the stage to simultaneously ring sleigh bells while they played. It was a madness-inducing hour but we hung tough in hopes that the effort would be repaid by any one of the following groups. Our prayers were answered when "Girls Night Out" took the stage:
This group, who was led by Joan Baez's sister (just kidding), were awesome. They played country-stylized Christmas songs and both their voices and music were top-notch. GNO finished up about 930pm followed by a half-hour break in the action, which is when we took our leave.
Being that I was a little scared that I'd either be killed by zombies out in the middle-of-nowhere Pinelands or fall asleep during the Rudolph-the-Redneck-Reindeer country-music Christmas show, I was very impressed! It was a lot of fun, the musicians and audience were great, and it was a nice piece of Americana for Diana's first American Christmas.
In case you're not too familiar with this type of music, here's a quick video I shot in the Tuning Shed:
...and, to celebrate "being home for the holidays", here's another one with the Santa Set during the main show:
Thanks dad for the invite and taking us to the show. We had a great time! Oh, and the carrot cake alone is worth the trip.