Stars In Our Backyard--Hidden Performing Gems in New Jersey

New Jersey has some “diamond in the rough” venues for quality performers which, admittedly, can be hard to locate but are absolutely worthwhile on a number of levels.  These are non-traditional venues – places you would not necessarily think about when you want to go to a concert, but you get great bang for the buck along with a “locational dissonance” that allows you to re-wire your sense of nostalgia.  An example of this is seeing Patty Larkin and Lucy Kaplansky (a PhD clinical psychologist/singer-songwriter) a number of years ago at the Grace Norton Rogers Elementary School in Hightstown, thanks to the organization “Outta Sights and Sounds.”  Larkin is a fairly well-known lightning-witted soloist and it was interesting to hear someone of her caliber while sitting in wooden auditorium seats designed for eight-year olds.  Scheduled on a steamy July weekend, it really was Midsummer Night Dream material, as I still have dreams about returning to school as an adult.

Compare this with a very recent example of a visit to “The Rock” in Newark, a venue polar opposite to Grace Rogers.  The capacity is perhaps 14,000 for top-quality, world-renowned artists.  On a whim, I took my girlfriend to see Rod Stewart and Stevie Winwood.  The seats were in the two-hundred section and nearly vertical.  My love was having panic attacks and it took a lengthy visit at customer service to move to better seats.

My favorite “diamond” is simply called The Sanctuary.  It is a church in Chatham, a small town in Northern New Jersey; an hour of navigating unknown highways and right-on-reds.  The opening act was Suzzy Roche and her daughter Lucy Wainwright Roche and the main act was Loudon Wainwright III.  Suzzy was part of an act I remember decades ago, a quirky group of sisters who perfected offbeat harmonies, and with a name (“The Roches”) that a New Yorker could love.  They sung of life in general and its difficult spots—music careers and their travails; love, of course.  Self-effacing comments between songs, delicious (painful) ironies perceived.  A family of professional artists, for sure, making a living out of small venues such as this. The performance felt like a lucky secret to me.  What a treasure not to have to do the bridge-and-tunnel thing to see this.  At intermission, the “herd” of audience shuffled back into the lobby and into an open room with coffee and cookies spread out on folding tables.  At two tables, the performers had tables with CDs (Loudon had LP records—bless him), and were signing sold copies;  all in “celebrity mode” but on a lower volume.  It has to be that way for everybody to be happy.  And the drive back home, although long, was appropriate; a means of digesting what had just been seen and heard, at night—when things are calm and you go interior (at least I do) and solitude is easier found. 

Jersey Music Connection offers venue listings both large and small by County   

- Richard P.  


  1. Thanks for the write-up on The Sanctuary. I had never heard of it but it's always nice to hear of a new place to see good acts within driving distance.

  2. Thanks for the write-up on The Sanctuary. I like performance places we can drive to.


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