Rock out with Big Joe’s favorite music venue in New Jersey
The Great Auditorium in Ocean Grove, NJ is a historic treasure. The auditorium is a venue that is one of my favorites. When you walk into the auditorium it’s like walking into a cathedral and rightfully so because they have been doing Sunday religious services on the expansive stage each Sunday at 10:30 a.m. in the summer.
The structure was built in 1894 and its arched ceiling, intricate woodwork and barn doors are a definite throwback to simpler times and excellent construction. While little has changed with the structure of the auditorium a few upgrades to the seating took the seating capacity from 10,000 to its current capacity of 6,200. It has no air-conditioning or heat and events and concerts are usually held in the summer.
The Great Auditorium acoustics are so special that the aged wood grabs each note and produces a true sound unheard in any other venue. At a Tony Bennett show at the auditorium around 10 or 12 years ago, Tony put the microphone back in the stand and sang acapella. It gave me chills as you could hear a pin drop and the sound of Tony Bennett’s melodious tones softly bouncing off the 130 year old structure. I heard The Beach Boys do that, the late great Johnny Maestro, The Duprees and so many other artists pay tribute to the sound and feel of the auditorium. The great conductor Leonard Bernstein performed at the auditorium and compared the acoustics to Carnegie Hall.
For over 20 years, each summer I hosted some outstanding concerts at the auditorium, mostly rock and roll and doo wop acts and I enjoyed every one. Most were sell-outs and the performers all put their A game forward to the audiences’ delight. In the more than 50 or 60 shows that I did at the auditorium, and I don’t remember one show that didn’t end with a standing ovation.
About 15 years ago, I was hosting one show with Little Anthony & the Imperials and the magnificent Shirley Alston Reeves from The Shirelles, who I knew very well. The outside temperature at 7 p.m. was 97 degrees, there was no wind and the lights aimed at the stage and performers heated the stage to well over 100 degrees. Shirley always decked out in a beautiful sequenced dress that was of heavy material was working hard on stage and I never saw a woman sweat so profusely. She hugged me coming off the stage and said "It’s all part of show business." We were all drenched in perspiration that night but that was the Great Auditorium.
The one feature that I love about the Great Auditorium is the pipe organ. With over 1,200 pipes, the original organ was installed in 1908 for a whopping $26,000 and it’s since been modernized and renovated and is still used frequently at the auditorium. It is one of the best and biggest pipe organs in use in the United States.
The shows I hosted may be gone, but a trip into the Great Auditorium in Ocean Grove and you’ll hear the echoes of the best voices and music that were ever performed.
The post above reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 weekend host Big Joe Henry. Any opinions expressed are Big Joe’s own.