Diversity of acts in store at Club Harlem Ballroom
At a fraction the size of the Showboat House of Blues' main music hall, one might assume that the Club Harlem Ballroom is reserved for lesser-known acts, or those that don't have the drawing power to accommodate a crowd of much more than 500.
That's not entirely accurate, as the cozy locality sometimes serves as the site for such internationally known artists as two-time Grammy winner Taj Mahal (coming Oct. 27), as well as business meetings, private parties, and a few off-the-wall performances like the Suicide Girls Burlesque Tour this Friday night (Oct. 20).
"We get quite a few well-known acts in here who just prefer a more intimate setting," says media floor supervisor Gil Turner, who refers to himself as a 'Blues Buster.' "Steven Seagal's [Thunderbox Blues] band played here recently and I was shocked at how good they were. We also host wedding receptions, bar mitzvahs and corporate functions, and, depending on the size, we can partition the room off for larger or smaller crowds."
When utilized for social and business functions, the entrance to the ballroom is directly to the left of Showboat's escalator up to the second floor (adjacent to the HOB's Foundation Room, and on the Boardwalk side of the gaming floor). When it serves as a primarily standing-room-only concert venue, the entrance is nearer the main music hall to allow for long lines. A cash bar is in service and light fare is available during performances.
Last spring, according to the House of Blues' public relations executive, Dave Coskey, the room's retro-Atlantic City name was chosen.
"We decided that it needed a name," says Coskey. "Club Harlem Ballroom was suggested. It was suggested to pay homage to Atlantic City's incredible music past. Our hope is that with its name we'll be able to keep the memory of the Club Harlem alive for a whole new generation of music lovers. We're planning a formal dedication and hope to include some memorabilia from the original Club Harlem so that we can help to tell its story."
John Popper (of Blues Traveler fame) headlines Club Harlem tonight (Oct. 19) with a group called the John Popper Project, and coming next month (Nov. 16) is the country-flavored punkabilly of Texas trio Reverend Horton Heat and his Legendary Shack Shakers.
Many Club Harlem headliners are tribute bands, including a quartet named Almost Queen that played last Friday night and came across stunningly similar to the bygone British rock band Queen. Almost Queen's lead vocalist, Joseph Russo, is a southern New Jersey native who seemed like a reincarnation of late Queen vocalist Freddie Mercury. The other three (all from Long Island, NY) played their parts to perfection as well, including guitarist Tom Cavanagh (Brian May), bassist Randy Gregg (John Deacon) and drummer John Cappadona (Roger Taylor).
"We work for a promoter [Daniel Stanton of Coallier Entertainment] who's very particular about the tribute bands he works with," says Cappadona. "He wants the musicians to look and play the parts as accurately as possible, right down to their mannerisms on stage."
"We stick mostly to the recorded material the original band made popular and seldom played in a concert setting," says Cavanagh.
Other upcoming Club Harlem Ballroom tribute bands will mimic rockers Bon Jovi (Nov. 3), Journey (Nov. 4), the Dave Matthews Band (Nov. 11), the Grateful Dead (Nov. 18), the Who (Nov. 24) and Aerosmith (Dec. 29).
Longtime friends Marge Brown and Randy Abraham made the 60-mile drive from Haddon Heights to reminisce Queen's music at Club Harlem.
"[Queen's] the music I grew up on," says Marge. "I have all their albums, and I've had a crush on Freddie Mercury since I was a teenager."
As is the case with all House of Blues' venues, the sound system inside the Club Harlem Ballroom is second to none.
"House of Blues spares no expense when it comes to sound quality," says Tom Richards, one of two men working the acoustics during the Almost Queen concert. "I've been in this business for a while and I've never worked at a place that compares to this. It's amazing. I mean, just the fact that a relatively small place like this would hire two people to work the sound system says it all. Usually it would only be one."
Also typical of any HOB venue (including throughout its Southern-cuisine-style restaurants), is original artwork. Predominantly adorning the Club Harlem Ballroom walls are paintings by New Orleans' native Reginald Mitchell, whose style is referred to as "raw abstract."
"He paints exactly what he sees and how he sees it," says Turner.
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For one day — Sunday, Sept. 18 — the Asbury United Methodist Church in Atlantic City, home of the South Jersey Jazz Vespers, will be transformed into the bygone Club Harlem as a tribute to a name nearly as legendary as the club itself. Chris Columbo (1902-2002) was a jazz drummer who led the Club Harlem orchestra for 34 years, right up until the club closed its Kentucky Avenue doors forever in 1978
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A banner with the name Slappy White on it hung across Kentucky Avenue all summer. The late comedian and actor (who died in Brigantine in 1995) was booked for the entire season at Atlantic City’s famed Club Harlem. On this particular summer night, however — July 24, 1964, to be precise — hanging above the banner was yet another banner. It read: “Sam Cooke.”