Stronger Than The Storm: Starland Ballroom Proves It

We’ve seen the devastation Hurricane Sandy left in her path as she ruined our beloved boardwalks in Seaside Heights, shut down businesses in Asbury Park and beyond, and displaced thousands of people from their homes, which continues to be a problem since many are still homeless. Being the strong state of New Jersey that we are, we were determined to not let a hurricane hold us down. We rallied as a state through benefits, donations and independent contractors donating their time and would you believe it? We’re almost there! The boardwalk was rebuilt in time to open for the summer, many houses have been rebuilt for people to move back in and businesses have been able to remodel and reopen. Don’t get me wrong, we still have a lot of work to do, but NJ has really come back strong.

One place that was affected by Sandy was a staple to the music scene and located right on the outskirts of the Jersey Shore in Sayreville. Many of us have witnessed some really intimate and amazing shows at the Starland Ballroom by some of our favorite artists, while some of us who play music have had the opportunity to perform on its stage in front of crowds we normally wouldn’t be able to perform in front of. I didn’t realize how bad the damage was until I spoke to Starland talent buyer, Adam Weiser. Adam says, “Superstorm Sandy was nice enough to dump six feet of water inside of Starland. We weren’t as prepared as can be for it. Obviously, everyone knew it was coming and we took every precaution possible to get everything out of the room, get everything off the floor, take out as much production as we can out. We moved it all into these storage containers we have behind Starland. I believed we were as prepared as we could possibly be. Sandy just did a lot of damage.”

Adam, who was actually unaffected by the storm at his Matawan home with the exception of loss of power, went on to say that after Sandy came and went, he and his wife, who also now works for Starland, went over to the club and were actually the first people there. He says that everything looked wet, but at that point, the majority of the water had already receded. Adam remembers walking around the club with his wife in utter disbelief at the waterlines on the walls. He said he actually has a photo of him standing by the waterline that was marked over his head. That is virtually a six-foot-high waterline. Not only did the walls get damaged by water, but the storm destroyed other areas as well. “It tore the bars apart,” Adam says. “It took bar coolers that were filled with beer and threw them from under the bar, on top of the bar to the other side of the room. It was pretty incredible.” After walking around assessing the damage, Adam made a call to Starland’s general manager, who immediately told him and his wife to get out of there because they didn’t know how structurally sound the building was. “When you have that much water sitting in a room for that amount of time, you don’t know what it can do,” he says. So, they left.

The next day, Adam said he received a call telling him that they had to close Starland down in order for the building to be inspected to make sure it was structurally sound. The initial research from the engineers was that they had to look further into things since the last thing they wanted was a crack in the foundation, which would cause even more of a disaster with a building collapse on all of their patrons. As the booker for the venue, this caused more of a headache for Adam, who ended up canceling a couple of shows in the days following, though he said the bands were more than understanding about the situation. Then it just became a waiting game for Starland and its crew, starting with no power and limited cell service. In other words, business could not be completed. Adam says there were a lot of days just waiting at home trying to get on the phone with agents and trying to jockey things around, whether it was canceling it or moving them to a later date. “Our initial thing was to cancel two weeks, but move everything to January 2013,” Adam explains. “Even if we were open in two weeks just to make sure.”

He told me there would be weekly conference calls within the first two to three weeks just to update everybody on what the engineers were finding, such as floorboards that were completely eaten away and corroded by the water. Bricks were dissolving by being touched because they were so water logged, and all of their electricity and electrical panels were fried since the electrical room was on the first floor. Apparently, there was a team of engineers in the club just going through everything, ripping down walls. It was then where they discovered mold in various parts of the building. Because there was no foundation under Starland being it was built on dirt, all of the water came in and ate up all of the floorboards. Adam said that they only recently got the power back on at the club.

As he explained how two weeks became two months, I found it fascinating what he told me next. “After a month, we decided to work with some of our counterparts in the state like Live Nation and The Stone Pony,” Adam says. “Guys really stepped up and said, ‘Hey, if you guys want to do some shows with us here, that would be great!’ They were great allies. There was also the Count Basie Theatre and the State Theatre, [who] stepped up and said, ‘Hey, if you want to have some shows here, let’s work on it.’ So we worked on it. Eventually, we canceled everything for the rest of the year and decided to reevaluate after that because we couldn’t keep making announcements like, ‘Hey, another two weeks are canceled!’ We just wanted to make a decision and stick to it. So we finally pulled that trigger and canceled 38 shows. And more often than not, we got emails from the bands’ managers, agents and band members themselves saying, ‘How can I help?’ Rather than being upset that they were not getting paid or not playing the show, they were more concerned with helping out to get Starland reopened, which was great!”

Moving forward after architects redesigned the floor plan for the new Starland Ballroom, they were looking at a spring 2013 re-launch. When I asked Adam why they chose to not post any photos of the venue on the inside so fans and regulars can get an idea of why they had to shut down, he told me that they simply didn’t want people to feel sorry for them. He wanted to release the photos after the remodeling of the club was finished. Another thing that fascinated me was that Adam chose to use his time away from the club to help others rebuild. “Since I wasn’t really working in the office, I was in Sea Bright every day helping out,” he says.

Now that you have a mental image of what the establishment looked like after Superstorm Sandy hit, let’s fast forward 11 months to Sept. 6, when Starland will reopen its doors to the public with a grand opening concert featuring Stone Temple Pilots. Will we be walking into a brand new place, or just an updated version of it?

“The new Starland was built under the premise that this is gonna happen again, so how do we mitigate the disaster and downtime to get operating?” Adam says. “You’re gonna have the same look and feel as the old Starland. We’ve definitely taken into account recommendations from fans, bands and industry folks. Jon Vena did a great job in our marketing department asking bands, fans, managers and agents via social media and email what they liked and didn’t like about Starland and what would they like to see in the new Starland. So I think when the fan walks in now, it definitely has that same feel of what Starland was, but there’s an updated flow to the room, updated site lines, there’s all upgraded production, all of that has been completely enhanced. Then there were a lot of the amenities like additional bathroom stalls and then there’s additional dressing room space for the bands. It was important for us to keep the look and feel of what Starland is because for most people in the central, north Jersey and Tri-State Area, that’s what they love. That was an experience for them to go there and bands loved it as well—the intimacy of the Starland—and we felt that it had to be kept that way.”

The music scene has missed the Starland Ballroom dearly for the past year. It’s the only place where a local musician can actually feel like a rock star for all of 30 to 40 minutes. Where else do you get opportunities to open for bands like Taking Back Sunday, Hatebreed or Three Days Grace as a local artist? While they were out of commission, I heard all of you say, “I wish Starland was still up and running! We need some good shows to see or play on.” Well, your wish is about to come true, as Starland opens its doors again Sept. 6 with STP!