“Because people don't understand we're the only country in the world that thinks art is a luxury. Everybody else in the world understands that art is an essential part of the quality of life.” – Steven Van Zandt
The blues ecosystem is dependent on the collaboration of non-profits, venues, fans, bands, educators, business owners, and record labels. The blues societies play an important role in this ecosystem -- they support the bands and musicians by working with venues to book gigs, working with record labels to promote the music, networking with business owners and fans to help support their mission, and working with educators to ensure the blues genre is taught to the next generation.
However, here is the reality: fans are not filling the seats at venues to support the bands. Without venues, how do bands survive, especially when the music industry is figuring out such how to deal with the digital age? One music venue that needs to be saved is The Stanhope House. This iconic venue was built in 1794 and has served the community as a former private home, stagecoach stop, general store, post office, tavern, rooming house, and hotel. In 1970, he Stanhope House became a legendary blues venue.
The who’s who has played there: Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Paul Butterfield, Charlie Musslewhite,Dr. John, Luther “Guitar Junior” Johnson, Billy Branch, Lonnie Mack, Son Seals, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Hubert Sumlin, Johnny Copeland, Richie Havens, John Lee Hooker, Albert Collins, Albert King, Buddy Guy, Pinetop Perkins, Savoy Brown, Kim Simmonds, Jorma Kaukonen, Johnny Winter, John Mayhall, Lil Ed, Guitar Shorty, Jimmy Thackery, Mark Hummel, Peter Karp, Sue Foley, Popa Chubby, Samantha Fish, Tab Benoit, Mike Zito, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, Eric Gales, Chris Duarte, Wayne Baker Brooks, Alexis P. Suter Band, Davy Knowles, King Solomon Hicks, Ally Venable, Jimmy Vivino, and Billy Hector, to name just a few! The stage has honored quite a few blues legends in the last fifty years!
Over the summer, the Borough of Stanhope passed an ordance from the town's Land Use Board to recommend "redevelopment with non-condemnation" for The Stanhope House. The Board's reasoning for redevelopment is twofold. Per the minutes dated 7/10/23, "The stairway to the basement is an issue with regard to staff access. The roof, siding and electrical needs repair. There are no storm sewers within the parking area and there is no management of stormwater runoff in place. The parking lot has no signage or striping which is an unsafe condition that needs to be corrected."
The redevelopment plan will be presented to the Town Council in January 2024 for approval. In a recent article published by the NJ Arts.Net An anonymous source said that the Stanhope House currently 'needs in excess of $300K in structural renovations' and is currently 'under contract' to be sold, contingent on the town approving the redevelopment proposal. (NOV. 28 UPDATE: The redevelopment proposal, which calls for “the introduction of retail use” and “the strengthening of the existing village commercial uses through the introduction of the residential units,” can be read HERE.)”
As the President of the North Jersey Blues Society, it has become my top priority to help save The Stanhope House, as this legendary music venue is part of the blues ecosystem. A Preliminary Application to the NJ and National Registry Listing is underway, however, it is a lengthy process and will probably not materialize by January. A petition has been created -- as of 11/26, there are over 1,000 signatures. I have contacted all the Blues Societies in the United States, the local historical societies, District 24 Senator Steven Orocho, Assemblymen Parker Space and Assemblyman Harold ‘Hal' Wirths, media outlets, national blues musicians and record labels pleading for help. I continue to monitor the Borough of Stanhope council agendas and will attend the meetings. I also plan to canvas the neighborhood residents and businesses for feedback.
Will these efforts make a difference? Will the redevelopment plan be halted and/or modified to save this legendary venue? I don’t have the answer. All I can do is forge forward and continue to fight the fight to support the blues ecosystem.
Written by: Cristy Benvenutti, President, North Jersey Blues Society
The North Jersey Blues Society is a volunteer-based 501 (c) (3) non-profit that was founded to celebrate the heritage and preservation of blues music as a valued indigenous American art form through the unity of the blues community comprised of fans, musicians, society members, venues, other non-profits, educators, and business owners who will collaborate to and promote the blues performances and educational offerings in Northern New Jersey.
As a community leader providing the music and arts, the NJBS goals and priorities include:
* Promoting the performance of local, regional, and national blues musicians with a devoted interest in American roots and blues music in Northern New Jersey by offering blues artists and audiences artistic programming and venue performance opportunities to the blues community.
* Preserving and increasing awareness of blues by providing educational opportunities for blues music and its founding artists by targeting the history of blues and the artistic impact of blues music worldwide to the blues community.