By Steve Sears
Al Kessel has quite a resume, and he has a lot going on.
“I’ve had a lot going on my entire life,” he says. He also loves life. “Well, I chalk that up to music.”
Kessel currently manages the Grand Star Ballroom, which opened June 1 at the Asian Diner Restaurant at the Quality Inn at 691 Route 46 in Ledgewood. The venue hosts rock bands, comedians, and more. 80’s Revolution Band, the band he manages, appeared on opening night, as did New York\New Jersey stand-up comedian Tommy Gooch. “They have a big ballroom that they haven’t been using and they have space outdoors for a biergarten thing I’m going to do later on,” Kessel explains. “I made a connection with the owner, and I’m going to be booking entertainment there. I renamed it the Grand Star Ballroom.” He also may do entertainment in the Asian Diner Restaurant portion as well in time.
Kessel has been a musician since he was 20 years old when he exited the army in 1953. He learned to play the guitar, landed in country & western and rock ‘n roll bands (“Did Elvis and all that stuff,” he says), and then ceased entertaining for a period when he bought and ran Hopatcong’s Governor’s Inn from 1973 -1986, which featured live entertainment six nights a week. Kessel’s band played at the venue and, when he heard ownership was selling, jumped at buying it. “That was a very busy rock club all those years. All the clubs in Jersey were cookin’ because of the younger drinking age (18) and kids loved rock n’ roll. I started out as a restaurant and, when the drinking age was lowered, I closed the kitchen and made it a nightclub. I still play clubs, and I’m in a country western band – I call is Americana, we do some country, soft rock, classical stuff – and we work here and there.”
Kessel has hosted his own live radio show on station WDVR FM 89.7 for almost 8 years. “We play to about 100 people twice a month all year long and the show is streamed online all over the world. The show is called “Heartland Hayride“ and focuses on classic country music. The show itself is like stepping back in time,” Kessel says.
Kessel graduated from Montclair State College in 1966, taught history in high school (primarily Hopatcong High School) until his Governor’s Inn purchase, began booking bands in 2010, and in April of this year received his official New Jersey Entertainment Buyers License.
Most important to Kessel is his wife of 32 years, Marylou, who is a retired art teacher who taught at Roxbury High School. The couple resides in Kenvil.
“Music kind of dominates everything in my life,” Kessel attests. “Actually, playing the music is more fun for me. That’s why I still do it. The business part of the industry is what I’m doing now by becoming an Entertainment Buyer and managing bands and promoting shows. And I don’t just want to host shows at the Grand Star Ballroom. I just hooked up with another couple of clubs and I’m working with their agents to promote my own shows in their venues. I want to get into that. That’s important to me, too.”
His one want? To write music. “I’d love to be able to do that, but I don’t seem to have a knack for it.”
80’s Revolution performs throughout New Jersey, including Atlantic City, and may soon be there again, performing at the Borgata or Harrah’s. The website to visit for more information is www.80srevolution-nj.com.