Rockbrat Road Story: Joan Jett live at Birch Hill – Old Bridge, NJ, 28 Sept 1996

birch_hill_gig_adThe town of Old Bridge is located in New Jersey, not too far from Staten Island, around 40km from Manhattan. It was also home to a live venue called Birch Hill – which me and the Cowboy made tracks for back in 1996. The reason ? Joan Jett & The Blackhearts. 40km doesn’t sound far – at least not for an Australian, who thinks nothing of driving a few hundred kilometres to get to the shops and back – well, you get my meaning. This gig stands out for a couple of reasons. See, me and the Cowboy were holed up in a flea-infested hostel around Chelsea, swilling cats piss one humid afternoon – whilst listening to local rock radio.  We hear the end of an advert for a Blackhearts show at ‘Albridge’, or was it ‘Aldridge’, ‘Old Ridge’ maybe ? No mention of the gig in the Village Voice either – hmmm. Anyway, we head to the Port Authority Bus Terminal on gig day and manage to annoy the ticket lady officer big time – by not actually knowing our destination. Fucking tourists. ‘Ohhh you mean, Old Bridge’ she whines in a Queens accent. ‘Uh huh, yeah’ we nod – like Beavis and Butthead and board the Jersey-bound bus excitedly.  From memory the Old Bridge bus stop was at a nearby mall – which meant a long walk back to the venue – a venue which first reminded me of Bob’s Country Bunker – chicken wire ? Unlike many Australian or British venue’s where you can hit the venue bar pre-show, this place seemed isolated and had the doors locked until like 8.00pm. The only thing to keep us entertained were the ‘Joan Clones’ who sat in their cars – cranking Jett/Runaways tunage, whiling the hours away. One geeky fan came up to us and even texta’d a number on our hands ! WTF ? (don’t want any queue-jumping at a Blackhearts show or Mr Laguna may wanna see you after school). Odd. It was humid in New Jersey that afternoon – so when the doors finally opened we darted to the bar – a man’s not a camel. Birch Hill was apparently a ground-breaking venue which had hosted up-and-coming acts like Marilyn Manson, Korn and the Goo Goo Dolls.  Others such as Eddie Money, Anthrax, Sepultura, Scorpions, Dokken, Cheap Trick, Dio, Motorhead, Dream Theatre, UFO, Vince Neil, Yngwie, Misfits, Great White, Cinderella and even  Iron Maiden (with Blaze) also played here – amongst countless other acts. Thrashers Overkill – who appear on this gig ad – hail from Old Bridge I believe. Anyway, back to the Jett show.

Boston’s two girl-one guy ‘Chelsea on Fire’ opened many Joan Jett shows in the late 90’s and did so on this occasion. They were unoriginal and unmemorable – and I instead made better use of my time by hitting on a couple of local chicks – big-haired Stevie Nicks-clones. and the booze kept flowing. Local outfit Mars Needs Women were next up – I think they gave me a demo tape – or did they hand em out (?) – and were capital A average. At some stage I recall ligging with Blackhearts Tony Bruno and Sean Koos – the bassist was far more impressed with my 1995 Aussie tour tee than his (ex-Saraya/Danger Danger) band mate (Bruno would later find greener pastures working as guitarist, music director for Enrique Iglesias). Eventually Joanie jumps the stage with shortly-cropped bright orange hair. Not one of her better looks. As usual – Miss Larkin and band fired on all cylinders – and her set was soon over – but not, as you’d expect – was our Old Bridge adventure.

There were no taxis anywhere – and a promised lift by some local Jett-head proved to be bullshit. Anyway, me and the Cowboy start walking alongside the freeway – when we stumble upon a local cop sitting in his car. ‘Any chance of a lift’ ? I ask – and after ID’s are confirmed – we jump in the back of the squad car. ‘I heard Joan Jett now has orange hair’ the officer mumbled. Sheesh – even the local law enforcement were up on recent Jett happenings ! Some minutes later – the kindly cop drops us at a 24 hour diner and says ‘hey when you get back to Australia, you tell Aussie cops that Jersey cops are cool’ ! Absoloutely, 10-4, that’ll be the first thing I do when we land at Mascot. With a hang-over starting to kick in – I slumped wearily into a booth at the diner – ordering coffee and spying the ‘texta-girl’ from the gig sitting nearby. We rolled back into the Port Authority terminal a little under the weather – but drenched in Joan Jett rock n roll. I am attaching the advert for this show in question. Man, I love looking over past gig ads – the names of bands who vanshed – or also conquered – lay before you. This one shows Hüsker Dü’s Bob Mould appearing, the afore-mentioned Overkill, and Northern Irish outfit Ash can be seen on a bill supporting Stabbing Westward – no doubt trying to sink their teeth into the vast North American market. Looking back – Merciful Fate – out on the road in support of their then released ‘Into The Unknown’ record with Voivod woulda been cool – hmm, nah, on second thought – I think I’d take the Marshall Tucker Band over the lot of em. The venue closed its doors back in 2003 – making way for some housing community. Often, just making your way to a show is half the fun – and this tale, from Old Bridge NJ in 1996, is just one of many I have tucked away. More road stories later…till then – respect the rock.

One thought on “Rockbrat Road Story: Joan Jett live at Birch Hill – Old Bridge, NJ, 28 Sept 1996

  1. Great post Mr Rockbrat. Brought back some good memories! I had forgotten about Joan’s red hair. I do recall rolling back into Manhattan at 5.30 am or so. Keep them road stories a coming!

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