The Starland Ballroom in Sayerville, NJ is a gritty local music venue that makes it possible for community college students to improve their social lives, get shitty and have a good time without completely emptying their wallets. A broad spectrum of musical genres can be heard at Starland and the ticket and booze prices are better than anything you’ll find in New York or Philly. Just beware of assholes, because they seem to be there and in the numbers.
I’m a baller on a budget, so I appreciate getting in to see a decent band for $20 rather than the $30-40 I’d have to spend at Irving Plaza or Upstate Concert Hall in New York. Moreover, Starland hosts a variety of acts from hardcore bands such as All Shall Perish to gangster rapper Waka Flocka Flame from Brick Squad.
With ticket in hand I set off to not only listen to one of my favorite bands but also to further investigate this suspiciously cheap venue. After a forty minute drive from the Mercer I was dismayed to be shacked with a seven dollar parking fee, but the neighborhood kind of sucks, so I was at least comforted to know I wouldn’t have to walk back to my 1998 Jetta at the end of the night only to find a window smashed out and my GPS stripped from the dash.
With my car “Betsy” in good hands it was time to rage! At the front door I displayed my ticket and ID, receiving a wrist band, allowing me to enter the bar area. The doormen and women were extremely pleasant, the man checking my ID even wished me a happy birthday.
As I walked through the doors the scent of alcohol and body odor flooded my senses. It’s not a pleasant smell exactly, but it is what you expect in a packed ballroom filled with drunken people dancing. The place is a little rough, but as my eyes and ears adjusted to the light and noise I noticed a reassuring security presence. Burly guys in athletic stances waited in key locations to kick out any asshole who might ruin everyone else’s good time.
The crowd was young, ranging from teens to folks in their thirties. Sadly, I’d say there were seven guys to every three females. Maybe it’s not this best spot if you’re in search of a relationship.
The floor space was congested; it was kill or be killed, but that probably had something to do with the genre of music that was playing: hardcore.
The floor is surrounded by three bar areas. Although the rear bar is not an option for teens there are two soda bars located on the sides of the room. These areas offer a safe zone for people who would rather appreciate the music then get punched in the face by some hopped up, three hundred pound dude, covered in tattoos. This particular night I was not in the mood to get punched in the face so I stayed in the bar areas.
I got quick word in with soda bartender Melissa Felise. I asked her what the typical night at the venue consisted of. Felise responded: “a lot of assholes.” At that point she was called over to the other end of the bar.
Good news: the drinks are cheap. Drafts are priced at $5.50 and my personal drink of choice, Jagermeister, is $3 dollars a shot. Being a bartender myself I could see they were a little short staffed but it didn’t seem to make much difference.
Chuck Randelle the man next to me at the bar described Starland as, “one of the better spots to see a show.” When asked him why Starland was one of the best spots, Rendedlle responded: “lots of violence.”
After having a few drinks I had to hit the bathroom. It wasn’t the Taj Mahal or anything, but there were open stalls. A lot of local venues aren’t as bladder friendly.
With money remaining in my wallet and a nice buzz on, it was time for my band of choice to begin. All Shall Perish whipped the crowd into a frenzy, to say the least. As the first cords played it became clear to me that the acoustics of the space are perhaps its best quality. The sub drops felt as if the bass was creeping up on you. It’s like sitting on a massive subwoofer.
When All Shall Perish wrapped up the mob began to move to the smoking area. Unfortunately I am a smoker (must remember to hit one of Mercer’s new smoking cessation seminars before the bulldozers come to knock down the smoking huts). I had to squeeze my skinny ass in and out of a pack of sweaty people to get my fix. The fenced in smoking section was painfully small for the amount of people security attempted to herded in to it.
As I prepared to head home at the end of the night I asked a couple other young adults for their opinion of Starland. Bobby Gibbs said he was a fan of the drinks prices but was not so happy with other aspects of the venue. He said, “I wish you didn’t have to pay for parking, all they had to eat was cardboard pizza.” Michael Simpson, a former Mercer student said, “The location is close to home rather than New York City, Philly or Atlantic City. I definitely would recommend it to friends. I had a blast. The sound was good and price was right.” Simpson got it about right.