Off the beaten path in Morris County, you’ll find a gem of a music venue: The Middle Valley Community Center, housed in a building that is more than 200 years old. Shows there offer music in a laid-back atmosphere with a coffeehouse feel.
The venue, located in the Long Valley section of Washington Township, currently books one or two shows a month. The room’s capacity is about 50 and — naturally — there’s not a bad seat in the house.
“This is a real music- and art-lovers space,” says percussionist Chuck Wood, whose most recent of about a half-dozen shows there took place June 15.
It is a “quaint historic building, with a great vibe and amazing natural acoustics, located in a beautiful part of Northwest New Jersey,” he said.
Lauren Vasquez, who directs the music program, said that after she joined the board of trustees in April 2017, “we experimented with adding more music and it was well received. Many people who come to these shows mention they always wondered what the building was, but now there was a reason to stop.”
Next up on the venue’s calendar is Milkweed, an Americana/roots trio from Binghamton, N.Y., July 6.
From spring through the fall, the building comes alive with concerts, yoga classes with live music, an occasional art show and relaxation sessions that involve a gong and meditation. There is also a painting class, a mala-making class, dance, fundraisers, private parties and historical presentations. (The building is closed in the winter.)
The musical vibe got a boost after then-Long Valley resident Andy Goessling took note of the MVCC. Goessling, who died in October, was a member of Northwest Jersey’s most renowned band, Railroad Earth.
“Somewhere along the way, musicians discovered the amazing acoustics of the space,” Vasquez said. “Andy Goessling and Railroad Earth, likely the most known name, rented the space for a week of practice. Chuck Wood recorded tracks (here) for a CD.”
During the show in June, Wood and his band and friends had rapt attention of the sellout audience during a performance of about two hours. He says the MVCC is a far cry from playing in bars, which the Hackettstown resident gave up doing about 15 years ago.
There are “no sonic or visual distractions from whatever it is you are trying to present,” Wood said. It is “designated for the arts, not food, sports TV or alcohol. You can create the perfect atmosphere for a concert or artistic event.”
Anyone driving at a good clip easily could miss the place. The street address is 357 West Mill Road in Long Valley; the building sits where West Mill meets Middle Valley Road.
The MVCC was built in 1792 as a general store; 10 years later, a post office was established in the store. In the 1890s, the Middle Valley Hall Association was formed and bought the store for $500. The building later also served as a chapel and a school.
In 1975, the association changed its name to Middle Valley Community Center. Fifteen years after that, the center’s trustees succeeded in placing the building on the registers of state and national historic places.
Restoration work began in the 2000s, and was completed in 2007.
“The unrelenting urge to preserve, hold and share the space continues,” said Vasquez. “The little old building seems to enjoy the new energy and attention. The feedback has been strong from both musicians and audience. The musicians play to a captive audience. No cellphones, no wait staff taking orders, no glasses or dishes clinking. No distractions.
“I’ve learned it takes a certain type of musician who can bare themselves to a true listening audience. They see us from the stage, and we see them as we hear them. It’s tangible.”
The building and grounds do offer an earthy, rustic feel. Those seeking a gold-circle experience, take note: The restroom is self-composting and there is no parking lot to speak of; it’s more like a grove with parking slots. At Wood’s June 15 show, there was a table filled with snacks, fruit, veggies and dip, cold shrimp and non-alcoholic beverages, all available on a donation basis.
The show calendar for the rest of the season is:
July 6: Milkweed
July 27: Matt Bednarsky
Aug. 24: Cirotti trio
Sept. 14: Caren Kennedy Duo
Sept. 28: A.L.L. Trio
Oct. 12: Playful Banter
Oct. 26: Susan Lembo & Friends
Nov. 16: Maribyrd
Dec. 14: Cirotti trio
For information on the Middle Valley Community Center, visit middlevalleynj.org. For music bookings, email Lauren Vasquez at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tom Skevin is an award-winning journalist and publicist who resides in Sussex County. He can be emailed at email@example.com.
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