The waiting is over.
The planning, the renovations, the permits — it’s all been taken care of, and Wilkes-Barre musician and venue owner A.J. Jump has only the anticipation of opening his downtown entertainment club, Karl Hall, ahead of him.
“I’m anxious, number one,” Jump said in a recent phone interview. “Number two, I’m extremely nervous.”
Karl Hall, which had its soft opening during two private shows held over the Christmas season, will open its doors to the general public at 7 p.m. today and will feature three acts on its introductory night, headliner Everything Turned To Color and special guests and local acts Rosary Guild and Joe Burke.
The venue, located at 57B N. Main St., is the joint venture of Jump and fellow Wilkes-Barre native Mary McKenna and is named in honor of McKenna’s late husband, musician and live music supporter Kevin Karl. The inspiration behind the club is to provide an intimate, all-ages space to feature all genres of music and comedy in both seated and general-admission formats.
“I’m confident in the work I did and that it sounds cool and looks good, but this is a very tough market,” Jump said. “It’s a different idea. It’s something that exists in every major city in the U.S., and it’s something that sort of existed here in the past.”
Jump said he’s heard comparisons to Cafe Metropolis, another downtown Wilkes-Barre venue that fostered the work of local musicians for 14 years until it’s closing in 2010.
“It’s not going to be like that,” Jump said, referring to Metro’s penchant for high energy, standing-room shows. “It’s going to have shows where you sit in a seat and listen to someone play jazz. It’s a different format. It’s a small venue that mimics something like the (F.M.) Kirby Center or the Scranton Cultural Center where the show starts at regular concert hours.”
All Karl Hall shows will begin between 7:30 and 8 p.m. and end between 10:30 and 11 p.m.
“People are more used to the bar setting,” Jump said. “I’m trying to put more of a spotlight on the music. If you’re going to come see music, you can give your undivided attention to the music for a small amount of time. That’s the whole situation for why it’s a smaller space. You want to engage people. People can’t really help but be engaged in this space.”
And Jump has invited inaugural headliner Everything Turned To Color for their ability to reach a wide range of listeners. The act brings together songwriters Brian Weber and Kyle Weber and vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Neha Jiwrajka.
“It’s a meld of alternative-esque songwriting with someone who is trained in jazz singing,” Jump said. “It’s kind of like Ella Fitzgerald singing a Chris Cornell song, sometimes. At first (Brian’s) writing tailored to (Neha’s) style but now the newer stuff is getting into this new world of ‘I never heard anybody do this.’”
Jump says the band makes music “anybody can appreciate,” and he chose local openers to fit that theme as well.
Rosary Guild, a Wilkes-Barre band working on an upcoming album, fulfills Jump’s hope to introduce “new blood” through Karl Hall.
“The songs are fantastic,” he said. “This isn’t party music; this is ‘please-listen-to-the’ music. It’s very intellectual and beautiful, and it kind of bridges gaps with Everything Turned To Color as well. That’s where my thought process was. It’s in that vein of dreamy, poppy, folky songwriting.”
While Jump has recently met the members of Rosary Guild, he’s already worked with up-and-comer Joe Burke.
“His songs are amazing,” Jump said of the West Pittston artist. “He’s the full package. His voice is incredible. I just finished recording his debut album with (songwriter and producer) Bret Alexander; Bret and I think it’s one of our favorite albums we ever made together. He’s a young guy, and we’re super excited for Joe.”
While future shows will have advanced tickets available, opening night at Karl Hall will admit patrons on a first-come-first-served basis. Admission costs $10 at the door, and the standing-room capacity is 130. Patrons will not be admitted after capacity is reached.
Despite his opening night anxieties, Jump said he’s gotten enough feedback from area music fans that a venue like Karl Hall is wanted.
“And that reassures me,” he said. “And I’m happy to have a space for them, but this is a smaller market, and I’m hopeful that people will come with open minds and help cultivate the situation.”