Will the Anchor Rock Club Revive Atlantic City’s Music Scene?

Noted musician and talent buyer Chris Ward is now in charge of steering national bands to the independent venue.

Bowling for Soup performs at the Anchor Rock Club. Photo by Konstantin Fomin

[Upcoming shows at the Anchor Rock Club: Secondhand Serenade is performing Friday, November 19 (9 pm; $20); Real Estate takes the stage Saturday, November 20 (8 pm; $30). Visit the club’s website for more details, or call 908-735-4101.]

For the cultural center it was a century ago, Atlantic City has not been known for its music scene in quite some time. Sure, America’s Playground still hosts legacy acts for glitz-filled evenings, but a roll of the dice on an independent venue called the Anchor Rock Club could change things.

“If it can happen in Asbury Park, why not AC?” asks noted Philadelphia musician and talent buyer Chris Ward, who is now booking acts for the Anchor. “Why wouldn’t people drive the AC Expressway from Philly to see a show and take a walk up to the beach?”

For 12 years, Ward booked the bands at Johnny Brenda’s—a club partially credited for the rebirth of Philly’s Fishtown neighborhood. (His parents thought he was nuts for buying a house there in 2005.) Earlier this year, Ward got a call from Adam Garbinski, an old friend from the Christian punk scene back in high school. Garbinski, who had been the beer buyer for John Longacre’s South Philly Taproom, had been asked by Longacre to head up the Anchor, part of a new endeavor in AC.

Ward remembers thinking, “Atlantic City? Music venue? Sounds interesting,” and met with Garbinski to check it out. “I’ve been to most of the 100-3,000-capacity venues in America, and the Anchor looked really good. It felt intimate, but could fit 650 people. I thought it had some promise.”

Ward is already steering nationally touring bands to the historic boardwalk town.

[RELATED: An Alluring Childhood Trip to the Atlantic City Boardwalk]

Unlike almost everything else in AC, the Anchor is not connected to the casino ecosystem. It bills upcoming acts, features a bi-level layout to maximize stage views, and offers exciting craft beer.

Ward notices there are others investing in Atlantic City, too, specifically in the Orange Loop, made up of New York and Tennessee avenues’ beach blocks west to St. James Place, so named for their color on the Monopoly board. And he’s been learning that the neighborhood has a bohemian history as an LGBTQ and artistic enclave in AC’s heyday. The Anchor is even bringing back a drag pageant known as Miss’d America. “It sounds corny, but you plant the seed and it will grow,” he says.

The Anchor is looking to serve the Richard Stockton University community, which now has an AC campus, as well as students from the music business program at Rowan University and other beach towns in Atlantic and Cape May counties.

“Now those people don’t have to drive to Philly to see Wavves, Thundercat or Flying Lotus,” Ward adds. September shows by Texas pop-punk band Bowling for Soup sold out, and the October date with Philly hardcore outfit Soul Glo was another hot ticket. He also says the venue is sitting on some big announcements.

“We see it through the lens of an artist,” Ward tells us. “We have a staff of nice, polite people who want to produce excellent show experiences for artists and their fans.”

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