Wilkes-Barre natives A.J. Jump, Mary McKenna to open new music venue downtown
WILKES-BARRE — An accomplished local musician is partnering with a fellow city native to open a new entertainment venue downtown.
A.J. Jump and Mary McKenna are the owners of Karl Hall, which will host a variety of musical acts and comedy sets and will occupy some of the basement space in the Polish Union Building, 53 to 59 N. Main St.
Jump, who has handled percussion in popular locally rooted bands The Five Percent and Underground Saints and toured extensively with Brooklyn-based trio King Radio, said the venue is expected to have soft openings during the Christmas season. A grand opening, featuring some artists who are “bigger than the room,” is planned for 2018.
The drummer said his affinity for promoting events combined with his awareness of Wilkes-Barre’s depleted venue count motivated him to take on the project upon returning from a stint living in Eugene, Oregon. He moved there to pursue his work with King Radio.
Before taking his musical pursuits out of the region, Jump launched an entertainment series called “Un-mundane” at Jenkins Township’s now-closed River Street Ale House and took the events to Forty Fort’s Canteen 900 when the 2011 flooding of the Wyoming Valley closed the initial location.
“I’d bring in groups — regional and national — comedians, DJs,” Jump said. “I had all kinds of people come through. Being a promoter, on the other side of things … I got a taste for it for several years.
“I enjoy it, number one, and number two, when you travel around the country as a touring band and you show up where you’re opening for someone, not sure if there will be a great crowd … and you just drove five or seven hours, you want someone on the other side to understand they need to promote properly and make it comfortable for you.”
Jump said he was poised to move to Los Angeles when a quick trip home made him aware that “a group of gentlemen” was purchasing the downtown building.
“I approached them and said, ‘This is something I always thought about doing,’” he recalled. “I saw the space and said I’m going to make this happen. I don’t care what I have to do, because this area needs it.”
The longtime musician and music fan remembers being in the crowd, between the ages of 15 and 22, at area venues like Cafe Metropolis, Murray’s and Sea-Seas.
“It’s going to be BYOB — no liquor license,” Jump said. “It’s about the music or the comedy. Unless otherwise stated, shows will always start at 8 p.m. and end at 10:30 p.m. Sixteen or 17-year-olds who have their driver’s license will have an opportunity to see great shows, and they won’t have to worry about leaving (for curfew).”
Variety is key
The venue, Jump said, will host a menagerie of musical acts.
“You go to a show at Madison Square Garden, and one night, Metallica could be there; the next night, Pearl Jam; the next night, Ed Sheeran; and the next night Billy Joel. Every single genre is open to play that room.”
Jump said the room, which will accommodate roughly 65 seats and standing room for 100, can welcome everything from jazz, blues and singer-songwriter acts to ska, hip-hop and hardcore outfits. His vision for the place, he explained, is modeled after his favorite venue to play in New York City, the Rockwood Music Hall.
The new space will be the namesake of McKenna’s late husband, Kevin Karl, who Jump said was his dear friend, an excellent piano player and an adamant supporter of local music in all forms.
“Kevin passed, and I saw Mary when I got back to Wilkes-Barre, and I spewed everything to her,” Jump said. “She said, ‘I want to do this with you.’
“How could it be more appropriate than to name it after a fellow musician and friend who was one of the largest concert-goers of all genres in the area? It couldn’t be more appropriate than to name it after a gentleman like Kevin.”