When this 91-year-old sits on her porch and rocks, she brings her guitar

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The Boardwalk Rockers perform Friday, Sept. 28 at the Ventnor Educational Community Complex. From left are John Olive and Warren Grossman of Ventnor, Johnny Higbee of Northfield, and Alma Hentz, Pete Getzler and Kevin Carey of Ventnor. Not pictured is Diane Rosenfeld of Seaville.

VENTNOR – In the song “Circle,” Harry Chapin sang, “I got this funny feeling, we'll all be together again.” He could have been talking about one group of local musicians.

Four days after performing at a fundraising dinner for the Ventnor Home and School Association, the Boardwalk Rockers were playing his song Tuesday, Oct. 2 in the Ventnor home of founding member Alma Hentz.

Except instead of a garage band, the Boardwalk Rockers are more of a living room band.

Each Tuesday the local guitarists jam at the home of their fearless leader, the 91-year-old Hentz.

Johnny Higbee of Northfield is known for playing in the metal band Sacred Swordand for teaching guitar lessons through the Ventnor Community Education and Recreation program.

He said Hentz came to him hoping to learn to play a single song seven years ago. Now the group has more than 60 in its catalog.

“She said she wanted to learn one song: ‘Margaritaville,’” Higbee said.

“For the drinking parties,” Hentz chimed in.

“They started out as students and they became a band,” Higbee added.

He and Hentz are joined each week by Ventnor residents Kevin Carey, Pete Getzler, Warren Grossman and John Olive, along with Diane Rosenfeld of Seaville.

“It’s a fun atmosphere here,” Olive said.  

The members eventually expanded their practice space from Hentz’s dining room to the living room, and they sometimes go outdoors and play.

“When it’s nice, we sit outside on the deck,” Rosenfeld said.

The band plays a variety of classic rock tunes – everything from the Beatles to Jimmy Buffett.

The group’s jam session is a weekly ritual that is rarely, if ever, broken.

“Every Tuesday, religiously. It’s better than bingo,” Higbee said.

Each member has their tastes and style of music, and each plays their own part.

Olive likes Johnny Cash, Carey is into the Beatles, and while Grossman was out of the country on vacation, his band mates happily dubbed him “the troubadour.”

“Alma is the rocker – she always wants us to pick it up,” said Higbee.

The group plays for family parties and around the neighborhood but isn’t looking to go on tour. For these musicians, it’s all about playing the guitar. 

“It seemed impossible before I met John. Playing guitar seemed like something other people did. The impossible became possible,” Carey said.

Olive said since learning how to play, he has shared his love of music at home, too.

“The melodies make you feel so good. To play the songs you like to play warms your heartstrings, and you feel good all over,” he said. “We have fun with the family and the grandkids. If we have company, I play for them and sing. It’s a great feeling, a good time and a lot of fun.”

For Rosenfeld, learning to play the guitar was a long time coming. Now it’s a part of her life.

“If I had a stressful day, the minute I pick up the guitar it’s all gone. I can’t stay stressed,” she said. “It puts me in a good mood. I love it. I’m having a lot fun with it.”

Hentz, too, has found deep satisfaction in playing the guitar.

“It made live worth living,” she said.

Tuesday’s session included the classic favorites “Margaritaville,” “Folsom Prison Blues” and a medley of rock ‘n’ roll tunes including Elvis. Near the end of the evening, the band performed Chapin’s “Circle,” their favorite song.

As each member took turns singing the chorus solo, their feelings permeated the words in a way that explained the lyrics.

“All my life's a circle

Sunrise and sundown

Moon rolls through the nighttime

Till daybreak comes around

All my life's a circle

Still I wonder why

Seasons spinning 'round again

Years keep rolling by.”

-- “Circle” by Harry Chapin 

Photos by Shaun Smith

Diane Rosenfeld of Seaville and Kevin Carey perform at Alma Hentz’s home Tuesday, Oct. 4.   Clockwise from left are Johnny Higbee of Northfield and Alma Hentz and John Olive of Ventnor.

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