Open mic venues attracting audiences and musicians from Dingmans Ferry to Sparta to Warwick, By Beth Kalet Live music was never more alive than it is right now at open mics all over the area. In small cafes, in restaurants, at bars and in church basements, musicians and listeners gather almost every night of the week for what is becoming one of the area’s most popular ways to spend an evening. New venues crop up all the time. “It’s a phenomenon in the area that’s pretty strong,” said Jim Elwell. The Friday night open mic he runs at Caffe A La Mode on Main Street in Warwick, N.Y., just celebrated its seventh anniversary. Sara Gallman runs one at The Huntsman in West Milford, N.J., every Thursday night that’s under a year old and she runs one of the area’s biggest and most long-standing once a month on Saturday nights under the flagship Music at the Mission. That one had been going strong for nine years and is now held at the West Milford Presbyterian Church. Typically 25 performers, sometimes even traveling musicians from out of the area, show up for a chance to play there. A loosely knit community These and others in Goshen, Florida, Campbell Hall, N.Y.; in Stockholm and in Sparta, N.J.; in Milford and Dingmans Ferry, Pa., are the stomping grounds for a loosely knit community of musicians and music lovers all passionate about the art and the ambience of live performance. Many travel from one to the next to get the chance to play and to hear live music more than once a week. Open mics - pronounced “mikes” - are usually free or charge minimal entrance fees; $5 is typical. Because many open mics are hosted at restaurants and bars, players and audience members are encouraged to eat and drink there. Caffe A La Mode regulars often come for the light dinners and then stay for the music on Fridays. Over the many hours they spend there, players and audience members alike often get up for coffee, sandwiches or ice cream, too. This venue is particularly family friendly. At The Huntsman, Gallman says, “There’s no fee to participate. We try to encourage people to come out and get dinner or dessert or have drinks or something like that.” A variety of musicians and music George Slater has been running an open mic at the Elks Lodge on Union Valley Road in West Milford, N.J., for three years on an every other Friday night basis. The bar is always open, he points out. His open mic offers musicians a chance to team up with other players, too. “What’s nice about open mics is the variety of musicians,” he says. “It’s not like going to hear a band play because you’re getting such a variety.” Singer-songwriter and guitarist Susie de Riancho has been running an open mic at Tony’s Pizza in Stockholm, N.J., for about two months now, where she’s best known as Susie Q. “It’s been very successful to say the least,” she says. One of her goals is to give musicians a chance to meet and play together. “We all support each other tremendously in these parts of New Jersey.” Like de Riancho, Slater, Gallman and Elwell are musicians themselves, but they don’t always play at the open mics they run. And they don’t always get paid either. They do it for love ... and in some cases for a little food or coffee, too. Performers generally arrive 15 minutes to a half hour before the music is set to begin so they can choose a spot on the lineup. Some want to be in the middle, others want to go last. Some don’t care. There is usually a two or three-song limit. When the voice is fresh and the music hits home, listeners may feel that three songs is too little of a good thing. Sometimes, it’s just right. Sometimes an altogether new sound Rank amateurs may find a three-song set grueling and the audience might politely agree, but the atmosphere is always cordial. “No one has ever been booed off the stage,” Elwell jokes. More often, in fact, the audience is wowed by an unexpectedly exciting performance whether it’s new music, a familiar tune done in a new way or sometimes an altogether new sound. You never know when you may be hearing the next big thing. Take E’lissa Jones of Warwick. (By day, she teaches orchestra and general music at the Warwick Valley Middle School.) She’s often too busy now playing paying gigs to make the open mics where she cut her performing teeth. But for those who get the chance to hear her play violin or guitar or to perform her original music, it’s a memorable experience. “I absolutely love open mics,” Jones says. “The first one in the area that I attended was Jim’s open mic at Caffe A La Mode in the spring of 2007. It got me playing guitar and performing my own music again, which I had stopped for a year so that I could get my master’s degree. Jim’s open mic allowed me to start improvising on violin, try out new songs and provided a safe place for me to develop my guitar skills.” Jones soon began hitting the other area open mics, met musical colleagues and began recording with them. She’s recorded two CD’s in the past two and a half years. And she says, it all began by attending open mics. And, she says, “when the empty Friday does appear I like to spend it with Jim and the Caffe A La Mode open mic family.
I love to go to open mics because it exposes the talent of the person sitting next to you that you never knew existed. I love the camaraderie that musicians who have never played together have on stage. Music is truly a universal language.” Marilyn Dale
Where it’s happening Krogh's Restaurant & Brew Pub 23 White Deer Plaza Sparta, NJ 973-729-8428 Every Thursday; sign up at 9:30 p.m. Arthur's Saint Moritz 9 White Deer Plaza Sparta, NJ 973-729-5677 Every first Thursday Tony's Pizza 2771 Route. 23 Stockholm, NJ 973-697-5680 Every Wednesday 9 p.m. The Huntsman 1745 Macopin Road West Milford, NJ 973-728-5565 Every Thursday; sign up 7:15 Music at the Mission 1452 Union Valley Road West Milford, NJ 973-728-4201; 800-613-1455 First Saturday of the month; sign up at 7:30 West Milford Elks Lodge 1860 Union Valley Road West Milford, NJ 973-728-2236 Every other Friday; sign up 8 p.m. Horse & Sulky Pub and Grill 206 Sarah Wells Trail Campbell Hall, NY 845-649-4263 Every Tuesday 7 p.m. Noble Coffee Roasters 3020 Route 207 Campbell Hall, NY 845-294-8090 Once a month on a Thursday Touch Base 9 Winkler Place Chester, NY 845-469-2688 Every Thursday 7:30 p.m. Big Dave's BBQ 47 W. Main St. Goshen, NY 845-294-4227 Every Wednesday 7 p.m. Logan's Well 28 N. Main St. Florida, NY New Street Tavern 14 New St. Goshen, NY 845-649-4263 Every Thursday 7 p.m. Palaia Vineyards 10 Sweet Clover Road Highland Mills, NY 845-928-5384 Every Thursday 7 p.m. The Tuscan Cafe 5-1/2 South St. Warwick, NY 845-987-2050 Every Thursday and poetry last Tuesday of the month 7 p.m.