By Lou Pastina
Every year, I look forward to the Connolly Open Mic sessions on Tuesday nights hosted by the venerable Professor Squid, Guy Nevirs. The squidmeister has been doing this Open Mic for probably at least 15 years, and many bands can trace their existence to chance meetings at this weekly music fest. Many solo and duo acts perfected their craft in front of the caring eyes of fellow musicians, getting tips on songs and encouragement to keep on playing. Recently with the sale of the bar, the summer series was in danger of disappearing from the basement bar that so many equate with summer in Rockaway. But luckily some locals, actually, The Locals (the surf guys) bought the whole shebang and are making a go of it. Yeah, some of the drinks might be a buck or two more, but I’ll gladly pay that to keep Connolly’s lights on.
So, what is the Open Mic? Basically, it’s a safe place for both budding and experienced musicians to test out new stuff, or even play for the first time. For instance, Squid usually kicks off the evening, breaking the ice for everyone before the first drinks have taken effect. Sometimes he plays with a partner, but more often than not, he goes solo. If you have never seen Big Squid, the Squid Trio or any of the variations of the band, you are missing something special. But here you get to hear Guy solo, fingerpicking his heart out, Jorma style. On a recent night, I got to hear someone learning to play banjo, a trumpet player who would play when she felt comfortable, a harmonica player, and several beginner players testing the waters. Let me tell you, it can be a frightening experience to be up there alone. You feel stripped naked, and you put it all out there from your heart and soul. The community is a very caring and supportive one, it is not a competition, which makes it so much better.
And then there are the really talented folks who drop in from time to time. If you are there on one of those nights, you are in for a treat. The fabulous Fleming family, headed by Bill and Annette are multi-talented and perform sometimes alone or with their son and daughter when they are in town. Trust me, you would be paying to see these folks in a Greenwich Village coffee house. On a recent night, Arturo got up and played. He plays solo locally and has a terrific voice and percussive guitar style. A fellow by the name of Ryan got up with a beautiful guitar, a better voice, and blew me away with his repertoire. When I asked whose songs he was singing, I was told they were his own. When Guy asked what the titles were, the response was that he hadn’t given them titles yet. Trust me when I tell you, these songs were the real deal. I could have easily been listening to XM Radio Coffee House.
Then there are the regulars. They come every year, every week, sometimes play the same songs, but give the night a sense of belonging, community, continuity. They are actually the heart and soul of the Open Mic because they are there whether the place is empty or full. Last year, we lost one of the regulars, Don James, a sweetheart of a guy who was fearless when it came to trying new songs, hard songs. We all miss him, and his loss binds us all together even more.
So, if you love music, raw, unedited, real music, you should really try Connolly’s Open Mic night on Tuesdays. You just might catch magic in a bottle. I guarantee you will not regret it.