... WITH JUST TWO SONGS
|Meredith Padfield, 15, of Manchester sparkles during Tupelo Music Hall’s open mic night, |
even without the silver sequined shoes.
Union Leader Correspondent
Next up, Chelsea Berry. With her acoustic guitar slung over her shoulder, Berry stepped up to the mic and dedicated her two-song set to all her fans back home in Chugiak.
“Right now my mom and dad in Alaska are watching us,” said Berry, speculating that it might be the most far-flung audience in Tupelo open-mic history.
“I’ve got people watching in Australia,” someone called out from the anonymous belly of the crowd.
“Australia? For real? Nevermind,” said Berry, who then launched into what she called her “angry ex-boyfriend song,” from her new EP which she would be selling in the back of the house when she was finished.
Thanks to the latest in live concert technology, aspiring musicians and singer-songwriters just got a whole lot more exposure during the Londonderry venue’s monthly open mic night. Anyone can log into www.concertwindow.com and watch the entire evening of live music online, for free.
It is the latest addition to what has been a strong musical tradition over the past seven years at the Tupelo. Held the first Thursday of every month, an average open mic turnout is upwards of 80, which includes those who come to play and sing, and those who just bring their own bottle and come to listen.
Robert Haigh runs the operation like the professional undertaking it is.
“This is a listening room, first and foremost,” he cautions the crowd, his way of making sure the usual barroom din that underscores most live music nights out does not happen here.
Employing the same state-of- the-art sound system that supports national acts like Gary Hoey, John Eddy and The Smithereens, open mic budding performers like Mae Johnson can take the Tupelo stage and feel like every other rock star with a dream and a pineapple-shaped ukulele.
“I wanna be a free bird/don’t clip my wings/give me the sky/let me fly/I feel like I’m stuck inside a child’s Barbie playhouse,” sang the 17-year-old from Amherst, who has been here before.
“The last time I was here, someone challenged me to do some original songs, so that’s what I’m going to do tonight,” said Johnson, smoothing the edge of her orange bangs that were poking out from underneath a gray knit hat as she got back to strumming her heart out, center stage.
Afterward, she explained that she started coming to the open mics in the summer of 2010 and has become a regular. Her goal is to bust into the music business, a dream shared by many who come early to sign up for a slot on the open mic roster.
“We start taking names at 6 p.m. and stop by about 6:45. We have to — we only have time for about 25 acts, tops, if each of them does two songs,” said Haigh.
Once the names are submitted, Haigh pulls them from a hat to set the order they will perform. Most would prefer to play before the featured performer’s 30-minute interlude, from 8:30 to 9 p.m. After that, the crowd begins to thin, as those who’ve already played often pack it in for the night.
But for those who do pull the late numbers, there are die-hard fans of the monthly gathering, like “the Dutch sisters,” Uta and Tuetje.
“They’re here every week,” said Haigh. “They don’t sing or perform. They just love the music.”
“It’s a great night out for us, and you can’t beat the price — five bucks,” said Al Monterio of Hudson, who has been coming out with Uta Lemmermann, her sister Tuetje Boevers and her husband, Bill Boevers of Nashua for seven years — since the venue began its monthly open mics.
“Over the years we’ve met a lot of nice people. But what we really enjoy is watching performers grow,” said Monterio. One such performer is Liz Longley, who has grown beyond the open mic stage and into a full-fledged professional, said Haigh.
“Liz Longley is one good example. She started playing here for open mics and now, she’s just sold out her third show here as the featured performer. She sold out four months in advance — some of our national weekend acts don’t do that,” said Haigh.
As an acoustic duo take the stage and run through a clean two-song set, Haigh smiles.
He earned his stripes as the guy in charge at the long-running open mic night at the Old Vienna Kaffee Haus in Westborough, Mass., where many stars were born.
“In my own head I’m Simon Cowell. These guys are not missing notes. They’re OK,” he says, letting his lack of adjectives fill in the rest of his critique.
“This is a stage that builds character. People who’ve been playing for years are intimidated by this stage. People come all the way from New York City just for their two-song set on open mic night. It’s a powerful thing,” said Haigh.