Miked-up for music: The Pit Stop's open mic flourishing
Photo by Ralph Stewart
Monday night's open mic at The Pit Stop in Oak Bluffs last week, May 21, was different from my expectations.
Sure, it mostly featured young music people honing their craft. Almost a dozen singer-songwriters went on stage. One poet, DJ Jamie, quieted the house with a raw, rap-rhymed memory of love lost.
Open mics always have that catch-a-rising-star promise. Ryan Montbleau sounded like the best candidate last week. He's got the guitar skills, his voice is clear with a memorable whispery camber, and he's got solid stage presence. Mr. Montbleau is a part-time resident who's just recorded a new album, "For Higher," in New Orleans with backup from the likes of Ivan Neville and George Porter Jr.
In many places, open mic nights are a jungle for performers, but that isn't the case here. The difference seems to be that an actual community of musicianship is at work. The players support each other. This is not the "American Idol" experience, leaking tension, ambition, and ego. Open mic Island-style offers a very mellow ambiance that allows musicians to say things such as, "I began playing this a week ago," and, "I wrote this today to perform tonight."
Anthony Esposito began hosting The Pit Stop's weekly open mic sessions six weeks ago to an audience of one, his younger brother. "Dan Waters and I were the only musicians who showed up — and Don Muckerheide — who opened the place up for us," he said.
Mr. Esposito, an accomplished cab driver in addition to his performance skills, has a palpable commitment to the 8 pm Monday night open mic sessions. He likes the traction that's building. "The first night, Dan and I played about 10 songs each and went home," he told a crowd of several dozen last week.
Not your "Field of Dreams" opening night, but it's catching on. "It varies between five or six and 15 performer," Mr. Esposito said, checking a thin sign-up sheet before the mic was turned on. "You never know."
No worries. Managing musicians is akin to herding cats: they come when they're ready to. Eventually, Monday's roster would include 14 performances by 21 musicians.
Folks like guitarist Michael Haydn and the peripatetic Dan Waters are Island stalwarts who come because they like to play and because they want to support the notion of an open mic. Performers can take chances here. Andrea Della Russo, a musician and auto mechanic at McIntosh Motors in Edgartown, revved her pipes Monday night in a new role as a vocalist.
The quality of the music is often stunningly good. How many times have you heard a cover of "The Girl from Ipanema" sung in perfect Portuguese as Mr. Waters did? Who expected that Alberto de Almar, ambling about the event like a cosmic elf, was to produce a powerful and dramatic range of flamenco guitar, exquisite signature single notes exploding into staccato tympanic riffs and jazzy sojourns?
Well, people who had heard him before did. As he concluded a 20-minute composition, Mr. de Almar told the crowd, "It took me 54 years to get this one down. See you in 2066 with the next one."
So, there's also the talent level at open mic here. Mr. Haydn, for example, played two pieces (the limit last week) displaying a range from flamenco to a bluesy piece played on a 1970 Les Paul Deluxe guitar that ducked and rolled effortlessly around the melody line.
Damn! Well-played music. No audience wincing or William Hung moments last Monday night.
The skill level among Island musicians is high and diverse. "I think people have a wide selection of music to listen to via the Internet, which contributes to that and a tradition of talented musicians on the Island sets a standard performers want to get to," Mr. Montbleu said.
"People have a lot of exposure to music and have good taste," Mr. Esposito said, adding, "I've been recording music for 10 years here and some of my all-time favorite songwriters are among my friends here."
There really are some reasonably priced entertainment options available this summer. Stuff like MV Sharks baseball and open mic at the Pit Stop. Three or four hours of quality entertainment for five bucks? You'll pay that much for an ice cream cone before Labor Day.
Open Mic Night, 8 pm, Mondays, The Pit Stop, Oak Bluffs. Weekly.