YMCA open-mic night provides courage to be creative on stage

Phil DeRosa makes a special appearance at open mic night at Alex’s Place. — Photo by Michael Cummo

“We’ve got to find a way to keep our creative youth on this Island,” musician and producer Phil DaRosa said Friday night at an open-mic night at the YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard’s Alex’s Place. “An event like this is trying to create the support and opportunity for the 18- to 26-year-old group, to come together and share their talent.” Mr. DaRosa emceed the free community open-mic, which featured seven Island performers and was sponsored by the M.V. Youth Task Force’s Project Next.

There is a lot of competition for our youths’ time and attention, which makes hosting an open-mic on the Friday before Christmas gutsy, but also cooly therapeutic. A genuine family-like atmosphere of support for every brave performer prevailed, complemented by the velvet-draped stage and flickering candles, ubiquitous in any urban cabaret.

M.V. Youth Task Force and Project Next coordinator Tiffany Smalley spoke about the importance of the evening. “Project Next is really excited to partner with Alex’s Place for this special event,” Ms. Smalley said at the start of the evening. “This young-adult age group and everyone who comes out to support them make it a great evening of entertainment and community, serving as a strong alternative to a night out at the bar, or a date with Netflix.”

Tony Lombardi of Alex’s Place introduced DaRosa to the intimate audience as “the axis by which pretty much any of the good music on the Island revolves. He is a musician, a producer, a mentor … someone who brings together his own powerfully profound talent with others. His energy is endless, and all of us at Alex’s Place are really happy to have him here tonight.”

Mr. DaRosa bookended the night’s talent –– of which there was plenty. The performances touched upon each stone along the path of creativity, from just-learned songs to shower ballads, from cultivated voices to raw talent waiting for a bigger spotlight. Highlights of the evening included father and son duo Brian and Liam Weiland, who performed a beautifully haunting version of the holiday classic “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” on cello, guitar, and vocals, and Nate D’Angelo, whose stage presence and voice are akin to Brett Dennen and Phillip Phillips.

Project Next is an initiative of the M.V. Youth Task Force aimed at providing support to the Island’s 18- to 26-year-old age group. According to Ms. Smalley, this support comes “through a variety of programs and activities, including counseling, drug- and alcohol-free events, a mentorship program, and a social marketing campaign. Project Next seeks to engage and convene the Island community’s young-adult population in an effort to improve the opportunities and activities available for this age group.”

Alex’s Place at the YMCA is a dynamic teen-oriented community center, providing creative, educational, and socially relevant programing for the gap generation of millennials seeking meaningful engagement. Tony Lombardi introduced each performer as he would his own family –– a strong sense of community flows from the leadership of Mr. Lombardi and Laurel Redington, who energetically host open-mic the first and third Friday of every month, providing performance opportunities, cultural enrichment, and community for Island teens.

In one musical gem, Mr. DaRosa crooned out his folksy riff, “We both could live in a better way, we both could live with our hearts on fire.” It’s a thought to carry into the coming New Year, and a soft invitation to take every opportunity to encourage and participate in our Island’s creative youth community.

The next open-mic at Alex’s Place will be Friday, Jan. 16 at 8 pm. Every Community Open Stage performance is unique, and quite frequently hosts nationally, internationally, and locally renowned performers, with past performances ranging from a cappella to clean comedy, dance, poetry, short plays, and more. For more information, visit alexsplace.net and mvyouthtaskforce.org.