Luthiers Co-Op in Easthampton holds weekly open mics
Patrons hang out during open mic night Wednesday at Luthier's Co-Op in Easthampton. Purchase photo reprints »
Tony Denny, of Granby, performs Wednesday during the Luthier's Co-Op open mic night in Easthampton. Purchase photo reprints »
The audience listens during open mic night Wednesday Luthier's Co-Op in Eatshampton. Purchase photo reprints »
Sheryl Stanton, of Somers, Ct., performs during the Luthier's Co-Op open mic night Wednesday in Easthampton. Purchase photo reprints »
Sheryl Stanton, of Somers, Ct., performs during the Luthier's Co-Op open mic night Wednesday in Easthampton.
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Eddie Riel, of Easthampton, performs during the Luthier's Co-Op open mic night Wednesday in Easthampton.
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The audience applauds a performer Wednesday during open mic night Wednesday at Luthier's Co-Op in Easthampton. Purchase photo reprints »
Bruce King, of Easthampton, performs Wednesday during an open mic night at Luthier's Co-Op in Easthampton. Purchase photo reprints »
Steve Sacco, of Easthampton, performs Wednesday during open mic night at Luthier's Co-Op in Easthampton. Purchase photo reprints »
IT’S small — you could miss the storefront if you walk by at a steady clip. But if you step inside on a Tuesday or Wednesday night, you’ll find the place aglow with Christmas-style lights and glistening pint glasses. Every face in the joint will be swiveled in the direction of the most important person in the room: the performer.
Luthiers Co-Op, a guitar shop, was founded in 2004 by Dameron Midgett and Frank Lucchesi, and is now owned and run by Steven Baer, 33. The co-op started holding weekly open mic nights and concerts two years ago: There’s an open stage on Tuesdays and an open mic on Wednesdays.
By day, Luthiers deals in stringed instruments — it’s a place to buy a vintage guitar or get one fixed. By night, the Oriental-carpeted stage can be occupied by anyone with a stringed instrument and the willingness to share the song in their heart — or their loins: On a recent night, one of the musicians sang about “going down to Louisiana to get my mojo back.”
Baer, of Monson, is a guitar aficionado who plays reggae and afrobeat with his band, Quaboag Vibe. Baer said he had noticed a deficit of live music in Easthampton and wanted to open the Luthiers space up to a wider community of people. So two years ago he added a stage. There’s also a bar with beer and wine, all of which is from the Northeast. Local beers on tap include The People’s Pint (farmer’s brown ale), a Greenfield beer, or Steel Rail.
“We were doing evening functions like this open mic ... now, with the additional bar, there’s a lot of patrons that come out and listen.”
The unique quality of Baer’s arrangement makes for interesting afterhours, but it can also complicate his workaday life.
“At the end of the day, you can get a beer at 11 a.m. or you can get a pack of strings at 11 p.m.” Baear said. “They bleed into each other.”
At a recent open mic, musicians waiting to perform and their fans, about 20 altogether, sat in rows of chairs, at bar tables lit by tea lights that rest in brandy glasses and at the bar. As Missy Couchon filled drink orders, musicians passed around a sign-up sheet that featured 16 performance slots.
The room was pretty packed — 35 people filled the space (the official capacity of the shop is 38) — about 70 percent audience, 30 percent performers.
The host for each Wednesday night open mic is Metacomet Stage, formerly known as the Pioneer Arts Center of Easthampton (PACE). The organization is trying to build a performance space on the second floor of the Easthampton town hall, and collect donations for the cause.
It was clear from the start that the group in Luthiers that night was tight-knit. Everyone sat shoulder-to-shoulder in the rectangular room, which is lined with stringed instruments of every shape and size — electric guitars, violins, banjos and acoustic guitars. But what’s that displayed by the window? Is it a lute? A mandolin?
Posters of CBGB, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain adorn the space.
Despite Baer’s description of the audience as the “quiet listening crowd,” there was a fair amount of dialogue between the performers and the audience. The performers were introduced with jokey speeches that included little jabs, like: “One of the wonderful things about Mike is that he plays chords that don’t exist!”
When Mike took the stage he seemed to have trouble with his mic. “My microphone’s going limp,” he griped. “It happens with age,” an audience member countered, laughing.
Listeners treated onstage mishaps with respect and care for the performers. A few musicians forgot the words to their songs, and tried to start over only to find that they still couldn’t remember. When that happened an audience member or two might prompt the next line in the song, or suggest another song. Everyone seemed to know the full catalogue of each performer’s repertoire. And when things went smoothly, the listeners often joined in on the chorus.
That night the musicians played folk music — anything bluegrass or old-timey — with topics that ranged from the beauty of nature to sexual frustration to historical figures (Amelia Earhart and Lord Franklin) to familial discord. The audience was hushed, relaxed. Some quietly chatted while other performers looked over lyrics to prepare for their moments on stage. Most listened raptly, bobbing their heads.
One performer, Sheryl Stanton of Somers, Conn., has been playing her music at Luthiers for a year. A middle school principal in Ludlow by day, she often drives to the shop after work to perform. Stanton says she is excited about the larger audience that the bar has been pulling in lately.
“There’s just more people out enjoying the music, where before it just seemed like we were playing for each other,” she said. “Now we have a lot of fans that come out and watch.” She heard about Luthiers from her friend, Tony Denny who performed on that recent evening.
When he finished his set, Denny smiled under his mustache,and spoke earnestly into the mic.
“Well, needless to say I had a good time tonight. I always enjoy coming here and being among friends,” he said. “But most of all I like to sit back and listen to you play.”
Here’s the schedule: Tuesday is an open stage, a social evening that can get a little rowdy, Baer says. Wednesday is an open mic, a quiet listening crowd. On Thursday there’s an open stage as well as e_SSRq80s music videos projected onto the wall at the back of the stage. On Fridays and Saturdays, Baer books local bands that play mostly original music for donations and an opportunity to sell CDs. On those nights, he says, it’s standing room only.