An interview with F. Alex Johnson

  • F. Alex Johnson runs an open mic Wednesdays at Brew Practitioners Brewery and Taproom in Florence. He starts each night off with a set of his own music. PHOTO COURTESY OF F. ALEX JOHNSON

Published: 5/18/2016 6:48:49 PM

Clubland caught up with F. Alex  Johnson a few days after the open mic for this interview.

 

Clubland: Did you pitch the open mic idea to Brew Practitioners, or did they come find you?

F. Alex Johnson: I was on vacation with my soon-to-be fiancé (I popped the question that week) and was trying to figure out how to keep my career in music moving forward both as a source of income as well as an inspiration to keep practicing and performing. I had hosted open mics in the past (The Baystate, World War II Club, Silent Cal's, etc.) and they were always great for not only showcasing the diverse talent we have here in the Valley, but also giving me a reason to “finish that damn song” or dive into a new cover I always wanted to learn. 

I had played [at Brew Practitioners] as a guest with Free Range Cats and knew the space would work really well and that the owners were definitely into keeping music/entertainment as part of their place. So I approached Tanzi (Cannon-Eckerle, co-owner with her husband Joe) and suggested it. She said she had been approached by a couple of people about possibly having an open mic but nobody had put forward a concrete plan. I won't say my plan was concrete but with two or three cups of Costa Rican coffee in me, I wrote up a quick proposal and she said, “Sure, let's give it a try.” That was four months ago and it's been going strong since March 9. 

Clubland: What’s the time limit for each performer?

Johnson: Depending on how full the list is (or gets) we’ve had people perform as long as 20 minutes at a stretch. Generally the “open mic golden rule” is 15 minutes or three songs. But some people only do one, or just read a story or, really, whatever they like. I think one of my favorite parts of this whole thing is that it hasn't been done before in this building and there really aren’t any rules. 

The only thing I ask is that people respect the equipment on stage and have a good attitude toward the night. The people who come to the open mic range pretty widely in age and proximity. It's not just a “downtown” thing like it had been at The Baystate. And with plenty of parking next door it makes it easy for out-of-towners to come and be part of it.  

Clubland: Could you share some examples of the diverse performers who’ve shown up at the open mic?

Johnson: One of my favorite performances happened a few weeks ago. It was a full night (I have a list with 10 slots, which usually is all we have time for after I play my half-hour set from 7 to 7:30) and a 20-something guy had added himself on as number 11. He sat through a couple of hours of music with a beat-up acoustic (no pickup) on his lap. At 10 p.m. I told him he could do “a couple of tunes” because I wanted to get everybody on who had signed up. This dude turned out to be Chris Freeman from Parsonsfield, one of the best singer/songwriters in the area. 

He brought me, Tanzi, and several of the patrons/performers to tears with his version of “Two Sisters,” a nearly 1,000-year-old traditional Scandinavian tune, as well as one other song that just killed. It was a high point in the ongoing series and made me so very happy I get the opportunity to hold it every week. 

Other performers who stand out are Connolly Ryan who, as our local bard of the yard, puts his unique spin on classic rock songs and occasional improvised prose with the house band (aka whoever is there). Adam Dunetz, owner of The Roost and The Green Bean, has played (and on a bone broth fast, no less). 

We had two comedians in one night (a record), a couple of storytellers, a rare appearance from Court Etiquette (a band consisting of the kids of Connolly Ryan, Johnny Memphis, Steve Westfield and Scott Brodeur). 

Bow Bow (Drunk Stuntmen’s J. Scott Brandon) and Mark Herschler have come by and put on an amazing set twice. We've had blues players, an unreal dobro player, a brother from a Southern mother — Ron from Bowling Green, Kentucky, who, sadly, had to move back below the Mason Dixon ... his originals will always be remembered. Tom Sturm plays a bunch and fills in when I am away. Our old friend Shawn Gunderson from the erstwhile Valley jam band, Yep! comes almost every week (he was our first performer ever) and always plays a few great tunes. 

— KEN MAIURI 




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