Ken Maiuri’s Clubland: In freewheeling Wednesday night events, Brew Practitioners’ mic is open to all

  • Riley Godleski plays at a recent Wednesday evening open mic at Brew Practitioners Brewery and Taproom in Florence. PHOTO COURTESY OF F. ALEX JOHNSON

Published: 5/18/2016 6:47:20 PM

I’d heard about the freewheeling Wednesday night open mic at the Brew Practitioners Brewery & Taproom in Florence. Since it’s not limited to music of any particular genre — or music at all — you never knew who’d walk in or what they’d do in their minutes at the microphone. 

Stand-up comics. A trumpet player sitting in and getting brassy. Performance artists. Members of local bands trying out new material. A local poet improvising over live music. Storytellers. Musicians in the spotlight playing bassoon, ukulele, flute.

The one constant since its start back in March is the host, guitarist/vocalist/songwriter and Colorway frontman F. Alex Johnson. He usually entertains the room for the first half-hour while participants trickle in, write their names on the sign-up sheet and become audience members until it’s their turn.

My first available chance to check out the open mic happened to land on the first day the thermometer sailed above the 80 degree mark. It was a dreamy summery sunny May evening, and the gorgeous short-sleeve weather caused a shortage of participants — the sign-up sheet was crisp, white and very blank.

Like any professional emcee, Johnson kept the slow night moving, playing lots of original material from his Colorway catalog, earlier solo work and even reaching back to songs he wrote while in his old band, the Drunk Stuntmen.

“Every Wednesday I head out the door prepared to play for three hours in case nobody shows up,” he told me a few days later.

One of the few attendees at the start of the night was a woman with a wedding dress slipped on over everyday clothes, her marshmallow-colored sneakers peeking out under the hemline. As Johnson began the open mic with his original song “Alfred’s Golden Rule,” she walked in circles, clapping on the 1 and 3.

I took in my surroundings. Built in 1865, it was a space originally used as one of the support buildings for the Florence Sewing Machine Factory. Hanging from the old industrial ceiling were new lighting fixtures tucked inside bird cages. Bits of Brew Practitioners’ design — the logo, the beer taps — were inspired by the periodic table of elements. 

On a shelf in the corner was a cribbage board, a set of jacks, a box of pick-up sticks, playing cards, stuff for if you want to stay a while. It was a relaxing place to hang out. 

Off to the side, a vintage wooden phone booth beckoned — it housed a bright red “Food Fone,” a special hotline direct to Starr’s Pizza across the street. Lift the receiver, order your grub, and soon enough a delivery person shows up with your pie or sub — or in my case, french fries, which were still crispy and piping hot.

Johnson had a looping pedal at his feet, enabling him to create his own bed of chords and then solo over them, helpful for showing off his serious guitar skills (and also filling some time on a light night such as this). On his Colorway song “Style of the Time,” he slowly built a solo into a torrential storm of notes for a thunderous climax — for a minute the taproom turned into a surging stadium, and the bar patrons clapped and hooted.

A regular named Rufus (Chaffee) sat in, or rather stood in, playing his washtub bass on a couple tunes, including Johnson’s old Stuntmen song “Heidi.” Amazingly the washtub at times sounded like a cello.

The woman in the wedding dress got up to play a song at the electronic piano — another regular, her name was Neverchange, as Johnson announced. With vibrato in her voice, she played “Golden Birthday,” an original song that included bits of others’ tunes. She had a combination of poise (making strong eye contact with the small crowd) and nervousness (stopping to laugh and reposition the sustain pedal, which kept sliding across the floor as she played). She explained that her clothing was a costume for a longer set she planned to play later in the evening.

Win Ridabock, a fantastic flautist, arrived mid-evening and joined Johnson for a real highlight of my two-hour visit, the Colorway song “A Temporary Occupation.” Ridabock improvised deftly among the shifting guitar chords, and the interplay was exciting and beautiful. Neverchange must have agreed; during the song, she raised her left hand as if to say, “Testify.”

Rufus reappeared an hour after he’d left; he’d forgotten one of his shoes.

About 15 people had taken seats in the main room, with 6 on the deck out back, the dusk in full dark bloom.

I found myself sitting in with local poet/professor Connolly Ryan for two unplanned songs — The Kinks’ “Animal Farm” (with the lyrics called up on our iPhones in front of us, just in case) and then The Beatles’ “Across the Universe,” sort of … Ryan improvised stream-of-consciousness spoken-word while I played the piano, trying to follow his muse.

At 8:45 p.m., members of the band Page Six arrived (Conor Dowling, Greg Eramo and Tom Sturm), carrying a conga and a bass guitar, and took patient seats at the bar until their time. The sun was down; the nightlife was picking up.



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