Open Mic at Lizzie Rose Cultivates New Original Music

Feb 27, 2019
Photo by: Chris Seiz

As demonstrated Monday night, Feb. 11, at the Lizzie Rose Music Room in Tuckerton, an Open Mic Night represents different things to different people – training ground, playground, incubator for new talent and material. For bass-playing rock and blues maven Mary Buck of Barnegat, it’s about nurturing the musical community, sharing gifts with likeminded people, connecting with other musicians, encouraging and teaching each other.

The practice time keeps the seasoned player sharp and well-conditioned for her professional gigs – “you make decisions on the spot,” she said. She led her impromptu bandmates in a blues number followed by a fun mashup of “Bad Girl” and “Long Train” to satisfy a disco request.

For Jacob Smith of West Creek, it’s rehearsal and performance rolled into one, at once liberating and scary. It’s a platform for “breaking mental barriers” and making mistakes that only increase self-awareness and make an artist stronger, he explained. He got his start by playing at Mary Buck’s Wednesday night Open Mic Nights at Lefty’s Tavern. When he first started, he couldn’t sing at all, he said, but since then his voice has developed into buckwheat honey, dark and intense.

He and his band the Organic Sounds play locally at the Grapevine Restaurant and Mickey’s Port of Call Pub in Tuckerton, Cuisine on the Green in Little Egg Harbor and as part of Sahara Moon’s Sunshine Series at the Union Market at the Tuckerton Seaport. “I am not a cover band,” he said with emphasis. Though he has as many covers as originals in his arsenal, his driving goal is to have his art form heard and appreciated.

Monday night his funky, moody grooves got plenty of appreciation, and rightly so.

For 14-year-old piano player and singer Ryan King, an open mic is a chance to exhibit his original songwriting and get immediate feedback from a live crowd, a crucial part of growing as a performer. He played one of his original songs called “Different,” followed by “Taxicab” by 21 Pilots – “because I can’t write everything.”

For Denise Miller of Little Egg Harbor, it’s a showcase for her original folk songs, which have earned her recognition on the ballot for Grammy nominations in the American Roots category. As a For Your Consideration participant, she got to attend the 59th Grammy Awards ceremony in 2017, for which she is “humbled and proud.” The open mic allows her to share her inspirations and stories behind her songs and to announce new releases for her band, Denise Miller and Son.

Large collaborations may put six or more musicians on the stage together, calling themselves John Hastings and Friends – Barbara Lin and Melissa Fillman on backups, Mary Buck on bass, Jake Smith on guitar and Charlie Peters on drums – because, well, that’s what they are.

For every music lover in attendance, whether player or admirer, it’s an opportunity to witness the magic – the endearing moments of forgotten lyrics, unexpected chord changes, talented people putting themselves out there, the learning process taking place before the audience’s eyes. A well-rounded variety of genres and song selections moves the spirit, or even the body, in what little carpeted area for dancing will allow.

Don Brown, owner of the Greenhouse Café in Ship Bottom, drummer/guitarist and ardent supporter of local original music, organizes the monthly Open Mic at the Lizzie Rose, which has become a hotbed of live original music in the region. He provides dinner for everyone and facilitates the lineup in accordance with the signup sheet. For $5 admission, the value can’t be beat.

Brown sees open mics as a mutually beneficial proposition for performers and venues: “Owners and booking agents get to see and hear those participating for hiring possibilities and marketing purposes. Performers get to experiment musically with less ‘paid gig’ pressure, mix up the lineups and form new acts and also grab audio and video to use for their own promoting. Venues get to show their space and gear to the performers, to attract performers and their followers, who spend money on food, beverages and merchandise, and eyes and ears to market their location’s products and upcoming events.”

Brown and the Reicherts, Lou and Marsha, owners of both the Lizzie Rose and Village Bicycles, are longtime personal family friends. They originally developed and implemented the idea together three years ago, “tweaked it a bit along the way, and have been successful ever since with solid crowds and terrific feedback from all,” Brown explained. They hold it on the third Monday of each month, October to May, from 6:30 to 10 p.m., as local musicians and their fans are too busy making a living during the summer months.

The Greenhouse Café is an official sponsor of the Lizzie Rose Music Room and provides the emcee (Brown himself) and the dinner buffet. The Lizzie Rose provides volunteers to monitor the room, collect the entry fee, sell concessions, assist in promotion and run sound.

“The acoustics in here are amazing,” according to sound technician Rich Krents.

Open mics are also showcase opportunities, he continued, for kids and young adults or inexperienced acts to play in a professional venue and format, in front of their parents, teachers, and supporters of their musical goals and journey. Several have gone on to play at the Lizzie Rose and other venues.

“I personally do it for fun and friendship and to hear and support the fantastic talent and to promote the Greenhouse as well,” Brown said. “I get to throw together and run an amazing music jam in a beautiful room with state-of-the-art sound, feed my friends and guests, and share our talent and stories and news, and generally just have a great time. I treat it like my own home and living room.”

He does. Throughout the evening he’s here and there, arranging the stage, adjusting instruments, introducing and assisting musicians, filling in when needed, welcoming and generally fussing over everyone, making sure the participants and guests are all happy and cared for.

As a believer in nurturing the original music movement regionally, he also enthusiastically promotes other open mic events in the area: Jimmy Brogan’s Wednesday nights at the Grapevine and Thursday nights at the Tuckerton Beach Grille; Tuesday nights at Bill’s BBQ Shack in Bayvllle, run by Beachwood Music and the Shorty Long band; Paul Nelson and Barbara Lin’s Thursday nights at Joey Harrison’s River House (Richard Greene of PISCES media promotes both Bill’s and Joey’s); and Bobby Ruscas’ every other Saturday night at the Lamp Post Inn in Pine Beach.

Victoria Ford

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