When: July 5, 2019, 8 PM
What: 1st Friday Open Mic @ Nothing New Thrift Shop, $5 cover
Where: 4916 Arthur Kill Rd
Staten Island, New York 10309
Who: Hosted by Julia
Why: To grace a South Shore stage for the first time
How: Combination of Staten Island Railway & S78 bus
I love thrift stores. I love open mics. Put them together and it’s like giving a grilled cheese sandwich to someone who loves Wonder bread and Kraft singles. And if you’re the type of person who prefers to eat grilled cheese, while seated in an antique chair, then this is the venue for you; upon crossing the Nothing New threshold, I stumbled upon a to-be-continued-on-Saturday negotiation in progress, and as of Friday night the antique chair is going for $50.
My first observation was that this open mic is well-attended. I arrived at 8:30 and was #19 on the open mic list. The host, the wonderful Julia, said it’s been going three years strong. Crystal Tyler was on stage performing a poem about a “beautiful rainbow family,” while clad in black, killer high heel stiletto shoe-boots, and draped with a sign across the chest asking for a follow on IG. I don’t think many people were able to though, as internet reception is wonky at best because of the subterranean locale.
This place, which sells lots of interesting books, cannot be judged by its exterior: You walk into a seemingly typical thrift shop, full of lovely this ‘n that, and you’re like, Where’s the open mic? That’s when someone (the owner maybe?) tells you, “in the back, follow the striped wall.” Less than nine seconds later, you’re descending a staircase, flanked by beautiful artwork, and you wind up in a cavernous basement–surrounded by all sorts of chairs and rugs. (I swear I walked across a rug that looked like one that used to be in my Grandma’s house.)
The space is surprisingly huge, filled with a nice ambiance, and has an inviting, spacious stage; it’s a basement with tall ceilings, racks of vintage clothing, paintings, snacks, maracas and complimentary snacks. But on this night, no “dongle.” That’s some sort of thingamajig needed to connect a somethingorother to a whatchamacallit, so your musical track can play while you’re singing. Being dongle-less aside, host Julia was extremely supportive of and helpful to all who performed. Julia provided instrument tuning (free of charge) to those who needed it.
Some open mic’ers were very open and honest in admitting that what they were about to do might not be too good. Nick started off with a disclaimer: “I did this song a couple of months ago and it was really bad, so let’s try again. Regardless of how self-deprecating an open mic’ers intro was, Julia would shout from the wings, “Do it anyway!” And I’m glad Nick did it anyway, a great song by Billie Eilish (“idontwannabeyouanymore”); truthfully, he didn’t sound bad crooning lyrics like “If tears could be bottled, there’d be swimming pools filled by models.”
You’re not expected to be a model of performance perfection at Nothing New. This is a good open mic to experiment at, try out and work out new material. It’s an open mic to have fun at, as evidenced by two young sisters, Penelope and Violet, who got up and sang their little hearts out, while laughing and smiling through all the forgotten lyric parts. There was a heavy youth contingent in the audience, middle school and high school it seemed like, so I was somewhat conscious of what I would perform. Overall, the ages in the audience were as diverse as the snacks: pretzels, Oreos, chocolate chip cookies, Poland Spring water and apple juice.
For most of the show, it was rated general audience, but Unique (the mom who brought both her young daughters to the show) did drop a few F-bombs, while struggling to power through a cover of a Misfits song–a song that her daughter informed the audience about: “It’s about murder too!” Unique also did a duet with daughter, Penelope, and dad did a Green Day cover duet with Violet. This was the first open mic where I’ve seen so much family-based performance. I even overheard someone in the crowd ruminating on a Jackson Five reunion.
The youth who performed were deceptively talented–BIG voices in little bodies. Diana, who confessed to a fixation with the suffix “-ish,” belted out a soulful-ish tune–singing, “take me baby or leave me”–and almost seemed Janet Joplin-ish in her musical energy. She performed a duet with her friend, Sierra Rose, who let it be known that she was going through a “RENT phase.” Sierra sang two songs from the Broadway show–“Out Tonight” and “Over the Moon”–kicking off her flip-flops in the process; she concluded her one year anniversary of performing at Nothing New open mic by getting the crowd to moo out loud.
Andrew strummed his guitar while dreaming of L.A. and reminiscing on a schoolboy crush. Tiana (the one who needed the doogle) had some technical difficulties at first, but she returned to the stage with Cole to do a heartwarming duet. It was a night of duets. Even the host got in on the action, teaming up with her Led Zepplin t-shirted dad to cover “What’s Up” by 4 Non Blondes.
There was a lot of singing, but also some poetry. Stacy did a Alabama Abortion Ban Rage poem. When she said of women, “we are mouths that won’t shut up,” I thought of my fellow poet Lisa Throwback, who comes from “a long lone of talk back women.” Stacy received compliments on her “The Future Is Female” t-shirt, which complimented one of her most profound lines of the night: Maybe we direspect the Earth because she’s a woman.
Julia showed she was more than just a host, as she got on stage and covered some “patriotic” songs by the Pennsylvania-American songwriter, Diane Cluck. The songs were somber and folksy; one line in particular haunted me long after: founding fathers, I call you deadbeat dad.
Jared Michael sang two originals; the first about “same shit, different day,” the second about “safety,” in which he proclaims, “We’re no match because you’re a Gemini.” Emma showed some serious pipes on Amy Winehouse’s “I Told You I Was Trouble.” When she finished, Julie exclaimed “Who died and gave you that voice!” And speaking of voice, Alyssa was phenomenal. Covering Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You,” is fraught with peril for all but the most bad-ass singers, yet Alyssa did a very respectable rendition. Afterwards, a voice from the crowd wept, Yo dude, that made me fuckin cry.
Callie caught my attention with the line “my first lover was a murderer.” I tried Googling its origin but only got results of lovers of real-life murderers. Makus dedicated Frank Sinatra’s “I Did It My Way” to his uncle in the front row, whom he hadn’t seen since childhood.
My name got called around 10:45 pm and it was good to see some people still in the audience. “Thank you for staying to listen to #19 on the open mic list, I began, and then did a single poem and got out the way for Rickie Lee to close out the show.
How often do you go to an open mic and get to touch an authentic piece of testing equipment that’s associated with the moon landing’s lunar module? Rickie passed around this historical souvenir, and then launched into moon-themed jazz tunes on a tenor sax.
Closing Remarks from Host: Nothing New open mic is sponsored by public funding from a DCA grant from Staten Island Arts. Next show is August 2nd.