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December 22, 2009 - Bill Ackerbauer
On Thursday, I had a rare but welcome opportunity to attend the weekly open mic night at Caffe Lena, the venerable coffeehouse in Saratoga Springs.
About a decade ago, when I was working at The Saratogian, I lived in a tiny studio apartment just up the street from Caffe Lena. This was a few years before I got married and became a parent, so it was much easier then to sneak out on a week night for a few hours of good music in good company. These days I only get out to Lena’s two or three times a year. Every time, I tell myself I should do it more often.
The open mic at Lena’s is like Mrs. Gump’s proverbial box of chocolates — you never know what you’re gonna get — but it’s guaranteed to offer a few pleasant surprises. Some highlights from Thursday night:
≤ Caffe Lena stalwarts such as Phil Drum, Willie the Moak and Maurizio gave strong performances of seasonal songs. (You can watch Phil's performance of "Christmas Eve Blues" on Youtube here.)
≤ a boy who looked to be about 8 years old sang the Steve Earle song “Billy Austin,” which relates the point of view of a man on death row. It was unsettling to hear something so dark and assertive from a youngster.
≤ a young woman who sang a marriage proposal to her girlfriend, accompanied by electric guitar and xylophone. An engagement ring was presented, the girlfriend said yes, and someone in the audience shouted, “Now, that’s a first!”
≤ James Frederick, who happens to be my neighbor in Johnstown, acted as host of the open mic. He balanced the holiday merriment of the occasion by wearing a black-and-gray “Evil Santa” hat that he made himself. Leader readers may recall we ran a story awhile ago about James' work documenting some of the songwriters who play at Lena's. You can read the story here.
James and I weren’t the only musicians from Fulton County to make an appearance. I was psyched to see Mike Gowans, who is well-known among the folks who have frequented open mic events in Gloversville for the past decade or so. Mike’s a massively talented singer and guitarist and a hell of a nice guy. I wish he would play out more often in our area. He rocked the joint with soulful covers of “Operator” by the Grateful Dead and “Man on the Moon” by R.E.M. I caught his performance of the second song on video:
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(The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan) Wandering Minstrel: Mike Gowans moseys through the snow on April Fool's Day in 2008.