On a quiet Wednesday night, days away from the weekend crush of people, groups of two and three make their way to Northern Soul on First Street. For many, it’s a welcome relief from the sports bars that line Washington Street. This Irish pub is a haven for locals, but it’s not just the charm of the Irish bartenders who draw them in – it’s the irresistible pull of something that is about to happen.
That something is the People’s Open Mic night at Northern Soul, now 10 years strong. Every Wednesday from 8 to 11 p.m., musicians and music lovers alike fill the bar for an unforgettable night of music. It is a testament to the power of the artists in the town and the dedication of a few who have worked so hard to make it a reality. The name behind the open mic night is none other than musician Dave Entwistle, who has taken the open mic night to several venues and levels in town and has now found a new home in the backstreet pub on First Street. Bar manager Ben Prior is pleased with reception of the open mic night. For several years, he’s watched the event grow. He calls Dave “a pillar of the artistic music community.”
Dave is also a member of the band The Fave, which should perhaps be seen as a likely conclusion to a meeting and a story that began over a decade ago. Dave was looking for places in town to play when he wandered into an open mic at the Rodeo Ristro Bar on Washington Street in 2002. It was there that he first met Dominick and Jamie Della Fave, two fellow Fave band members, who were then calling themselves “eugene.” That meeting proved to be serendipitous – for Dave and the countless other musicians who put their heart into their work and just want to have a place to play. “It’s a great stage for local artists,” said Dominick at a recent night at Northern Soul. “You have friendly ears for your music.”
On the night of 10 year anniversary party, there was a celebratory mood in the bar and many well-known faces in the Hoboken music scene packed the house. The event has grown over the years and shifted to a music based open mic. At Rodeo, the open mic night was initially under the guidance of Ivy Giacchino-Berrocal. It included writers, poets and comedians. Dave says that beat poets rarely perform anymore, but there still are some comedians who sign up. Ivy came to the anniversary party and sat near the stage – a fitting place for one of the original hosts. Her biggest surprise wasn’t that the event had continued but that time had passed quickly. “I’m not surprised because of Dave’s dedication and the musicians that are here. I’m shocked that time has gone by so fast,” said Ivy.
In a field that is primarily dominated by men, it is refreshing to see a woman come to the stage. One woman who has a significant amount of presence and popularity at the open mic nights is Jamie Della Fave. She holds her own in a room full of very talented people. She is popular of course as lead singer for the Fave, but her appeal to many is her single minded passion about live music. That passion burns fierce when she is performing, yet she remains humble and supportive of fellow musicians when they perform. “It is awesome to be around good friends and great to be around people who care about it,” Jamie said.
The musicians are all well-known to each other, some through personal relationships and of course professionally. Most nights, fans of locally well-known bands get to hear acoustic versions of songs and sometimes even new material that an artist is trying to work out. Dave Calamoneri, member of Davey and the Trainwreck, says that one of his songs, “The World Keeps Spinnin’” he wrote because of the open mic night. Dave’s fellow band mate Bill Hamilton also performed at the anniversary party. Dave and Bill are regulars at the open mic night and seasoned performers. The band recently recorded an album with soundman Chris “Gibby” Gibson, who also attended. The interconnections of the musicians are amazing to behold. A glance through the room shows at once past and future lineups of bands.
As the night went on, other notable performers played including members of Lloyd United, who always get the crowd going. And the crowd is appreciative of the musicians in the space. There is a discernible hush every time a new musician takes the stage- whether they are well-known or not. Dave says the space and the stage remind him a bit of the downstairs space at Rodeo. Before moving to Northern Soul, the open mic held court at the Goldhawk for four years until that venue was sold. Dave moved it to Maxwell’s after it closed where he kept it going about 8 months on a Monday night. But Monday nights in any town is a hard night to get people out. It was through Dave’s passion and commitment that he found yet another space at Northern Soul where it has been since. “I basically started the show from scratch again,” says Dave about Northern Soul. But soon enough, people came. As the event grew so did the need for a better set up. Now, the open mic night at the Soul has a stage for the performers. “There is a great following of regulars. A lot of bands have formed through here. Someone will need a guitarist or bassist and hear someone play,” he said.
Dave is amazed at the changes the years have brought, but is probably most pleased when the open mic night gets performers to “find their sea legs and get over their fear.” Over the years, you watch how a musician will grow, he says. “What I’ve always liked is seeing people start as novices and improve as the years go by,” he said. He is dedicated to musicians and feels a special affinity for the new guy. Dave runs a small studio in his apartment, tailored specifically to the new musician who might need a demo to get a gig. “I help out the little guy,” he said. “I found it frustrating starting out. You need a recording and are looking at $50 an hour at least. I will do what you could do at home, but I’ll help with the arrangement, or background vocals.” He is also the founder of the Hoboken Music Awards, which he runs with Stephen Bailey. He believes in the talent of local musicians – what better way to show that than at show run for and by talented locals? This year’s award ceremony will be held on Nov. 17 at Maxwell’s.
As an advocate for the arts, Dave works to get newcomers and seasoned performers to play on any given open mic night. Many nights, Dave will bump himself off of the lineup to ensure that others get to play. The night of the anniversary party was no exception. He talked several people into performing, including Gibby Gibson. While Gibby is known to many as the owner of Upstart Studios in Hoboken, but as he quipped to the crowd, he hasn’t played before a live audience in awhile. “It’s amazing that I didn’t throw up,” joked Gibby after a song. For those who have only seen Gibby behind a soundboard, you might have been pleased to hear his melodic voice and confident guitar licks. Having lived and worked in this town for so long made his dedication to Dave and Ivy all the more moving: “For 30 years, I’ve had a love affair with this town. It goes on and moves forward from one visionary to another. We have to support this always. You keep the music alive in Hoboken,” said Gibby.
The People’s Open Mic Night runs every Wednesday from 8 to 11 p.m. at Northern Soul in Hoboken. Photos courtesy of Dave Entwistle.