(Published on A Gathering of the Tribes Magazine: https://www.tribes.org/web/2018/7/23/take-to-the-stage-a-review-of-the-ridgewood-coffee-company-open-mic)

I remember, vividly, my first performance at the Ridgewood Coffee Company Open Mic.

A summer evening, about six or seven years ago. I remember pacing outside, along the faded, orange brick of the cafe’s exterior; fingers tingling with the nerves of a performer on deck; replaying the track of Billy Gillman’s “Oklahoma” I was prepping myself to cover. The music from my iPhone mingled in the air with the humming and guitar-strumming from musicians around me, sounds native to a coffee shop like this: pulsating with artistic energy.

Despite my love for performance, the nerves I felt were numbing. But as my turn came, and I snaked my way through the crowd (ultra-packed for such a tiny shop), I felt that stress dissipate. The eyes from the audience, attentive to every performer, held little judgement – little expectation. I just felt welcome, and I sang with that welcome feeling of ease.

I found, pretty quickly, that this atmosphere of welcome is one distinctive to the RCC Open Mic, the establishment of which, MC Andrew Nieporent expresses, is one of the Open Mic’s most valued missions. “This [space],” Nieporent explains to me over coffee, after the conclusion of the most recent open mic, “is about expression of performance.” Its role is to encourage people, make them feel welcome, provide a medium on which all artists feel comfortable expressing themselves, often for the first time. And I can attest: that was my experience, to the T.

Historically, Ridgewood is a polestar for artists. It’s a town which, for many, serves as the Soho away from Soho, a center to which artists across all genres gravitate. The Open Mic, hosted at one of the village’s edgiest hole-in-the-wall coffee shops, the Ridgewood Coffee Company, was established in the spring of 2009. What first began as a collaboration between local music friends – kickstarted by former RCC owner’s children, Joe and Lori Wieczorek – evolved into a wildly popular open mic. Musicians and poets traveled from nearby (and not so nearby) towns to exhibit their talent on the RCC stage.

While, like most local jams, its experienced its lulls since its establishment, the RCC Open Mic remains a beloved venue for artistic performance and collaboration. From my perspective, as a regular that attends but doesn’t perform at every RCC Open Mic, this jam is a worthy Monday-evening destination for all. Even if you just come to listen, as I often do – you order a Graham Cracker coffee or peach tea from one of the friendly baristas; you sit back (if you manage to find a seat); and you listen, alongside a cafe jam-packed with other listeners, to local artists exhibit their art. And the positive vibes felt in that coffee shop; the thrill from performers as their names are called to the stage; the encouragement paid by the audience to every nervous artist; that feeling of welcome is, in my experience, unmatched.