It was Peter Lehndorff’s first set at Best Video’s new Second Wednesday Open Mic.
“It’s my first time here, and I live in Hamden. And it’s my first time in Hamden,” he said.
Some confusion spread out through the audience before Lehndorff reported that he was from a town called Hampden in Massachusetts. The crowd of performers and patrons responded with laughter and welcomed their new “neighbor” — one example of the congenial tone and community fostered at the beloved video store turned cultural center on Wednesday evening.
The Second Wednesday Open Mic was the brainchild of Molly Capobianco, a Best Video employee who was thinking of ways “to get more people in the door” of the nonprofit Best Video Film and Cultural Center, which recently launched a successful appeal for new donations and memberships. The space continuously presents a variety of local and non-local musical acts, but wanted to try something new.
Hank Hoffman, Best Video’s programming director, hosted the evening, announcing the rules beforehand from the stage. Each performer would be allowed ten minutes or two songs, “whichever is shorter,” and also asked the performers to be respectful of one another. The second point proved to be a given for the evening.
Perhaps the best example was the first act, Ted Wayland of Meriden, who came to the stage with his pocket trumpet, and Lehndorff, whom he had met right before the show started. The two men had met, talked and jammed a little at one of the back tables and decided to join forces for Wayland’s set. They interacted sweetly with their bluesy tunes, seeming to enjoy each other as much as the audience enjoyed them together. (Wayland’s son Jonathan performed magic later in the evening in an extremely jovial manner.) Lehndorff’s solo set included his original songs about family and relationships, accompanied by his gentle guitar work and presented with a dry humor that elicited much laughter and applause.
Two comedians, Jake Nietopski and Giancarlo B., performed and were well received. A poet, Michael Sutton of New Haven, noted that it was his first time reading from his book The Nature of Poetry, since he mostly sang and played guitar at other such events. His soft, dramatic readings of pieces such as “Shooting Stars” and “Little Fox on the Side of the Road” captured the crowd’s attention and even got a couple wows.
Melody Vincent’s songs, accompanied by prerecorded musical tracks, had a similar theme to Sutton’s poems, including her original song “Green Leaves, Tall Stems.” Later on Carey Tharp — “a regular at Best Video,” Hoffman said with a smile as he introduced him — also performed a couple of pieces of his spoken word that focused on “bridging the gap between science and religion.”
Rob Nelson, who Hoffman announced had performed at Best Video previously with the band The Elegant Primates, gave the audience two songs, one of which he wrote specifically for this show. Stan Hershonik, a member of the Dudley Farm String Band, played his steel guitar and harmonica to a captivated audience, including a cover of “He Was a Friend of Mine” that he changed to “She was a Friend of Mine” after surveying the audience about who had lost loved ones in the past year. Alex McGuire started rounding out the evening with his guitar and harmony pedal that Hoffman joked he “coveted,” performing the original tune “Ernest Hemingway” from his EP The Sun From Both Sides and a cover of a Grizzly Bear song. McGuire also helped the next performer, his “good friend” Joe Stein, set up his electronic keyboard while joking with him. Stein offered the audience two covers, the jazz standard “Cry Me a River” and Elton John’s “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters.”
Once all of the performers had their turn, Hoffman offered everyone who remained an additional ten minutes of time. Vincent, McGuire, and Stein each offered more music, and Stein even introduced and brought up his fiancé to perform a duet with him on the piano at the space that Hoffman said “was just tuned today.” Wayland also performed more magic, much to the delight of the remaining audience.
Both Hoffman and Capobianco expressed how pleased they were with the apparent success of this first show as many of the performers lingered afterward to talk and laugh with each other, the tone set at the beginning of the evening still pulsing through the intimate room. Tharp perhaps expressed it best when he ended his set by wishing everyone “peace, love, and harmony.”
Best Video Film & Cultural Center’s Second Wednesday Open Mic starts at 7 p.m. Sign-up for slots hapens on a first come, first serve basis starting at 6:30. Musicians, poets, comedians, spoken word. Suggested donation at the door of $3-5 to support Best Video.