Live music is a glorious thing. There’s nothing quite like feeding off the energy of a crowd and hearing music in real time. The sweat on a performer’s forehead is a beautiful sight when you’re watching a singer give it their all on stage and the pain of elbows digging into your side is a welcomed feeling when you’re moving in a crowd of people that love the same music you do. Live music connects us, and it was taken from us amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. But on the SUNY New Paltz campus, it’s back.
On Nov. 12, the New Paltz Music Collective, a club that books music shows on campus, hosted their first event: an open mic night open to all. The event kicked off at 5 p.m., with willing performers getting the chance to write their or their group’s name down in the first 30 minutes. No genre or style of performer dominated the night, with students showcasing their, admittingly at times surprising, musical talent in songs from every genre (yes, even country!)
It was impressive how the Collective transformed a stale room in the SUB into a welcoming and hip venue for the musicians. When it came time for them to perform, the musicians stepped over speaker wires to stand in front of a tapestry and twinkling fairy lights. They basked in the glow of blue and red stage lights, which gave the open mic a dreamlike ambience.
The event operated under COVID restrictions, like the majority of the performers accomplishing the not so easy task of singing with a mask on, and people sat in socially distanced chairs. While mask wearing and spaced-out seating may be the “new normal,” for now, these differences didn’t take away from what was ultimately a special night that celebrated local artists in the student body.
Third-year journalism major Alli Dempsey, the President of the New Paltz Music Collective, served as the emcee for the event, graciously welcoming the performers up to the makeshift stage and inviting people to perform with kind words and enthusiasm. She also hosted the event, her first time doing anything of that nature, something you wouldn’t be able to tell by how seamless the night went. Dempsey also had the job of ensuring that COVID-19 protocols were in order so the event could go on in the first place. In addition to making sure the chairs were distanced, she advised all attendees to wear masks and made sure that no non-students attended, because they would have required a negative COVID-19 test to perform.
“It felt amazing to bring this club back after it had stopped because of COVID,” She told the Oracle. “So many new students that didn’t get to see the club in all of its pre-pandemic glory were shocked at how fun the event was. I was shocked as well, at all of the talent that has come to this school since COVID started. It was great to meet new musician friends and to see old faces come back.”
The crowd’s energy and excitement to experience a live show was palpable, and the turnout for the event was a full house, with audience members sitting on the floor when there were no more chairs available. Whether they were supporting a friend who was on stage or just there for the tunes, audience members were attentive and cheerful, clapping along to the rhythm of the music and swaying with their arms around one another. The event was based in communality, with each performer also supporting one another.
Third-year Miki DiFrietus told the audience before their rendition of “That Funny Feeling,” by Bo Burnham, “I just love getting to experience music here, with people like this.”
The musicians also frequently shouted out the Collective in gratitude for giving them a space to perform.
John Roy, a second-year and another member of the Collective, highlighted the importance shows like the open mic have in granting local artists exposure in their communities.
“I heard stories of what [the Collective] used to be, and it’s really cool to see it bouncing back and all coming together,” he said. “Tonight was great, it went well, there was a big turnout and I think everyone had a good time. People had fun and know what the music is now, because I think a lot of people who showed up post-pandemic, myself included, haven’t really gotten to know what the music is about, or even that it existed.”
Roy’s performances were a particular pleasure to watch, as he alternated between playing the trumpet and orchestrating his seven-person group of performers who called themselves a, “jazz quintet/sextet.” It was impressive watching him give them on the spot playing cues that created a spectacular and soulful jazz performance, which also featured one of my favorite moments of the night, second year student and co-lead vocalist in the band Crimson Crush, Jimmy Purr, scatting.
First-year student Grace Sottilo said, “It was so nice to hear free live music and everyone that performed was so talented. It was definitely a nice place to hang out with friends and super casual. It felt very unique to New Paltz’s energy and was the type of thing I came to school here for. I also thought it was a good opportunity for student artists to get their names out there. I hope they do more open mics!”
The show wasn’t without its quirks, like the occasional microphone feedback and it being sometimes difficult to understand the singing over instruments, but imperfections made this local music show even more charming, while not distracting from the talent being showcased.
The Music Collective’s open night was an all-around delightful celebration of music and the pockets of talent that are in New Paltz. Students didn’t have to leave campus to hear some spectacular live music, and that’s something we should all honor. Just as Dempsey told the crowd at one point of the show, “Support local music, because in New Paltz we have a lot of it, which I learned tonight. I’m so proud of the community we have.”