MOUNT VERNON — Every other Wednesday night, a number of guitarists of varying levels and abilities come out to Amato’s Woodfired Pizza for up to three hours of Open Mic Night music. They honor their favorite country and rock musicians by bringing their songs back to life.
Some Open Mic performers stand to play, while others sit on a tall bar chair in a corner of the horseshoe-shaped bar. They tap into a sound system provided by Ryan Otis Bandy, an Ariel Corp. assembler who makes Open Mic a side business throughout the region. He starts out playing a musical set of up to a half hour of songs to set his fellow performers at ease.
No matter how well one performs, those who do can rest assured that applause will be there to greet their efforts. Those who show up form a guitar playing community of sorts, with mutual support an important part of the evening.
One who often plays right after Bandy is Larry Daniels of Mount Vernon, who knows Bandy from their both working at Ariel. Daniels, a driver for the company, played for more than 20 minutes, one of his first songs being a nearly flawless version of “Runaway Train” by Soul Asylum. He ventured into modern hits even more with “The Reason,” a popular song by the group Hoobastank.
Daniels assessed his guitar ability level as in the intermediate range. “Sometimes they call it being a hobbyist,” he said. He has never taken guitar lessons, being self-taught, but has a top-rate guitar — a Taylor acoustic guitar — to make his sets glide right along. “I’ve been his groupie going on 39 years,” said his wife, Debbie.
Daniels has been playing on Open Mic Night at Amato’s since last fall. He ended his set with the great Van Morrison hit “Brown-Eyed Girl” and the Jimmy Buffett classic “Margaritaville,” with Bandy yelling an encouraging “Salt! Salt!” to the line of the song referencing a lost salt shaker. Bandy makes it a point to congratulate and encourage all Open Mic performers, giving Daniels a bit of advice which was to lean even closer in on the microphone.
“In all honesty, tonight was the most comfortable I’ve ever felt,” Daniels said of his musical set played May 8. And as far as overcoming nerves are concerned — a big part of performance success — he noted that even the great rock musician Sammy Hagar said no matter how many times he went on stage, the “butterflies” were still there. At least, they are when starting a show. A performer tends to ease more into his or her songs as the performance rolls along.
Following Daniels were two brothers from Mount Vernon — Skylar Rice, 16, on acoustic guitar, and Hayden Rice, 12, on bass. They were accompanied by their dad, Scott, himself a guitar player who said his older son has been playing since the age of 6. Skylar made his public debut five years ago at a bar in Delaware called Kintz’s and has been going strong ever since. On May 8, those listening marveled with comments reflecting surprise at how well a teen could sing and play songs showing real range, from Greenday’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” to “Hurt” by Johnny Cash. Another song Skylar took on was “Zombie” by the Cranberries, a challenge given the vocals required. He had no problems pulling it off.
“My sons are just real comfortable in settings like this because they’ve grown up around PAs (public address) systems, amplifiers, speakers, and everything you can think of,” Scott Rice said. The family moved to Mount Vernon two years ago from Westerville, and Scott had run a karaoke side business. Later in the night, he and his wife, Heidi, sang a few country songs — with Rice’s acoustic guitar featuring a yellow smiley face in its sound hole.
Another guitarist well received was Mary Miller of Utica, who, on a professional level, combines music with comedy and inspirational speaking to address audiences inside churches, as well as women’s groups and even assisted living crowds.
“I’ve been doing the comedy circuit forever,” she said, offering that she has worked with the comedic likes of Tim Allen and Jeff Foxworthy. Miller added that she learned of the Open Mic opportunity “from a friend of a friend.” She describes her comedy as gentle but witty, with nothing raunchy and free of expletives. It has to be so for the audience Miller caters to.
The music she sang for Open Mic was also on the sweet, melodic side of the guitarist spectrum, with one being a heart-felt rendition of “Red River Valley.” Miller, like other Open Mic performers at Amato’s on May 8, said she enjoyed the camaraderie among the performers — and, to help achieve Bandy’s objective for all performers, wants to come back and do it again.
The next Open Mic Night at Amato’s will be on May 22, and then every other Wednesday. By the end of the most recent Open Mic Night, a total of eight performers had played over the course of three hours.
Amato’s is the only current venue in Mount Vernon offering Open Mic Night after Sip’s in downtown Mount Vernon closed.