I was supposed to go down to Kryptonite after work and review a show last Thursday (Jan. 6) night, but after training as a bartender at the Irish Rose for five hours and having made the worst tips of wait-staff history, I neither had enough to pay the $5 cover and buy a drink, nor the energy to walk all the way down State Street in the freezing snow. So, I bamboozled my co-bartender Christa to give me a ride to Marys Place for the open mic night.
Much like Cheers, everyone at Marys Place knows your name, especially on a Tuesday or Thursday open mic night. There really arent too many other pubs in the area that exude so much friendliness, yet the establishment isnt so friendly that everyones up in your face all the time. No pretentions, no funny drinks with umbrellas and sugar-rimmed glasses, just a bar, a stage, a couple pool tables and a few televisions always on mute.
As Christa and I slid up to the bar, we were greeted by Cozmic Donkey pickin grass on stage with an energy that I only see in casual surroundings like the open mic night.
Marys Place hosts one of the best open mics in the area. Its been running strong for a long time, and according to fecetious bartender Jack Kooistra, its been going for over 100 years. Thats probably not true, but it is true that Marys (opened in 1919) is the oldest bar in Rockford still functioning under the same name and trade. Some nights there are only five or six people in the audience, and other nights there are those same five or six plus about 25-50 more. And the best part is, no matter how loud people get, theyre all still listening because music is what the patrons come to hear.
This particular open mic night brought us Donkey throwing down some irreverent bluegrass, and obviously having a great time at it. Unfortunately, Cozmic Donkey doesnt seem to get the recognition it deserves. They should be playing somewhere every single weekend, and most bars in the area would pack a nice crowd if they booked these guys. Ive seen em quite a few times, but I think I prefer them loud and loose on the open mic because the energy is so much more focused on having a good time and enjoying the music than making a perfect performance. If they were a jazz quartet, Id probably have the exact opposite to say, but as theyre a swinging bluegrass/rock group that happens to play a few gypsy jazz pieces by Django, a little messing about is permissible.
The side door opened up at one point, and we saw Nick Lombardo, Matt Bethel, Marcella Petty and Chris Wojo march in purposefully with their equipment. Opening with The Cars Just What I Needed, these chums of mine almost made me fall off the bar stool in hysteria as I heard the classic song belted out with such sincerity, as Bethel made overdramatic hand gestures and vocal bends. They moved on to a spirited rendition of I Shot the Sherriff, which also had me giggling uncontrollably because Bethel can never just sing a song, he has to perform it as if every word were one of Alec Baldwins sketch lines on Saturday Night Live. Lombardo, on electric guitar, gets better every time I hear him play and has a great improvisational stylealways melodic and sensitive, while raw and rough when he needs to be. A novel amount of youth, wit and freshness exudes from these kids, even when they play pop covers.
On other nights, one might see Henry Hamberlin on the keys, Rick Zielhart sometimes steps up to play guitar, Steve Kelly from Cozmic Donkey is usually there, and Preacher is a frequenter of the Marys stage.
Marys Place, 602 N. Madison St., hosts open mic nights every Tuesday and Thursday, 9 p.m.-close. There is no cover. Info: www.marysplacebar.com.