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Not Just Talk: Storytelling 'Open Mic' at CSH Library

Sharing experiences, perceptions and journeys in song and talk.

Everybody has a story, and once in a while you actually get a chance to tell it.

Such was the case the evening of April 8 for Bill Frohlich who got to read a passage from his soon-to-be-published memoir to a small audience at the Cold Spring Harbor Library.

The Wheatley Heights resident was the first act to take the stage at a monthly open mic at the library on Harbor Road. He was followed more than a dozen other acts, most of which sang their stories because  open mics in general primarily attract singer/songwriters seeking exposure—though comedians, poets and writers are not unusual.

"It's really nice to be able to perform in front of people and see how people respond," Frohlich said, after spending about 10 minutes on stage reading from his memoir, "Chalk to Czechoslovakia: Long Island Stories."

Shortly after his reading, an open mic attendee approached Frohlich to congratulate him on a good performance and take special notice of his "great voice."

"I'm so happy people love my stories," said Frohlich. His book is a collection of 25 stories of his life to be published by Clearview Communications.

"I believe all people have stories to tell," he said, "It's just how you tell them [that determines if people want to listen or not.]"

The monthly event is hosted and organized by the Green Palate Experience, a Huntington-based online cultural magazine focused on "grapes, grains, brews and bites." It is an offshoot of canvas (lower case intended) Magazine, which ceased publication about a year ago after a three-year run.

The open mic takes place on the second Thursday of the month, typically attracting some 50 people, about half of whom are performers, according to Katie Wallace, a former canvas employee who helps out with the monthly event.

This night, the event attracted more than 30 people, and some attendees attributed the lower participation to the absence of regular host Joe Iadanza, a Roslyn singer/songwriter currently touring the Netherlands to promote his CD, "All in Good Time."

In attendance April 8 was Huntington luthier Scott MacDonald, a well-known figure in the local music and art scene. He says open mics give performers a chance to be whoever they want to be for the five or 10 minutes they own the stage.

MacDonald, who owns S. B. MacDonald Custom Instruments, is one of the open mic's sponsors. Other sponsors are Whole Foods Market, which donates light bites and beverages to the event; Cold Spring Harbor library, which makes the space available; North Shore Veterinary Hospital; Mary Carroll's Pub in Huntington; Huntington Bay Music, of Huntingon; and the Folk Music Society of Huntington.

Over the years MacDonald has hosted and organized countless cultural events around Huntington. The value of such events, he says, is to give people the opportunity to express themselves, or "let off steam" in front of an audience.

Sayville singer/songwriter Hank Stone was the featured act on Thursday. As such, he got a little more time on stage than the rest of the performers. An old pro at playing in front of audiences, Stone was nonplussed by some technical difficulties: His guitar pickup failed after one song, so he borrowed someone else's instrument. Then the sound was slightly distorted, so he finished a song and calmly walked over to the board to adjust it.

During his set, Stone pointed out he was wearing a pair of Toms Shoes, footwear made by a socially conscious company that donates a pair of shoes to children in underdeveloped countries for every pair it sells. The company had declared April 8 as a "One Day Without Shoes," asking people go about their lives barefoot for at least a few minutes to raise awareness of children who go without shoes day in, day out.

In that spirit, Stone kicked off his shoes and played the rest of the set barefoot.

Before taking the stage, Stone mused about the value of open mics. For budding singer/songwriters, he said, it's an opportunity to try out your songs in front of an audience. For more experienced performers, such as himself, Stone said open mics often lead to feature or paying gigs.

"You're never too old, too young, too left too right, too woman, too man for an open mic," he said. "It's for everybody.

And that's his story.

Becka Hasselbrook, of Merrick, took the stage early in the night. She chose to tell her stories – two original tunes -- sitting at a piano, though the New Jersey native also plays guitar and percussion.

She moved to Long Island from New York City for the express purpose of tapping into the island's rich acoustic music scene. Long Island, she said, is a hotbed of acoustic music, and she has been taking advantage of all the venues that welcome original acoustic music.

For Andrew Glass, the open mic is a chance to jam with a friend or two, who take the stage, plug in their guitars and play. On this night, Glass, who is the in-store educator for Whole Foods, also performed hosting duties.

Open mics, he said, are great for community building and to give someone a chance to show off their talents. "It's like show and tell in grade school. Everyone is sharing something."

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