Back in early 2001, my friend Sandy invited me to the Rodeo/Ristra as she was helping out with an open mic that was being started there. A small NJ-based art/theater magazine called Hipnosis was going to be running it in conjunction with the bar. It would be the successor to the previous weekly event that had run at the Liquid Lounge for years, until it closed down that week. That first night was a blast, starting with Eugene (my introduction to their music), filled with all sorts of participants, and trailing off with a rousing singalong of “Piano Man”. I was instantly hooked, and barely missed one for the next year or so. Even with my infrequent visits in recent times, I’ve still probably been to at least two-thirds of all of them.
The OpenMic has undergone several changes over those years. The split with Hipnosis, the departure of Open Mike, the rotation of MCs, and even policy and schedule changes. I now talk to people who are regulars, yet never even heard of Guy or knew that Joseph and Javier were the orignal bartenders those nights (that’s right, they used to open the bar downstairs, too). The featured band used to play first and that was it. Every night ended in some sort of jam or singalong. I even remember getting dinner there before OpenMics or ordering fries at the bar when I got hungry. People don’t realize that in the begining this was all we had. There was no Monochrome Mondays, Sundays were a goth night, and live music was just being thought of for Wednesdays. The times certainly have changed, and some of us have seen it all.
It’s been an odd feeling since Lisa and I left Hoboken. Almost a sense of estrangement from our old crowd. The Art & Music Fest was a good chance for us to reunite and realize how busy each others’ lives really have become. It was a perfectly cathartic event for all involved, and reminded us of what a big part of our lives this has been.
The reason I bring this up now is that a major shift is under way. The Ristra is changing itself once again, and this time there is no room for our scene. Ivy is wisely leaving, and will be reconvening all events in the back room of The Shannon Lounge. That means that tonight is the final night of the OpenMic at the Ristra. And while the scene will continue to survive as it shifts around town, there’s definitely a sad feeling about leaving a venue where I’ve spent so much of the last three and a half years of my life. A place where I’ve met so many friends… most importantly, where I met Lisa.
Nevertheless, life marches on. Lisa and I will probably be making an appearance tonight. 13 Hands is the featured act, and I can’t help but find something funny in that. You see, back in 2000 I wrote 2 CD reviews for Hipnosis before the relationship went sour. One was for Eugene’s Who’s Eugene?, and the other was for 13 Hands. I also only saw him perform once, at Hipnosis’s one and only show in Montclair, held in the high school’s ampitheather about 2 blocks from where we now live. Man are things really coming full circle.
Sunday is the big farewell, however. Starting at 3 in the afternoon, more than a dozen bands (including pretty much every band that’s been a major part of this Hoboken scene) will be saying goodbye. Lisa and I delayed our vacation plans a couple days so that we can be there. I’m looking forward to it all. I mean, it feels weird, but that’s not necessarily bad.