Erin Narey: Arts Inspire… Sing Away the Dark

Between daylight savings and the early onset of wintry weather (not to mention weeks without sunshine), shorter days seem to weigh heavily this year. It’s no wonder every culture in history, in every region of the world, has ritual responses to the earth’s annual tilt away from sun. Winter traditions often involve bonfires or candles to ward off the darkness, singing or music-making to call back the light, and gathering with friends and family for warmth, reflection, and celebration.

Regardless of religion, philosophy, or creed, for those of us in the northern hemisphere, the season of long, cold nights is upon us. But we don’t need the holidays to stand with our neighbors, raise our voices, and shine our little lights in the dark. We just need to tear ourselves away from Netflix once in a while, resist the urge to hibernate, and go where the people are.

This Friday, December 7th, marks the debut of Open Stage at the Cavern, a free weekly all-ages open mic night at the Grist Mill in St. Johnsbury’s Rec Fit building. Coordinated by local singer and drummer Pam McCann (of the funk rock group Decorative Fire) and guitarist and vocalist Derek Campbell (of psychedelic fusion band Electric Sorcery), Open Stage evolved from Open Mic St. Jay, a popular teen talent night founded over ten years ago by a coalition to prevent substance abuse (and formerly located in the Catamount Outback Artspace).

If the phrase “Open Mic” makes you think of a whip-thin hipster in skinny jeans warbling folk songs in a nearly empty café, feel free to join 2018 while there’s still time. Televised competitions like X Factor and The Voice have encouraged a new and diverse generation of aspiring musicians, comics, singers, and dancers. Video-sharing platforms like YouTube and Vimeo allow 24/7 access to tutorials, ideas, inspiration, and feedback. The Northeast Kingdom is rich with performing arts opportunities, whether you’re a student, an old pro, or simply a fan.

If you’ve been to any regional youth performances—school musicals, children’s theater, or this paper’s Rising Stars talent show—you know Northeast Kingdom kids have talent. Just look at Circus Smirkus, the Kingdom All-Stars, EPIC Music, or Poetry Out Loud. But it’s not just the kids. Their arts and music teachers are often working performers, playing guitar in multiple bands, dancing with a company on First Night, or acting onstage with the St. Johnsbury Players.

Our region enjoys a vibrant live music scene, as evidenced by PAMFest, Catamount Bluegrass Night, and the local bands that opened every Dog Mountain concert for the last two summers. We’ve got a wealth of poets and storytellers, a burgeoning population of stand-up comics, and a few circus arts aficionados as well. Thanks to a community that values the arts, there are opportunities for performers of all ages and abilities to join a choir, a dance troupe, or a touring vaudeville show.

But Open Stage is not a play, recital, or concert. There will be plenty of skilled, polished performances (a professional act will open and close the show each week), but that’s almost beside the point. Informal and intimate, Open Stage is an opportunity for your friends, your neighbors—for you—to share a single short performance, something individually chosen and earnestly prepared. Perhaps the boy who shovels your driveway has written a love song, or the woman from carpool plays flamenco guitar, or that dad from ice hockey is laugh-out-loud funny.

Like telling tall tales around a campfire or singing around the piano, Open Stage is as much about the gathering as the performing. It’s about showing up together in a warm welcoming place to share a story or a song or a smile of encouragement. It’s about resisting the urge to hunker down alone in front of our glowing screens, and choosing our friends and neighbors instead. It’s about each of us singing our own song, bringing our own light to the darkest days of the year, and assuring each other that it is enough. It’s plenty.

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