MORRIS – Paper snowflakes hung from the rafters, remnants of the recent holiday season. Chalkboards full of vibrant neon-colored children’s drawings line the right side of a room now packed with about 40 people. Ray Grossi stepped up to the microphone.
“Thanks for coming out to Open Mic Night," Grossi said. "If you’re just starting out this, it’s a nice intimate crowd to get you started.”
The dimly lit room contained cloth-covered tables topped with candles, a smattering of wooden and metal chairs and a couch on the left side. The stage was a concrete floor and behind that was a curving glass wall, giving the audience a view of the cars passing on Route 6.
Grossi and his wife, Rose, run The EXibit Finer Arts Center, a non-profit organization in Morris that supports local artists with galleries, classes and performance events such as Open Mic Night. Open Mic Night is held the first Friday of every month 7p.m. to 10p.m.
None of the musicians present were keen to be the first to perform, so Grossi and his brother Chris opened the show playing “Moon Shadow” by Cat Stevens. Next was guitarist and vocalist Kevin Elliot and then pianist and vocalist Tony DeBlois with a rendition of “Fly Me To The Moon” made popular by Frank Sinatra.
The performances and entire night had a light improvisational feel. Grossi sat behind the performers, adjusting sound and asking who wanted to go next between each song. Musicians ranging in age from 13 to 60 took their turn in the spotlight. Some were seasoned veterans, some had just learned how to play.
Brett Geiger of Morris attended with his daughter, Zoe, and her friend, Alaina Gates. He sang an original song called “Do You Wonder,” about a man deciding between staying in his hometown and traveling somewhere new.
Although most of the acts are musical, many authors and poets also present their work.
“One of the main reasons I come is to hear a veteran tell some of his short stories about his experiences in Vietnam,” Geiger said. “It’s really powerful stuff.”
The performances went on for over three hours, with many musicians being called back for an encore. There was Webbly Greens, a Morris band thats been performing together for seven years. There was Garek Perdomo, a drummer and the son of a self-defence instructor at the business next door. Zoe Geiger and Gates performed a duet on piano and ukulele.
“Open Mic Night was born out of two goals,” Grossi said, “We’re embracing the arts: music, short stories, poetry; and we’re giving people an opportunity to perform in a low-key, intimate venue.”
Grossi was inspired to create The Exibit by “Lonnie’s Art Gallery,” which operated in Morris for about a year. Once the gallery closed, Grossi and a few of his friends decided they wanted to keep the mission of providing space for area artists alive. The Exibit relies on donations from individuals and corporations. For more information and The Exibit’s calendar, visit https://www.exibit.org/