A new era begins for the Mission

Showcase/open mic will spotlight up and coming artists

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Music at the Mission Showcase/Open mic
Saturday, Sept. 6
Doors open 7 p.m.
Showcase begins 7:30 p.m.
Sign up in person or online for open mic
$5 admission
West Milford Presbyterian Church Hall
1452 Union Valley Road, West Milford


Music at the Mission has been arguably the premiere music venue, not only in West Milford but the surrounding area as well, for a dozen years. With its professional sound system, dedicated and knowledgeable volunteers and a list of performers that would impress the most discriminating folk music fan, it’s no wonder people come from all around the tri-state area and beyond to watch a show or participate in a Mission open mic.

On Sept. 6, a new chapter begins as the Mission takes on a new format for its much-acclaimed monthly open mic. Each month, a few musicians will be chosen to participate in a showcase that will precede the open mic. They will come from the pool of people who participate in the open mics or are known to the volunteers. All will be on stage and perform in a round robin format for about 90 minutes.

Bernie Stapleton, a longtime Mission volunteer and board member, loves the idea. He has seen it before and thinks it will be a great opportunity for the showcase participants as well as the open mic performers.

“What a treat it will be to see these people in a 90-minute forum,” said Stapleton.

The Sept. 6 showcase/open mic will feature Marianne Osiel, Tony Penn and Kyle Hancharick. None are strangers to the Mission.

Hancharick, 23, of Warwick, N.Y., has been performing at the Mission since he was 13. He's opened for Jay Ungar and Molly Mason at two of their concerts at the Mission and said he’s thrilled to be included in the showcase.

“It’s the first time I’m doing a round robin format and I’m really looking forward to it,” said Hancharick.

He also recommends the Mission open mic to others who haven’t been there yet.

“It’s a great place. It’s a great sound system and people listen,” he said.

Open mic performers who stand out can indeed make their way into this pool and be featured in the showcase, Stapleton said.

Shaking things up

Stapleton and John Richards, the chairman of Mission Board, both said the group of volunteers and board members discussed ways to change things a bit. They admit attendance has been down at their concerts and the open mic, although the open mics consistently pull in about 20 performers each month, many not from the immediate area. They get musicians from throughout New Jersey, New York state and even New York City.

“It's not only locals who show up at the open mic," Stapleton said.

Still, getting people to come out and listen was getting more difficult.

“We are getting 20 artists but that's all that was showing up,” said Richards. “The idea with the open mic was to get people to come out and listen to the music.”

They're hoping the showcase/open mic will do just that. The cost of admission: $5 for a full night of excellent entertainment.

Concerts in the works

Music at the Mission also produced a monthly concert, attracting many of the best folk musicians in the business. Richard Shindell, Lucy Kaplansky, David Wilcox, Vance Gilbert, Dar Williams, The Kennedys, Steve Forbert and Marshall Crenshaw, to name a few, have all played on the Mission stage. But attendance at the concerts has been down over the past few years.

“Audiences dropped off, both for the concerts and the open mics,” said Stapleton. “There was a downturn for all types of entertainment.”

Instead of a concert each month, the Mission will now put on a few concerts each year.

“We are going to do a few concerts with better-known artists, more recognizable names,” said Richards.

Open to new things

The volunteers and board members have been brainstorming on ways to attract the larger audiences again. The showcase is one of those ideas. Another, according to Richards, is a junior open mic for kids 18 and younger, which will probably happen in December. This will give younger artists the opportunity to perform among their peers.

Sara Gallmann, co-founder of Music at the Mission and a current board member, said she is happy that the volunteers want to continue with The Mission.

“I’m happy that people are still interested in keeping the Mission going,” said Gallmann. “The open mic is almost like going to a concert. It’s a great listening room. I hope it continues to grow and prosper.”

The mission website is also revamped. One of the biggest enhancements is that open mic participants may now sign up ahead of time. Used to be you waited in line outside of the West Milford Presbyterian Church, where Mission events are held, long before the doors opened just to get a good time slot. For an additional $5, musicians can now do it ahead of time, online, easy.

And the Mission is open to suggestions. Richards said the volunteers want to hear from the public. After all, this is a community service being performed by the volunteers. Suggestions can be sent via the website, www.musicatthemission.org, or just talk to a volunteer at an event.

Quality music so close to home

Bringing quality live music to the area was the original goal of Gallmann and her husband, Matt, founders of Music at the Mission, back in 2002. After the first Mission concert in November of 2002, they introduced the open mic and it quickly became a hit. Many musicians who have appeared at the open mic have used it as a springboard for their own musical careers. And on Sept. 6, you can catch a few more rising stars.

Editor’s note: Kyle Hancharick is the son of West Milford Messenger editor Linda Smith Hancharick.

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