slice of life

This church holds the only open mic night in Syracuse that are on Mondays

Nalae White | Staff Photographer

The ROAD stands for Relational community that is Open to all levels of faith that Affirms love, and accepts everyone: no matter how Diverse

Walk into The ROAD on West Seneca Turnpike in Syracuse, and you immediately feel welcomed into the community. Wholely Grounds café welcomes visitors with “nourishing mind, body, and soul” written on the wall. It opens to a large tall room, with wooden panels tiling the floor creating a very simple, rustic atmosphere. Eclectic tables of all shapes and sizes are scattered around the room and people of all ages—from high school students to retirees—are sitting around watching a musician perform soft, acoustic music.

It’s Monday night at the church that defines itself as a “united Methodist new faith community” and people of all ages have gathered for their weekly open mic night.  The acoustic night occurs every Monday at 7 p.m., and sign-ups begin at 6 p.m. Around 10-15 performers show up each week, prepared to either play guitar and sing or perform spoken word.

Audience members can lounge on a couch, sit at a table and work on a jigsaw puzzle or play Scrabble as they relax and listen to the performances. Shelves of books line the side like a library, except they are on sale for an inexpensive price and the café offers sandwiches and coffee, along with pastries that you can order at anytime during the night.

The open mic nights began because the church was interested in the idea of offering events that may normally take place in a bar, such as open mic nights, trivia nights and painting events.

“We figured that offering an alternative to the bar scene might create a place of belonging for anyone who is under the age of 21, such as college age or younger, those who are not interested in a nosier scene, and even those who may not be able to be around alcohol,” said Erin Patrick, the church’s event coordinator and café manager.

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Nalae White | Staff Photographer

The event began in May 2015 with about six people on a Tuesday night. The Buzz Café held popular open mic nights — OMNs, as Patrick called them — on Mondays and they did not want to be competition. When the Buzz stopped its event, The ROAD decided to take over Monday night for open mic nights.

New faces appear at The ROAD each week to perform, along with familiar faces as well. The church has about 18 acts that often return, and some of them even travel a distance to perform.

to-us

That is exactly what The ROAD is all about: openness and inclusion. Its title stands for a “Relational community that is Open to all levels of faith that Affirms love, and accepts everyone: no matter how Diverse.” The organization is trying to tilt the perception of church in mainstream culture to make it feel welcoming to everyone.

The open mic night has been a huge component to The ROAD getting closer to reaching its goal and furthering its mission. The church only has one rule: Performers may offer any talent they possess, as long as it is not offensive to others. According to Patrick, this rule attracted first-timers because they knew that they wouldn’t be judged in any way.

“The night blends people of all levels of faith, and we say that because you can be on your own spiritual journey in any religion, together and offers the opportunity for questions and conversation of all kinds to occur in a comfortable space that becomes their own,” Patrick said.

Musicians use the open mic night as a space to perform their original material, while also performing their own versions of existing songs. Long-time open mic night attendee Cait Devin performed at The ROAD for the first time recently, and said she will definitely go back.

“It’s such a nice atmosphere with very welcoming musicians,” Devin said. “I saw a lot of great talent. I stayed and watched the whole time and it’s great to see people in the community express themselves, and The ROAD gives that opportunity to artists.”

Devin played guitar while singing her own original songs, and the audience was very receptive of the newcomer. Steve Pfanenstiel is a regular performer at The ROAD open mic nights, and about 15 months ago, the church asked him to be the host of the event. It’s the fact that the night is all about the music that has kept him around for so long.

“Many of the open mics are in bars slash pubs where it seems like the open mic performers have to compete with the ‘bar noise.’ I like the open mic setting at The ROAD. It’s a more relaxed, coffee house-type setting where you come to listen and appreciate the various performers,” said Pfanenstiel.

Ultimately, the open mic night’s purpose stems further than just artist’s attending to merely further than music career.

Said Patrick: “The event really is one of the best ways for people everywhere to connect to others through their passions, gifts, talents and conversation, while still being open and accepting those who may have completely different talents. But just come to enjoy the show or eat some great food.”

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