Celebrating Two Years At Higganum’s Own Soup and Song Open Mic Coffee House
When is a church not a church, but a funked-out night club with “groovy” lights, microphones and amps? When its Soup and Song Open Mic Coffee House (Soup and Song). For nearly two years now, Higganum United Methodist Church’s (HUMC) fellowship hall on 248 Saybrook Road, Higganum, has been transforming into a welcoming venue where musicians and folks of all ages can, meet, eat and tap their feet—-all free of charge. Soup and Song, a secular, intergenerational, and substance-free, audience-participation hot spot invites musicians, singers, poets and comedians to the stage as they celebrate their second anniversary on Saturday, April 5, from 6-9 p.m.
What’s the buzz about Soup and Song Open Mic Coffee House?
“Everyone’s welcome,” said Tanja Moriarty, one of the coordinators. “Whether you’re a performer or just looking for something really great to do on a Saturday night!”
Soup and Song Open Mic Coffee House was something HUMC agreed the community needed. “People need a comfortable and encouraging place to showcase their singing and instrumental talents,” said HUMC Pastor Joon Lee, a music enthusiast.
“How many times have people complained, “there’s nothing good to do around here”? Moriarty added. “At Soup and Song you can have a free home-made meal (soup) and get into great live music in a family-friendly atmosphere. HUMC has a great venue and the surrounding community is just bursting with talent!”
Since Soup and Song opened in April of 2012, its stage has been graced by elementary-aged children to senior citizens performers from Haddam, Higganum, Killingworth, Middletown, New Haven, Wallingford, Waterbury and New Haven. “We’ve even had some musical visitors (of local families) from as far away as Massachusetts, New York, and even Tennessee,” Moriarty said. “You just never know who is going to be there, but there is always incredible talent!”
The average number at Soup and Song nights ranges between 45-50, with about a dozen performers. Soup and Song’s biggest night so far was the Saturday after Thanksgiving in 2013. “We had 68 people in the house and over 15 acts! We had to limit the stage time for performers to fit them all in. Somehow we had enough food for everyone—with even a little bit of turkey soup left over,” Moriarty said, “A real ‘fishes and loaves’ thing!”
Rick Johnson of Higganum, supporter and performer says the appeal of Soup and Song for him and his wife Rene is that, “It’s a safe, preaching-free, alcohol/drug-free place where young and old alike can enjoy music, laughter and free food.”
Here’s the Scoop on Soup
When you come in to Soup and Song you’ll be greeted in dimly lit lounge-like atmosphere. If you plan to perform that evening, you’ll be asked to sign up on clipboard, and later be called to the stage area. You’ll be ushered to the soup station where a friendly server will ladle you one of several hot, homemade delicious soups or chili and a table of sandwiches and bread. You’ll notice a long buffet table laden with dozens of home-baked cookies, brownies, and cakes on which you are free to graze all evening. The food is provided by HUMC parishioners and friends. Coffee and hot chocolate is help-yourself-style in real mugs. Hot and cold soft-drinks, paper goods, are made possible by mini-grants by Middlesex United Way (link) and Healthy Communities-Healthy Kids Coalition of Youth and Family Services of Haddam-Killingworth (link), and private donors. Everything is free of charge, but people can make a free-will donation or bring a non-perishable food item for the local food pantry.
You will find a seat at a cozy card table facing the lighted stage area. Bowls fashioned from melted, old vinyl records holding gumdrops and tooth picks will be at hand if you feel like assembling them (think edible Tinker Toys). There are a cache of crayons for doodling on the paper covered tables.
“After people sign up on the clipboard they will be called to the stage,” explains Debbie Nixon, an H-K High School junior, who serves as an emcee. She and other local youth are earning community service credits towards their graduation requirements. “Each act performs at least once, usual two or three songs, or for about ten minutes.” Sometimes the whole house gets involved tapping on tom-toms, and shaking tambourines and maracas.
Whether you are a seasoned performer, or bravely making your way to the microphone for the first time, you will be taken care of by our in-house music man and professional musician, Andy Buzzi (www.facebook.com/andy.buzzi )“I accommodate people by maximizing their signal…whether it is their voice, a song, or their instrument. I have to make them audible.” Andy is adept on the spot at plugging in guitars or other electronics (some performers play music through their cell phones and Andy is able to channel through the sound system.). He adjusts mics and lighting between acts and at the house piano.
Over the past two years, some of Soup and Song’s repeat musicians have grown more comfortable on stage. “This is the place that I started on my journey” said middle-aged Rick Villarreal of Essex, a comedic parody artist. “It has given me the confidence that I needed to go further.” Shannon Burkle of Middletown has come to Soup and Song since it began, “I go because I’m sick of the shower being my only audience.”
Soup and Song has nurtured nine year old girl, Emma B. from Higganum, who keeps coming back with her electric guitar. Fourth grade clarinetists Madison and Ryan have stormed the stage. An H-K middle school rock band “Woodstock” under the management of H-K teacher Ginnie Greene has gained stage-time experience at Soup and Song. Now their drummer Dylan sometimes substitutes for Soup and Song’s phenomenal house drummer Jeff Nixon, of Higganum when he takes a break. “High school solo guitar and vocalist Armand has really grown polishing his originals and performing incredible ballads over the past two years,” Moriarty added. “He can make people well-up!”
Kirk Kehrley of Higganum is a long time supporter. “It is the only activity in town that tries to bring out the best in each of us. You do not judge each other but encourage each other in an atmosphere of mentorship.”
Speaking of mentorship, seasoned musicians encourage first time performers at Soup and Song to plug in and jam together during the second half of the night. “It’s amazing how Andy, Jeff and Rick (Johnson) call people to the stage—some who have only just met that evening—and with a quick directive from Andy like “play in the key of E,” they all start playing as though they’ve been playing together for years!” Moriarty said. “Suddenly the whole house is singing along and shaking tambourines to “Take it Easy” (by the Eagles), or “Hey Jude (by the Beatles).
“I have gotten “lost” in the music, both when performing and when listening,” said Rick Johnson, who plays a mean harmonica. “This is a great venue for exploring and experimentation because the audience is so supportive. New performers should not feel shy about getting up on “stage” because the audience will support you, no matter what.”
For more information on our second anniversary on April 5, please like us at Facebook page www.facebook.com/soupandsongcoffeehouse. Follow on Twitter https://twitter.com/openmiccoffeeH Watch this You Tube documentary of Soup and Song Open Mic Night made by H-K student Rachel Mainetti. https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=fb6e9eubrbo