On the surface, all the nighttime action on Mamaroneck Avenue in White Plains seems to be taking place anywhere except Sam Ash Music Store. Diners dash into restaurants, some crushing out a final cigarette before a fine meal. Cinephiles head towards City Center to catch the latest flick. Folks rush to get everything, from a pizza at Mario’s Pizza to a piercing at Big Joe & Sons. This is also the street where the twenty-somethings are hangin’—flirting and engaging in romance and bromance. But there’s just one or two spots on this thoroughfare to hear live, original songs. And the most important is Sam Ash, a White Plains musical institution, where folks spry or sporting gray ponytails proffer their tunes. Some of these ditties belong on a national stage. Others clearly should be confined to the rooms in which they were written. Still, if this Wednesday night is any indication, the music may be of singer/songwriter, folky style, but the air is absolutely electric.
“We started these nights in the fall of 2012, and each one has been unique,” says Sales Manager Frank Clum. “Our songwriters are usually college-age, but we’ve also had older people and kids. There was this 9-year-old kid named Nate—just terrific. But I think he came because we give each songwriter a $10 gift certificate for store merchandise and he was saving up for a new guitar.”
Of course, not everyone is here for the perks. Take Dan Propper, a graying, soft-spoken teacher from New Rochelle. His tunes are witty and melodic, with a wonderfully absurdist quality. Introduced by Ash emcee/Technology Department Manager Sean Harty, Propper mentions that his first song concerns his arrest for stealing his own car.
“What’s it called?” someone yells from the audience.
“‘Stole My Own Car,’” Propper shoots back. Then, sitting on a stage, surrounded by amplifiers and a drum set, the middle-aged man begins a song that could’ve come from the pen of John Prine or Arlo Guthrie.
Next up is 50-ish Mike Jaqua, blond and wearing a collarless shirt and Earth Shoes. Although his songs are less structured than Propper’s, they have a sweet, outsider-art” quality to them. His “All I Got Is Lovin’ on My Mind” rambles, but engages, too, and garners solid applause from the audience.
“We cater to all levels of songwriting,” says Clum, between tunes. He suddenly perks up at the arrival of two long-haired men in their 20s, carrying guitars. “See these two guys?” he asks, rhetorically. “They always come together, and both are amazing. I haven’t found out their names yet—but I will. My feeling? It won’t be long until everybody knows them.”
INFO: Open Mic Night at Sam Ash (178 Mamaroneck Ave, White Plains 914-949-8448; samashmusic.com) is held every Wednesday from 7 to 8:30 pm.