Hearing the Best Live Music from a Church Pew: Open Mike Night at Godfrey Daniels

On my usual Sunday nights, especially when the cold seeps through the cracks of my dorm window, I curl up in bed with a mountain of blankets draped over me. My laptop perched high on top of the summit, headphones shoved delicately into my ears as 80’s romance movies play. But this particular Sunday was different. I found myself wandering down the streets of South Side Bethlehem, my feet carving a direct path onto 4th Street and into the quaint, Irish-esque, music bar Godfrey Daniels. The creaking of the heavy black door, a bell chiming, and faces of different musicians all turning to see the newcomer, a girl with flushed cheeks and an awe-struck expression. Various pictures dating back to the very beginning of the listening room cover the walls. Posters and articles highlight crowning achievements for the arts community in South Bethlehem. Dave Fry stood tall behind the register as he took the money from my outstretched hands, welcoming me to my first Open Mike Night. Open Mike Nights are completely staffed by volunteers, conveying the strength of the community this event has built over the years because everyone wants to pitch in, whether it’s helping with lights, sound, counter staff, or ushers. More importantly, the atmosphere created by these this select community of folk musicians stems from the welcoming nature of the volunteers and the quirky, yet colorful, room people play their guitars and warm up their vocal cords. It allows the audience and community members alike to watch history in the making through powerful and moving performances.

Walking further into the space making up all of Godfrey Daniels, church pews line the sides of the main room with guitars in their cases hanging off them, mirroring their owners who are fixed upright in anticipation for the night to finally begin. A chair stands upright on a stage placed on one side of the venue with three microphones angled to capture both the voice and notes strummed from the guitar in perfect harmony. I found myself seated in a church pew not too far from the stage itself, off to the left, with a performer’s guitar leaning up against my arm, practically begging me to stand up and put my name in the raffle. Instead, I resigned myself to crossing my legs, leaning back, becoming part of the setting around me as members of the community stood up and became their music. Each artist played two songs of their choice, many being originals or tributes to musicians from years past playing in that listening room.

One of the last community members playing that night started off by hitting the first few notes of one of my favorite songs, “Harvest Moon” by Neil Young.  The singer’s deep voice took the song an octave lower, exploring his own creative artistry while his foot tapped along to the beat and his head nodded along to the melody. Not only did this artist sing one of my favorite songs authentically, his ability to embody each lyric gave the song new insight and breathed life into it. Sitting in the crowd that night and watching the music vibrate the walls, making the room come to life, speaks to the artist’s incredible ability to control a setting with just their voice and a guitar.

Each time a community member sat down in the chair, strummed the guitar chords a few times before finally letting out a firm note starting the song, the music room would come to life with the new vibe brought by these musicians. Their ability to take the previous tone and craft it into something new, exciting, and a little more folk is one of the many reasons Open Mike Night on that Sunday evening will forever be a prominent memory in my mind. It’s the reason I was practically toppling over in my seat from leaning too far forward, wanting to hear every word sung and chord struck. All of these artists who allowed themselves to be in front of a crowd, singing out with vulnerability, are people a part of this incredible community Godfrey Daniels has created with events such as their award-winning Open Mike Night.

Leaving Godfrey Daniels that night after sitting in a church pew, surrounded by talented individuals and their instruments, was hard.  But knowing I’ll be trudging my way down 4th Street in the next few days, opening the heavy black door–not as a newcomer, but with the same wide eyes–and watching the listening room come to life again.  

Feature photo credit: Maya Stojkovich

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