March 29, 2006
By Julia Marino
The Bunch of Grapes Room, the location for Wednesday night's Open Stage, should in fact be named the Bunch of Grapes "Womb." At least Open Stage host Bruce Dalzell thinks so. Tucked warmly beside the Front Room in Baker University Center, I felt immediately at home in the "womb" - the setting for a cozy bevy of musicians since 2002. It was here in the oak-paneled room in Baker that I met with Dalzell to talk Open Stage, Baker Nights and Athens music in general.
Hosted on Wednesday and Friday nights from 8 to 11:30 p.m., Open Stage gives musicians and spectators alike an opportunity to feel inspired and creative in a relaxed environment with regular performers such as Adam Torres, Chris Graham, Jake Householder and Brooke Williams gracing the stage. Dalzell, also known as "the Boss," said that the shows on Fridays, which is hosted in the Front Room, are often more packed and lively, while the Bunch of Grapes Room offers a safer atmosphere for new musicians or those looking for a laid-back ambience.
Open Stage was the first Baker Nights activity in Ohio University history and is Athens' longest-running open mic. Dalzell, who has been hosting open mic at various bars around Athens for 30 years, began hosting Baker Night's Open Stage Spring quarter of 1990. "It got tiring playing for drunks," he says. "It's nice to have fun without boozing it up. I get to meet a lot of people and create a situation where people learn."
Open Stage became such a success that at one point he was hosting musicians in the Front Room and the Corner Room of Baker at the same time. The back-and-forth movement became too much, and so began Open Stage on Wednesdays.
Well-known Athens musician Torres, an audio music production major, says he goes to the Wednesday Open Stage in the Bunch of Grapes Room almost every week.
"It's one of those things in the community that enables people to be creative and focus on something constructive," he says. "Dalzell's involvement and his commitment to Open Stage - that's one thing that fascinates me about it. He is definitely one of the secret gems of the area."
Dalzell is not only the host, but a regular performer as well. Two of his most notable numbers are "Lovers in a Dangerous Time" and "Over the Rainbow," cover songs that he delivers in a soothing voice. And he is no novice. Dalzell grew up in Athens and started playing music in the bars at the age of 16. Over the years, he has performed in town with his wife, Gay Dalzell, and in the 1980s he was part of The Kings of Hollywood, a band which enjoyed some regional success.
Dalzell, in fact, attributes the success of Open Stage to the increasingly "happening" local music. "Things in 1968 through '73 were great. It was a pretty lively scene with a lot of a lot of country rock music and traditional music being played," he says. "But for whatever reason, the '80s were a virtual wasteland?with only a couple venues in town that had live music." But eventually, he says "the pendulum swung back and now it's the most happening I've ever seen it with the most depth and the most fun."
Dalzell says Open Stage became "the springboard for people to get into music."
"When you are first learning to play, you can come out here in a relatively safe environment and it's a good place to audition for work," he says. Dalzell says he enjoys watching musicians transform from "shy and singing barely above a whisper to writing great songs and going out there." He encourages not only singer-songwriters, but even comedians, drummers and jugglers. "We like variety," he says.
Torres says that Open Stage is something that makes him "feel good about life in general." "It's really interesting to watch real people do their take on whatever is they want to do," he says. "It's more entertaining to me than alcohol, a house party or watching TV. It has some sort of meaning. It's just a different kind of outlet for people. Even if you're just studying or something, it's good for that, too."
Dalzell, who also has been involved in other Baker Nights activities opening for "I love art," and Athens Amplified, says that it will be hard to leave the Front Room and the Bunch of Grapes Room when it moves to the new student center, bus also is looking forward to hosting at the new building. "There will be a really nice P.A. system and they're planning to do a lot more music programming. It'll be hard to leave [old Baker]," he says, "but that happens.
"I'll probably take that booth with me," he jokes, referring to a table in the 'womb.'
"Playing music live is a good tradition," Torres says. "Everybody likes music, even if people think it is bad music. It's a good feeling to know people are playing music around town."
Julia Marino is a student writer with University Communications and Marketing.