Who knew that Monday night could be such fun? The weekend is over and the workweek has begun. Usually it’s a time to hunker in and wait for Friday, but not in Ewing. Every Monday at 7 p.m., musicians, poets, singers, and talented folks of all sorts are gathering at CookAppeal Cafe inside the Simply Natural Living health food shop on Parkway for an open mic night.
Not being the least bit talented myself, but always eager for good times and good entertainment, my friend and I wended our way past the Trenton airport to hear some music and poetry. We arrived for the first open mic night and were part of a small but very welcoming and friendly crowd. After some light snacks (a very modest contribution to cover the cost of food is requested), we settled in.
First up was a ragtime blues guitarist named Carl who had just gotten back into playing. He sang some old standards of this genre of blues from the Southeastern U.S., songs that have been handed down the generations from a time when radio and the Victrola were newfangled inventions. His mini-history lessons about ragtime stimulated a lively discussion of folk music in general. He also sang an original ditty, a hymn to natural eating called “Let Us Eat Lettuce,” that had us laughing and clapping along.
Also performing was Danielle, a local 17-year-old, who sang her own folk-rock compositions and who sounded like a young Judy Collins. Next was Richard, a very talented guitarist, who has also just picked up the instrument again after a number of years. He tried out an instrumental version of “Ave Maria” that left us open-mouthed. His covers of James Taylor and Paul Simon were the start of a muted sing-along as we all crooned softly with him.
Our hostess, Elizabeth Stelling, the chef-owner of CookAppeal Cafe, is a poet, from a long line of poets. She read some finished pieces as well as some works in progress. Her work ranged from the poignant to the pout-y, her poem “Kitchen Rant” being the result of a particularly hectic day behind the counter.
Stelling opened the cafe, which serves breakfast and lunch daily, earlier this year. The open mic tradition of her old stomping grounds of Austin is the catalyst for her Monday night gatherings. She is also a busy caterer and event planner. She works with the health food shop where the cafe is located, Simply Natural Living, to promote local producers and is forming a co-op with farmers in the area. Hailing originally from Dallas, Texas, Stelling has cooked all over the country and has developed a focus on global cuisine. She is also active with the regional Slow Food chapter. On Memorial Day “Chef E” grilled buffalo hot dogs and vegetarian and vegan alternatives, which were served with organic coffee, tea, and other beverages.
In addition to all this, the website, CookAppeal.com, has many listings for cooking classes that Elizabeth runs for kids as well as adults. The shop is also home to a gallery of sorts with works by local artists. Much of it is “found object art” and is striking in its originality.
The feel of the evening is low key. Conversation included talking about our experiences with music and art, giving the night the ambiance of friends gathered in someone’s living room. Encouragement was the name of the game and everyone performing felt comfortable stretching themselves. Cries of “play another one” or “read another poem” were common.
I’ll never complain about the start of the week again. Who knows, I may dust off some scribblings I call poems and bring them with me next time. The folks there would be kind. So bring the guitar, kazoo, or the start of your next novel and meet like-minded artists and art lovers down the road in Ewing.
Open Mic, Mondays, 7 p.m., CookAppeal Cafe at Simply Natural, 1400 Parkway Avenue, Ewing. For singers, songwriters, and spoken word. $3 admission/donation for refreshments. http://poetry.meetup.com/506 or 609-406-0818.