Behind the Mic

In the mid aughts Barry O’Reilly owned The Quays in Astoria and started an open mic that represented community in a budding neighborhood.  Many a magical and chaotic Thursday night was spent at 45-02 30th ave, and many a band or lifelong friendship formed.  We only spoke to a fraction of the people that were and are still a part of it.

Jamie Stellini

I attended my first open mic at the quays sometime in the fall of 2009. I was invited by Justin Finley, local promoter/rock star/impresario whom I had a crush on. My first experience was really intoxicating. Both literally and figuratively. It was revelatory to see this little scene blossoming right under my nose – like I was being let it on a secret. My first time playing the open mic, I probably played a couple of my own tunes – which ones I honestly don’t remember.  I attended the open mic on and off for about 2 years, I believe.  The community involved was really diverse, all ages, demographics and backgrounds – also very supportive and fiercely loyal to the idea of nurturing a music scene in Astoria. Also they were very, very, very drunk. Best night at the open mic is a toss-up between my first exposure to Gerald Donnelly doing the Star – Spangled Banner and getting to play for Shane McGowan and doing a shot with him after my set. My worst night? Memories are fuzzy but I probably wound up under a table at some point. Who hasn’t? Every open mic I’ve ever been a part of is part of who I am as a musician now. The Quays is no different. There’s something so liberating about performing and creating among your peers. Barry’s support of local artists and musicians is legendary. They should put up a statue of him in Astoria Park. Seriously.

 

Sean Wiggins

I don’t think I could possibly know anymore when I played my first open mic at the Quays.  I think it was some time in the summer of 2005 or 2006.  Wow. The first night I walked in, Gerald Donnelly was working.  Jimmy Artache and Gustavo Rodriguez (Silbin Sandovar) were there to play and run the open mic.  I wore a flannel jacket and a harmonica brace onto the stage and don’t think I got 10 seconds into my first song before a local bartender, there on his off-night, (Barry Power, whom I later lived with for a year) yelled “Dylan’s been doooone, man!” I attended the open mic for probably eight years and hosted for 3-4 years. The open mic’ers were, honestly, the most sincere, earnest people I’d met.  Even when we were playing other people’s songs We became inspired by and pushed each other.  A lot of musicians might have a favorite song that they think only they know, that they keep tucked away deep in their chest as their own personal store, and we’d play them for each other at 3:30 in the morning when everyone else had left. The Quays was just the central point from which all of the collective weirdness in the neighborhood could form and bond and be changed and engage the world. The best night?  Impossible.  Too many.  I’ll try some. The many nights Shane MacGowan came to town- and one in particular when he was still singing songs when I left at 2PM tomorrow.  We sang “It Takes A Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry,” and he told me he’d never liked that song before. I think a marching band came through one night?  The fact that I don’t know for sure speaks to how the whole thing was, generally There was a period where we weren’t allowed to use electricity because of the neighbors, and everyone would gather close, or stand at the end of the stage and project the best they could.  It wasn’t a thought that we’d stop playing. We wouldn’t have all met each other if it weren’t for Barry.  Barry made a decision that he was going to take care of the musicians and artists in the neighborhood.  There were plenty of nights where I’m sure he took a loss to make sure that the musicians were made to feel respected and valued.  He hosted us.  He ran tabs.  He gave us a home, and a place to go when we only had a dollar in our pocket.  Music videos were filmed at his place.  He sponsored albums, and helped connect us to real projects.  He always had an idea.  He believed in you.  He’d always walk behind you on open mic nights, and say “Lounge singers, maaaan.”  I’ve never met anyone more suited to his craft than Barry O’Reilly.

 

Beechers Fault

Some of my favorite nights with Beecher’s Fault have been shows at either the Quay’s or Irish Whiskey.  Gigs with Bad Buka and PremRock were among the top. However, some of the best nights come from  spontaneity. One of the more memorable nights for me was when a fellow musician and friend Sean Wiggins (Dirty Wings, bassist) invited me to see a local musician perform. I came out, had some drinks with Sean as we waited for the show to start. We were catching up and talking about how we wanted to get together and jam some time. 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 40 minutes passes and still no sign of the performer. At this point, Sean and I had several shots and beers when we look at each other and decide that this was our chance to jam. We turned to Barry, and quickly got the go ahead. I sat at the out-of-tune piano, Sean tuned a guitar to match the pianos tuning, and we played an hour or so of Bob Dylan covers.

 

 

Jimmy Artache

Ok… so I think I started running the open mic at The Quays sometime during 2005-2006. I had just moved back from Minneapolis and had started hosting the Open Mic at Dominies Hoek in LIC when Barry approached me about the Quays. I did both for a while but Dominies came to an end maybe a year into it. I went on to host the Quays open mic for like 7 years. Wow- something like that at least. I lost track at some point.  Between all this I had solo gigs , a few cover projects and a serious original band(little creatures) also was afforded a few amazing opportunities like all the recording I did with Shane MacGowan of the Pogues  which probably stands out as my greatest musical achievement. However my attraction to the Open Mic never really faltered throughout the years. Open Mic is a unique a different experience for everyone involved from the performers to the patrons and bar owners as well so I can only speak on my connection to it but open mics offer a special set of opportunities to perform and cut your teeth that wouldn’t exist otherwise. What kept my interest wasn’t watching seasoned musicians or comedians get up and wow everyone. It was watching and encouraging first time performers, those who had maybe put music on the side for a long time, or those who wouldn’t even consider themselves or aspire to be performers per se but want to experience what that level of naked, vulnerable expression feels like. I had the honor to watch so many people grow and find themselves threw music over the years and that was what drove me and brought real satisfaction.  Barry more than probably any other bar owner in the neighborhood has supported music from open mics to cover bands and daring original acts. He genuinely is supportive of the artistic community in Astoria and he’s shown that over the years even when it was financially unsound for him to do so. That’s something you would be hard sought to find in any other bar owner anywhere.

 

Joe Pepe

My first open mic had to be back in 2008, fell in love with it from the first night.  I had just met a bunch of people from the neighborhood right around that time, while playing with the band Illimanjaro. A few people there had seen me play, and encouraged me to jam with them that night. I could never say no to any performer, so I just became a built-in accompanying guitar player for any singer-songwriters that asked me to join them ever since. I still go now, occasionally! I’d say once every couple months I go, and play along with whomever wants me, just like in 2008. About once a year I can put my own set together, and sing a few. The vibe is and always has been a really good one. Miguel makes everyone feel like they are the only one in the room and you cannot, not like him, or feel a part of the movement with him around. BARRY IS THE SHIT! Barry lets musicians play so loud that his good-money spending customers get pissed and go to another bar were its quieter, the guy is a saint, and has always been a huge proponent of having live music in Astoria. Even if that means, squeezed in the corner of the bar right next to where the entrance to the bathroom is. That’s why I barely ever accept any money when I play there. It’s just about love. The money ain’t shit. If Barry gives me a warm hand-shake and a couple of ginger ales I’m good to go. I’ll play for him forever for free. It’s all about love with him.

 

Andrew Sydor

It’s so long ago; it’s hard to remember when I attended my first Quays. I think it was about six years ago. The first night I went there, I saw immediately it was a very different thing than Hell Gate Social. Where HGS was low-key and more mellow, Quays was rambunctious and crowded. It also seemed less structured, too; I swear the first guy I saw play there played eight songs. I don’t think I got on to play until past two am. As far as what music did I play, I play what can be described as folk rock: a lot of  Dylan, Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, etc. I’ve also written a fair number of songs, much in that same vein. The open mics show that variety, everything from my own folkie singer-songwriter stuff, to techno, to art rock. Hell, I’ve even seen step-dancing at the Quays. I remember borrowing someone’s guitar only to then break it. That was pretty bad. As far as best night, I’ve been doing this long enough that I’ve had a number of nights where everything seemed to click. It’s what keeps me coming back. Barry has been a great supporter of the Astoria music scene. Once he set up Olde Prague, he quickly set up an open Mic there as he had earlier set up the Quays open mic. When there was heat from ASCAP/BMI to demand fees from the open mics in Astoria (this caused the Quays to suspend their open Mic for some months) Barry made sure the OP/IWB continued.

Gustavo Rodriguez

I first started going to The Quays open mic about 2006/7. I was going to an open mic at Dominies Hoek in Long Island City not long before. Jimmy Artache ran/hosted both and he brought me into The Quays. Barry O’Reilly was and is the best. He was extremely generous and supportive of the local musicians and he and Jimmy changed my life with the doors they opened to me. I started playing in bands for the first time in my life and started showcasing my own songs for the first time in a real way, and most significantly the once in a lifetime opportunity to meet/work/collaborate with Shane MacGowan of The Pogues. I will always be thankful to them and my friends who came up with me at The Quays Open mic.

Sam Rasiotis

I was in awe of Gerald Donnelly, Jimmy Artache, Gustavo Rodriguez and their incredible songwriting and acoustic guitar playing. I went up, really cocky; played some punk song I’d had with my band and popped a string. I ran off in shame but kept returning and watching for 6 months to learn until I tried again. I’ve never stopped going to the open mic so I guess 12 years and counting. I hosted full time in 2016. About a year. The community – Great singer songwriters, friends neighbors, sincere friends. But too much drinking. Lots of people have legit drinking problems now. Drug addictions too. Best night? Too many to count but I guess when I played a song that everyone sang along to , or when it went till 6 am once when Jimmy Artache hosted it and we were all on stage singing Nirvana songs. Meeting such great performers early on made me want to up my game and write great songs. Later on I wanted to give back, create a welcoming space for the next wave of Astoria players. Barry has provided welcoming spaces to musicians to play and grow. And to play shows too. Also he pays musicians better than anyone I’ve known. Barry is an amazing patron of the local music scene. None of this would be possible without him.

 

John Keegan

I believe I attended the first Quays open mic. Sometime in 2006. My first experience was a little intimidating. I was a young singer songwriter, not 100% sure of myself, lacking confidence and experience. I was pretty nervous my first few times. I attended and still attend it pretty regularly when I can. Quays open mic is still up and running. I would describe the community as very open, friendly and nurturing. Most of the people I have encountered are outgoing, open-minded and very supportive. The best night was when we had a full back line and there were about 20 performers. It was the most rocking it has gotten. And we pushed it way past the usual 1am cutoff and went til about 3am. Open Mic has impacted me as a musician in many ways. First it allows me to hone my craft in front of a live audience, which in turn, makes me a better performer. It has also made an impact in such a way of allowing me to meet other talented, up and coming musicians and singer/Songwriters.  If it were not for Barry O’Reilly, our music scene/community would not be what it is today. When he was owner of the Quays, he was one of the only owners that would support local live original music, instead of playing it safe with cover bands or just not doing it at all.

He opened his doors to one of the first open mics in Astoria that I was aware of. Without Barry’s early and continued support I don’t know if I would be where I am today as a Local Astoria Musician

 

Miguel Hernandez

I think it was 2014/2015 at The Quays, Adam Steiner was hosting at the time and I was helping him out with his band, The Green Gallows who played there a lot. First night, I was a voyeur and I think I remember a lot of the same musicians that still play there now. I played open mic one and only once and it was an entertainment of a train wreck. Ended with my shirt off…I occasionally still host at The Quays & LIC BEER PROJECT, but now I curate a rotational cast of hosts. I hosted for maybe 3-4 months when I first started at The Quays and then turned it over to Kayla O’Keefe, who rocked it!  The community is the definition of community- friendly, supportive, eclectic. I remember one night at The Quays where only Virginia Marcs was the only one who showed and I split my hosting cash and she played a set to me and 4 other people, that was special. Worst night, was the night I played, LOL!  Barry is as supportive to local music as anyone has ever been in the community. The work opportunities he gave bands at The Quays in the old days, and now at Irish Whiskey Bar, has helped keep the heartbeat going of our local music scene.

*interviews have been edited and condensed.

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