I walked into Lefty’s last Wednesday and followed the musical advice coming from the stage. I knock, knock, knocked on wood, baby.
And bartender Mike Ziimerman bought me a pint and a menu.
But I didn’t need any luck, because I knew with Mary Buck singing and some great players backing her up, a killer musical night was already assured.
Mary has been hosting Open Mic nights at Lefty’s on Wednesdays for the past two and a half years with musicians coming from all over to join in the fun and jams.
On this night, a young lady on vacation from Pittsburgh bravely faced an unknown crowd. Starting out with an acoustic solo of 4 Non Blondes’ “Spaceman,” she then brought her father on stage to sing backing vocals on an original tune.
Those who know anything about music in clubs, know doing “originals” goes over about a well as yodeling. But Tori Plack and her dad held the crowd’s attention, garned some applause and then turned to the Beatles.
Local Mark “RUFUS” Bohler came up and accompanied them on bass for a melodious rendition of “Norweigan Wood.” He and drummer Jimmy Brannick served as the Open Mic rhythm section on this night.
Each player or band gets to sign up for a three-song set, Mary told me. "Show up and sign up, that's it," she said. Once the musicians are on stage, the crowd decides if they get an encore after their three songs, she added.
Buck supplies most of the equipment they need, including the sound system, amps and even an electronic drum kit that all squeeze in nicely in the corner of the bar area.
Mary also fills in the musical gaps when needed as do most of the other regulars. In the 20 years I’ve known her I’ve seen her play bass, guitar and drums as well as sing. All of which she did this night.
Mary is also the self-described hostess, cheerleader, and “band mom.”
“I first walked into this place when I moved here 25 years ago, and I said to my husband I want to musically own it.”
Today they pretty much do. In addition to the open mic, Mary and her guitarist husband, Jesse Frack, often play the room as a duo or with their band the Frazz.
But this night the featured guitarists were Rob Calabria who sat in with many of the performers adding supporting rhythm riffs and solos to their tunes.
Then there was Bill McCloud. I love the blues and so obviously does Bill. He sort of growls them out while his playing screams with a soulful precision that made me think of Stevie Ray or Johnny Winter.
McCloud stayed up to back the next performer, Nashville singer-songwriter Chuck Ehrmann. It never ceases to amaze me how some musicians, especially the really good ones, can meet each other for the first time and the next minute they are creating wonderous sounds.
“OK, it’s A,C,D then back to the bridge,” said Ehrmann to McCloud and they were off on a three song set including “Living on Tulsa Time,” Mary doing backing vocals on “I’m Just An Old Chunk of Coal” and yet another well-received original.
All the while “RUFUS” and Brannick kept the country beat strong and steady while McCloud picked out some sweet fills and solos.
So we had blues, country, originals, Beatles, what could be left?
How about some “Dead Flowers?”
Please allow me to introduce Steven Richards of Stone Clones backed by most of the night’s performers and the addition of keyboardist, Ellie Now.
As I headed to the door on this work night, the band was still jumping with Jack Flash. I knew I’d back again to see what would be on the musical menu next time.
Speaking of menus, Lefty’s has a great one: try the Grouper Reuben, and a well-stocked bar to satisfy your appetites other than the musical ones.
And if the bartender is AWOL at any time, look to the stage. Turns out Zimmerman is also a drummer.