As the clock struck 8 p.m. on Nov. 17, 2017, Bruce Dalzell took a seat on the stage, strummed his guitar, introduced himself and welcomed the audience to Open Stage Night at The Front Room Coffee House.
With a guitar in hand, he began to play, covering Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart,” Bob Dylan’s “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” and “Times They Are A Changin’” and fan-favorite “The Stuff of Dreams (Darlene).” He also performed three original songs, “Riding on Train,” “What Have You Done to Me” and “I Cannot Look Away.”
Dalzell hosted Open Stage Night uptown in the bars for years. His experience and knowledge earned him the nickname “Patriarch of the Athens Music Scene.” When Front Room changed from a campus pub to a quaint coffee house, he was asked to bring Open Stage Night to the venue. He has been hosting the event weekly for the past 28 years.
“In 1989, the state raised the drinking age from 18 to 21,” he says. “So they changed it to a coffee house and had to do more coffee house-type programming, which was me. So we started doing Open Stage [here].”
Dalzell routinely arrived an hour early, wearing blue jeans and a black t-shirt, to prepare for the evening’s performances. First, he set up the sound equipment and adjusted the volume through his iPad.
Students, local residents and visitors gathered in the coffee house for a quieter alternative to the weekend festivities. Some came to cheer on friends who performed a set. Others listened to the live music as they worked diligently at their laptops while warm cups of coffee rested on the table.
“There seems to be a lot more depth in the range in variety of music that is played live here now than even 10 years ago, when it was pretty straight ahead rock ‘n‘ roll and then a few of us acoustic guys that nobody ever heard of,” Dalzell says.
Abby Short, a nursing student, covered Florence + The Machine’s “Cosmic Love” and Adele’s “Best for Last” and performed an original song. Sophomore Knox Morris covered Ed Sheeran’s hits, “Shape of You,” “Castle on the Hill” and “You Need Me, I Don’t Need You.” He also covered songs by artists such as One Direction, Fall Out Boy, Justin Bieber and Sam Hunt.
In addition to the musical acts, freshman Collin McGee performed magic tricks with audience involvement. Near the end of the night, Dalzell returned to the stage with his guitar to end the evening’s Open Stage Night.
As the clock ticked to 11:30 p.m., the stage lights turned off and the room grew quiet except for the sound of chairs moving as listeners departed for the evening.