On most evenings and weekends there are solo performers, duos or bands playing at numerous venues around town. Much of the time, these performers play cover versions of songs made popular by other artists, but once in a while they’ll play something maybe not quite so familiar - an original song of their own.
It’s not an easy task to come up with a melody that no one has played before, or lyrics that no one else has written. A group of local musicians have decided to bond together to support each other’s efforts to do just that. Two guitarists, a bass player and a singer/poet gathered in a former barber shop on a recent Thursday evening to sing and play and bounce ideas off each other. It was the January edition of what has come to be known as the Songwriters’ Circle.
“The Songwriters' Circle has been meeting once a month since last May,” said host Tim Nekritz. His home on West 5th Street formerly housed Swiatlowski’s Market and the barber shop, which was run by Clarence Buske until the early 1960’s. “It’s a nice space, and I thought it would be a great place to bring people together to make music,” he said.
On this evening, Nekritz was joined by friends Kenny Roffo, Bill Demott, and Kellen Bassette, who brought along his young son Osceola. As the friends set up their equipment and tuned their instruments, they chatted among themselves. One topic was the opening of a new music store in town opened recently by another local musician and songwriter.
Each talked a bit about their musical roots, and the paths they had taken to begin writing and performing their own songs. Kenny Roffo, a 28 year old software engineer, has been playing guitar for about half of his life. He brought along both acoustic and electric guitars, as well as a compact Positive Grid “Spark” amplifier. He doesn’t write lyrics, but develops his songs by recording them and posting them to YouTube. He plays them back, and reworks them over time. “I have one that’s just about complete that I’d like to play tonight,” he said, and began picking out an R&B influenced melody that he had developed. “I’m thinking I might play it at the next Open Mic Night” he said.
Kellen Bassette, who lives in Mexico, said that he’s been playing for most of his life as well. He plays solo, and also in a band called The Condescenders along with his sister. His musical roots are in classic country and folk music. He played his song “Where The Sky Is Always Blue”, of which he said, “I originally wrote this at my grandmother’s house about fifteen years ago, but I’ve been developing it over the years.” As his son played quietly nearby, Bassette sang and played this haunting song. The other musicians found the rhythm and gradually began to accompany him on guitar, bass and percussion.
Tim Nekritz’s musical journey was a bit different from the others. He played in bands with his twin brother Colin when he was younger, but had set music aside for many years. “I got back into it after I started going to the Sterling Cidery in Fair Haven, which hosts a number of area musicians who jam there on weekend afternoons,” he said. “I decided to bring my bass along one Sunday, and I was able to join in. I was hooked.”
Nekritz, whose day job is Director of News and Media at SUNY-Oswego, also teaches a course he developed on the origins of the blues. He has become a fairly prolific songwriter. “I probably have forty to fifty songs that I’ve written in the past few years. One of them, ‘Runaway Chicken Blues’, has kind of become a favorite when I play it at open mic nights. Other musicians who have heard it a few times will get up and join in. It’s a simple four-bars blues song, so it’s quite easy to pick up.” On this evening, he played a newer song he’s been working on, “(Another) Late Night Walk On Water Street.”
Bill Demott, an artist and poet, is also a professor at the college. He too began his musical journey by attending local Open Mics. He doesn’t play an instrument, so he starts with the lyrics, and develops a melody to fit what he wants the song to sound like. He sang “You Don’t Know Me Back,” a story-song that told of two musician friends; one has made it to the big-time, and the other has been left behind. The song is written from the second friend’s point of view. As they grow farther and farther apart, he laments that when they meet, “I know you, but you don’t know me back.”
He began the song accompanying himself on percussion, but the other musicians began to softly join in as they became familiar with the rhythm of the song.
Demott also read the group a poem he’d been working on, called “Figments.” It was inspired, he said, by watching as a couple of young people walked by with their heads buried in their cell phone screens. “As we progress through our lives we’ve had real challenges and experiences that we go through to form our memories. I find myself wondering what these kids’ future lives will be like, when all they have to remember are virtual experiences. Will their own lives just be figments of their imaginations?” He also said, “I don’t know if there’s a song in there, but we’ll see…”
The Songwriters Circle meets on the fourth Thursday each month. “We usually have five or six writers who come by, but there’s always room for more,” Nekritz said. He regularly attends and performs at the Open Mic Nights at Curtis Manor and Bridie Manor in Oswego, and can often be found at the Sterling Cidery on weekends in the summer. If anyone is interested in joining the Songwriters Circle, they can contact Tim on Facebook, or by email at [email protected].