Kevin Riordan: Players and listeners perk at Wide Open Mic night in South Jersey

On open-mike night at Barrington Coffee House, Jacob Graff sings "Levi," a song he wrote. "Open- mike has really taken on a life of its own," says the owner.
On open-mike night at Barrington Coffee House, Jacob Graff sings "Levi," a song he wrote. "Open- mike has really taken on a life of its own," says the owner. (LUIS FERNANDO RODRIGUEZ / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 22, 2012

A teacher, a retiree, and two lawyers who call themselves the Jersey Peaches swing into a version of "Summertime" as steamy as the weather.

A singer-songwriter/recovering addict/unemployed mason from Mount Ephraim is on deck with his guitar. So is a communications professional and blues guy called 3 Cat Clem; he'll jam with a tattooed preacher who blows a heavenly harmonica.

Welcome to Wide Open Mic night at the Barrington Coffee House, where strum and twang is on the menu every Thursday. Over the course of three hours, about 20 local performers make (mostly) original, acoustic music, for your listening pleasure, for free.

"There's an amazing amount of talent out there," says singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Scott "Trif" Trifeletti who owns the homey little joint on Clements Bridge Road. "We help performers develop."

Digital technology may make it easier to produce and distribute recordings, but musicians are eager to play in front of audiences, even if they are not paid.

Besides Barrington, South Jersey's lively open-mike circuit includes a dozen or more venues, including Coffee Works Roastery & Cafe, in Voorhees; Dr. Lou's Place, in Roebling; and the Bus Stop Music Cafe, in Pitman.

"Open-mike has really taken on a life of its own," says Trifeletti, 54, whose establishment also has hosted successful gigs by professionals such as Carsie Blanton and US Rails.

Nevertheless, shows like those may be discontinued. The coffeehouse struggles to draw a crowd most evenings; Wide Open Mic "is the only night" when the place is packed, Trifeletti says.

That's the case on a recent Thursday. Most of the players and listeners are boomers (my people!), but a handful of young musicians are in the house, too.

"I'm here to play guitar," says Jesse Riddle, 24, of Moorestown, who sports a pair of shades and a hipster fedora. A fan of open-mike nights, he calls Barrington a standout. "Ninety percent of the musicians," he says, "are top-notch."

Among them is Terry Rivel, 63. His lovely CD, Broken People, is one of several for sale at the coffeehouse, where he's referred to as a "resident legend."

"I consider this my home base," says Rivel, a retired home health aide who lives in Barrington. He has been making music since 1968 (sample song title: "High School Hippies").

Barrington "is like a musical incubator," says Kathy Lynch, a lawyer from Mount Laurel and one of the Jersey Peaches. "There's a lot of collaboration here."

Ron Ambrozak, 60, the singer-songwriter who's in recovery, specializes in "jazz-funk with real soulful lyrics." He says the coffeehouse attracts an open-minded audience.

The affable Trifeletti; his wife, Donna; and their daughter, Patricia, all work in the shop and help set the tone. Their friendly vibe is amplified by performers such as Arthur Herrmann, a Cherry Hill corporate counsel, who makes the Dobro shimmer, and Alex and Sue Pepiak, a married couple from Bellmawr, whose songs strut with life.

3 Cat Clem, born Rick Clemons, has been playing for 43 years and discovered Barrington a year ago. He, too, loves the collegiality of the place.

"There are so many different musical styles here," he says.

Edie Sky, a Collingswood keyboardist whose husband, Mark, handles the sound board for open-mike, says "people bring their own groove" to the evening. "Everybody brings something to the table."

Indeed. Clemons gets a train of riffs rolling, and Ronald "Doc" Dahlquist, the aforementioned tattooed preacher, leaps from his seat.

Dahlquist, 67, of Barrington, carries one of the 10 Hohner harmonicas he has brought along in a sleek little case.

He stakes out a place next to Clemons, puts the instrument to his lips, and unleashes a squall of sound that propels its boisterous boogie deep into the night.

Kevin Riordan:

To view video of Wide Open Mic night at Barrington Coffee House, go to

Contact Kevin Riordan

at 856-779-3845 or, or follow on Twitter @inqkriordan. Read the metro columnists'

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