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Ode to Uptown: How a Group of Friends Built a New Arts Scene on Their Side of the City
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It’s the fourth Thursday of the month and that means Uptown Crew is in the house. Technically speaking, it’s their clubhouse – the Crew’s monthly open mic takes place at Moore’s, aka Bill and Ruth’s, a funky bar located just to the west of the old Jersey City Medical Center. Owned by Bill and Ruth Moore for the last 42 years (Bill is now deceased), it’s a time capsule of Jersey City’s past, when these joints were a good place to mingle, say hi to the neighbors and unwind with a few cold beers or strong drinks. That’s still the case today.

On this night Uptown Crew Founder and Executive Director Trish Szymanski is directing traffic as the evening’s MC while her friend and comrade Neva Wartell spins R&B. Near the door there are tickets for raffles, super-cheap homemade food and CDs of headliner Sea of Otters for sale. Spirits were high because this was an extra special occasion: the two-year anniversary of the organization.

“Sometimes we have a great turnout, sometimes we have a small one,” says Wartell, Uptown Crew’s Associate Curator of Music and Culture. “But we have an unbroken record of having at least one new person each time either as an audience member or as a performer.”

There were several “newbies” on this night: B-Bark-A-Miss rapped along to backing beats on disc; Mark Hauptman, who lives down the street, played a loose solo version of Rollin’ and Tumblin’ on the harmonica; and Kurt Mattel played a couple of songs on dobro, including a nice version of the Stones’ You Got the Silver.

Readings were done by regulars like former social worker Carol Sue Barrett, who wrote and published a book called Tails [sic] of a Social Worker. Tawana Williams read two poems, one about the ritual of greasing one’s hair. Szymanski read a letter from a former slave to his former master, asking, among other things, for recompense for his years of work before he would consider coming back to work again.

Behind the mic or standing by the bar, Szymanski is a force of nature with a voice that can easily be heard as she works her way through the room talking with everyone. A serial networker and community activist, Szymanski came up with the idea of creating an organization in her part of town and the name Uptown Crew just flew out of her mouth one day when she was talking to a friend.

“She has a lot of experience doing a lot of different things,” Wartell says of Szymanski. “She’s a people person and she likes to network, connecting people with the arts, and arts with the people. She’s real good with connecting what people do with opportunities to do what they do. She’s also a whiz at public relations and publicity. She’s always working it.”

A resident of Jersey City since 1997, Szymanski moved to the McGinley Square neighborhood in 2005. As she settled in she realized a lot of the people she knew from the Downtown arts scene actually lived uptown near Journal Square, McGinley Square, Greenville, Bergen-Lafayette, non-Downtown Read More HereResized Image

Posted on: 2012/7/20 13:01

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