By Colleen Goodhue
Here at Junction, we’ve slowly been repopulating our calendar page with virtual events. Or remote events. Or online events. Or at-home events. (I really want e-vents to catch on. Can we all just agree to call them e-vents?) But I’ve been skeptical about attending an event online. I love the clamor and chaos of a live event, of striking up a conversation with the person standing next to you. And yet, I wanted so badly to have Saturday night plans.
I decided to attend an open mic night online. It seemed like a low barrier of entry. I could participate, or just sit back and enjoy. 
So last Saturday night, my partner went out to pick up some take-out sushi and I got dressed as if I were going somewhere. I clicked a Zoom link, a gallery of faces appeared, and we were suddenly attending the Thetford Open Mic Night. Neighbors greeted each other across the open space. People figured out how to unmute themselves. Someone was cooking dinner.
The event was organized by Elisabeth Horan, a local poet, and Emily Zollo, Children’s Librarian at the Thetford Public Libraries. I spoke with Elisabeth before the event. She said that she and Emily became good friends years ago when she would bring her young children for story time at the library. When Elisabeth went back to school to study poetry, Emily supported her and acquired her book for the library. After that, the two collaborated on poetry events at the library.
When the social distancing measures went into effect, Elisabeth said that she felt helpless in isolation. “What can I do? What can I give? People are doing what they can do, whether it’s volunteering for the food shelf or making masks at home and doing what they can contribute. Poetry is the one thing I feel okay at and it's the thing I can do to bring people together.” She attended some poetry readings online and realized they could do something similar in Thetford.
Emily said that in normal times the library “is the community gathering place.” So she also wanted to find a way to bring people together when they couldn’t physically be in the same space. 
Elisabeth and Emily were curious to see what type of response they would get and a sign-up sheet quickly filled up to two hours of programming. At one point, there were at least 27 computers logged onto the event and I’d estimate about 50 people either performing or just watching. Emily noted that they would be thrilled if that many people showed up to an in-person library event.
As the event started, Elisabeth asked everyone for “a moment of silence for those who are suffering or sick or have lost someone.” Many of the performances that night were about loss and hope and beauty. People sang. They played instruments. They told stories. They read poems. A young man played a J.S. Bach violin piece that was “a great song to play by yourself.” One woman played “Lean on Me” on her guitar and asked the attendees to unmute themselves so they could sing along. Because of Zoom’s lag time, the choir was discordant, but it was quite touching to see the faces of families at home, singing along to the accompaniment. 
Emily later said, “I think the sound quality was beside the point. Getting to connect over the airwaves was really, really special.”
I loved watching the other audience members that night. At a normal open mic, it’s usually just the performer who can look out into the audience and see the slight smiles on peoples faces as they listen to them sing. 
A personal favorite act of the night was the premiere of The Bandits, a band of three young brothers. They performed a total bop of a song called “Good Girl” about their dog (She’s a good girl/never, ever, ever been bad!) and another about quarantine called “Pull Yourself Together.” I can’t help but hope that one day, far from now, when they're inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, they'll talk about how their first gig was over Zoom during a long ago historic moment in time. 
As the event was coming to an end, a woman piped in. She wasn’t on the sign-up sheet, but wanted to know if she could tell a story. I was snuggled up with my dog and my partner on my couch and we listened as she told a tall tale about a Thetford man and his encounter with Death. We listened to her warm voice and watched her, in her kitchen, in her home, as she casually washed eggs with a cloth towel. When she finished her story, some people unmuted themselves and started talking about this man, a local legend that they all seemed to know. 
Back in mid-March, as event after event was cancelled, it became clear that we’d have to shutter our calendar page, at least for a little while. I surprised myself by getting misty-eyed as I deleted March and April from the website. Our calendar list is usually long and diverse; there’s always great music and theater, nature and science programming, outdoor adventuring and bonfires, cooking and jigsaw puzzling, everything that makes this such a cool place to live. 
I worry every day about how our community will come back after this. Will we gather in the same places? Will we celebrate in the same ways? What will be different? 
I honestly did not expect much when I decided to attend a virtual open mic night, but as I watched the faces of the audience, some lit only by the glow of their computers, as they spent their evening listening to their talented neighbors, I remembered how social we are as a community and how much we love to do things together and want to share with one another.
I don’t think a virtual event can ever replace being together in person, but it was nice to see people trying to be together in any way they can. When it was her time to read, Emily read the poem “Lockdown,” recently written by a Capuchin Franciscan Brother Richard Hendrick. The last stanza stuck with me;
Open the windows of your soul
And though you may not be able
to touch across the empty square,
Sing.


Colleen Goodhue is a videomaker and writer living in West Lebanon, NH. She loves archives, long layovers, and all kinds of friendly competition.  She performs with Valley Improv, the Upper Valley’s best and only improv troupe. 
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