Cherry Street Restaurant & Bar’s banquet room sat eerily empty last Friday as a few Knox students rearranged tables and chairs in preparation for this year’s first Off Knox, an open mic for students, faculty, staff and the surrounding Galesburg community. Initially, the space seemed foreboding, with most of the room shadowed in a seedy, empty darkness while the very front shimmered in the golden glow of the much-sought lime-light.
“I hope this is a good night,” said Cherry Street owner Louella Devlin, her face subtly nervous and excited.
“We’re a new business,” she said, “so we need as much business as we can get. We’re trying to get the Knox kids back.”
Slowly, students trickled into Cherry Street, and that trickle quickly became a flood. Soon enough, the once nearly-vacant room was bursting at the seams with over 100 students sitting wherever possible—squatting on the floor in the front and back of the room, squashed against walls and even sitting high upon precariously swaying folding tables (one of which was later broken from the weight of several students).
“This is the biggest turnout ever [for Off Knox],” said Associate Professor of English Gina Franco, who serves as the faculty advisor for Off Knox.
Rather than ominous and foreboding, the dimly-lit hall suddenly took on a life of excited mystery, with chatter and laughter interspersing the multiple acts. The idea behind it all, said Franco, is “simplicity, spontaneity and invitation.”
All came to participate in what has become over the last six years a tradition amongst Knox students, this year organized by senior Annie Zak.
Off Knox has grown much since its coffee shop days, when it was able to fit its attendees in what is now called the Beanhive.
All in all, Off Knox lasted for over three hours.
Almost inarguably, the climax of the evening came when sophomore Jake Hawrylak led his five-piece band on stage. The set, already impressive due to its relatively complex orchestration, became simply astounding when, near the end of the song, several audience members rose and began singing along in perfect harmony, revealing themselves to be part of the band as well.
“First of all, it was a good song,” said Off Knox attendee and junior Hannah Benning. “Second of all, you didn’t expect all of these people to come out of the audience, and suddenly, you heard them and saw them.”
Yet on either side of this act, there were aural pleasures to be had.
Near the beginning of Off Knox, sophomore Hali Engleman took the stage with her acoustic guitar. Delicate and emotive, her skills on the instrument lulled the audience into a sort of quasi-daze, peaceful and serene.
On the flip side of things, near the end of Off Knox senior Ernie LoBue gave a hilarious reading, or rather deconstruction, of Phillip Larkin’s poem “Parents.” LoBue read the poem normally once—here relying on the curmudgeonly Larkin for humor. But then, LoBue read the poem backwards, rendering absurd lines like “up f-d were they but.”
But perhaps above all, it was the mosaic quality of the evening that made it enjoyable.
“I don’t think it’s in the individual performances, so much as it is in the variety of the performances,” Franco said.
And as for Cherry Street’s owner, at the end of the night, all she could do is smile.
“I feel like this bar is kind of like the ‘Cheers’ bar,” Devlin said. “This is Galesburg’s ‘Cheers’ bar—it’s where friends come to meet.”
Off Knox happens two to three times per term and usually varies the location of the event.
Note: Annie Zak works for The Knox Student.