Dec. 9 2010 12:00 AM

Wanderer's Teahouse attracts a diverse crew of performers


Thursday, Nov. 4, 8:05 p.m.: Wanderer’s Teahouse & Caf on Grand River Ave. is packed. About 50 people sit in their chairs, chatting away, many sipping on the small ceramic cups of hot aromatic tea. All are excited for the second performance night the caf will host.

“I used to do open-mic night all the time,“ says Doug Mains, the first performer of the night. “I’m home-grown here in Michigan and I grew up in this environment, so I’m a huge supporter of it.”

Although the 22-year-old performed solo at Wanderer’s, the musician usually plays with his band Doug Mains and the Cityfolk.

“We have folk roots, organic tunes with a modern city feel. After my senior year (of high school), which was about four or five years ago, I went to Illinois for a year to study music. It was good, but I don’t need it.

"When I came back to Michigan and became part of this band, I was so lucky because all of them had studied music at Michigan State University, so that combination of me being a free-spirited musician and them having had that knowledge was good.

“It was actually a few weeks ago that I met the owners; I wandered in here,” he adds.

Mains isn’t the only one who wandered into the teahouse for his first performance there.

Tania Hayward, from Lansing, says she’s always been interested in singing and writing poems. “Writing songs is like free therapy for me. I’ve been singing since I was little. This is my first time performing (at a Wanderer's performance night).”

Seated on the very first table in front of the stage, 82-year-old Frank Badalamente feels the Wanderer’s owners are “doing the right thing. There’s youth here.”

Sure enough, the majority of the performers were MSU students under 25. Badalamente was joined by other members of the Italian-American Club from Greater Lansing.

Korey Hurni might not sing, but he sure knows how to recite poetry. “It’s all about becoming intimate with the poem,” he says. A junior from Michigan State University, Hurni delivered a fiery reading as the audience sat in silence, eagerly listening.

Like Hurni who returned a second time, Sneha Grandhi was back with her unusual and mellow singing voice.

“I was born in India and when I was 8 or 9 years old, I became influenced by Southern Carnatic music,” she explains. “You know how here we have the do-re-mi. (Southern Indian Carnatic music) skips around. It really trains your voice to jump around and helps your voice fluctuate on command.”

Though she is majoring in genetics, Grandhi has a strong affiliation with the cello. “Last summer I lived in a co-op (Orion House) and they were all jamming one day with their guitars. They asked me to come join them. Most of my learning has been through jamming. I was comfortable enough to sing with them. That side (singing) couldn’t shut off. It moved me out of my hole and I was externally motivated.”

Although Grandhi performed at Wanderer’s last performance night, this is the first show at which all her friends were present to watch her and cheer her on.

“Before this none of them knew I sang,” she says.

Grandhi took the stage with Chris Salas, a friend and guitarist. “We were at my friend’s place and thought we should jam together,” Grandhi says “It was pretty brief, like 10 to 15 minutes.”

“We just kept playing and playing since it was all improvised. We listened to it, recorded it and later structured it,” Salas adds.

The variety of performances and the unusual musical styles of the young musicians impressed Badalamente. “The future Americans are here. There is music here that means something.”

Other performers for the night were Bret Self, Michael Raley and Anzar Abbas.

When asked whether she’ll perform here again, Grandhi replied, “Hell, yeah!”