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Musicians, music fans come out of their shells for Jam Night at Nautical Turtle Tavern


The words, sung by a female voice and carried along by electric guitars, organ and drums, drifted out of the Nautical Turtle Tavern, leaving a question hanging in the late-night air:

“And so I wake up in the morning

And I step outside

I take a deep breath and I get real high

And I scream from the top of my lungs —

What’s going on!...”

If one opened the tavern door at 107 Public Square to find the source of that voice on a recent Tuesday night, he would have passed the gleaming bar on the left with energetic and chatty bartender Todd D. “Big Daddy” Smith holding court, continued beyond the two televisions and the QuickDraw screen and eventually reached the rear of the establishment, just beyond the white surfboard hanging on the right. There, Watertown resident Beth Anne Hutchins was at the microphone in an approximately 15-by-20-foot area belting out her cover of the song, “What’s Up” by 4 Non Blondes, as the house band played behind her.

There, it became a little more obvious “what’s going on” as Ms. Hutchins’s audience gathered around the stage, offering encouragement and joining along in the chorus: “And I say, hey, yeah, yeaah ...”

It was open mic night, called Jam Night, at the Nautical Turtle.

The weekly event, which recently celebrated its one-year anniversary, has become wildly popular with local musicians and live-music fans.

“They always let me sing with them,” Ms. Hutchins said of the band after her performance, which at the end was greeted with applause and cheers from the approximately 50 people at the tavern. “They welcome other bands, other musicians here. I love it.”

“What’s Up” is a popular choice at Jam Night. A week after Ms. Hutchins sang the song, it also was the choice of Taylour L. Scanlin, Fort Drum liaison at Carthage Area Hospital.

Orchestrating the weekly event is keyboard player Eugene J. “Gino” Cappucetti, who also is a member of the local band Wagner’s Agenda.

“I pretty much direct everything,” said Mr. Cappucetti, a wiry fellow who plays his keyboards standing up, probably because he can’t seem to keep his legs, or the rest of his body, still.

Mr. Cappucetti is the cornerstone of the revolving-membership house band for Nautical Turtle’s Jam Night, which begins at 10 p.m. On this night, election night, he was joined by Paul Manfredi on drums, Anthony Ubriaco on vocals and guitar and Christian T. Schenk, a Fort Drum soldier, on bass.

“We get a nice mix of patrons and musicians, and it’s rarely ever boring,” said Spc. Schenk, a member of the 10th Mountain Division Band, during a break. “You never know who’s going to show up.”

“Here’s the deal,” Mr. Cappucetti said. “If you want to come up and play, maybe we know your tunes and maybe you don’t know ours. We figure out a middle ground and get you up.”

Mr. Cappucetti, a 2004 graduate of LaFargeville Central School, began his jam nights six years ago at the Depauville Hotel, which has no house band. He still hosts jams there on Thursdays.

“We have a lot of talented people around,” Mr. Cappucetti said. “A lot of diversity as well.”

He got the idea to create the Nautical Turtle Jam Night from Smokin’ Joe’s Blues Cafe, which previously occupied 107 Public Square.

“They always had the little open stage where you could walk in and jam,” Mr. Cappucetti said. “I learned to improvise with other players.”

The cafe had been closed for a few years when Watertown business partners Anthony M. Heaney and Daniel B. Fraser purchased the building and opened the Nautical Turtle last year.

“It’s done really well,” Mr. Fraser said of Jam Night. “I don’t think anyone has really done it around here. It brings a lot of musicians from Jefferson County together. There’s even musicians from around the country who have stopped in and said ‘Wow!’ We’ve got some really good musicians in the north country.”

Mr. Fraser said he got the name for his establishment after visiting a tavern in Florida named the Naughty Turtle. He considered using that name for his new place, but settled on Nautical Turtle instead.

Fort Drum Sgt. 1st Class David Cotti came to Jam Night on election night with some of his buddies, who, like him, are members of the 10th Mountain Division Band. Sgt. Cotti also leads a smaller band, the Space Banditos, made up of six soldiers. There are three horn players in that funk-heavy group who enjoyed a long jam session with the Nautical Turtle house band that night.

“It’s just a fun time — a fun venue,” Sgt. Cotti said. “It allows musicians to come out and stretch their legs, so to speak. It gives everybody a chance to collaborate with all the different musicians here in town.”

Justin C. Reynolds, one of the house band players who wasn’t performing this night, said he has seen guest performers get on stage with music selections ranging from folk to heavy metal.

“It’s always a surprise each week,” he said. “If somebody has a random song they wrote and want to play, give us the chords and we’ll follow right along.”

Music fans like Wayne J. Duprey of Watertown are appreciative of what Mr. Cappucetti and his bandmates have created at Nautical Turtle.

“What they’ve done for the area is something that hasn’t been done in decades,” Mr. Duprey said. “Musicians who have been playing for 20 or 30 years have been coming in and jamming out on a Tuesday night. What these guys have done for live music has been phenomenal. They brought it back.”

Another dedicated fan of Nautical Turtle’s jam night is Michael Hough, a native of England, who played drums in the progressive rock group Flash, formed by former Yes guitarist Peter Banks and vocalist Colin Carter in 1971. Mr. Hough, as part of other groups and touring shows, has toured extensively in England, Germany and the U.S. and is also a composer and former music instructor. He is now a part-time auto salesman. He often joins the Nautical Turtle house band on drums.

As for how he ended up in Watertown, “It’s a long story man,” he said. “I retired and had been living in Tennessee for the past 20 years. I was in the car business and played drums on the weekend.”

He said he moved to Watertown a few years ago.

“I like to hang out here, listen to the different people and maybe play a couple of songs,” Mr. Hough said. “The music is great. There’s a lot of talent up here in Watertown and the north country.”

And to see it at the Nautical Turtle, Mr. Smith, the bartender, said, is free. There’s no cover charge.

“It’s got a good vibe,” he said. “This summer, people loved it here. But nobody here is getting rich. There are lulls. But there’s always the promise that the next week is going to be better.”

the details
WHAT: Jam Night at the Nautical Turtle Tavern, 107 Public Square
WHAT IT IS: An open mic night for local musicians that is hosted by a house band. Musical styles range from folk to heavy metal.
WHEN: Starting about 10 p.m. on Tuesdays.
TO GET INVOLVED: Show up on Jam Night and meet the host band. The facilitator is keyboard player Eugene J. “Gino” Cappucetti.
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