They call him the mayor of East Ridgewood Avenue.
He plays his music, strumming his guitar, to passerby on the street; both to the interesting people he meets in town and to his longtime friends and family.
However, his musical impact is not just subject to village folklore, like that of a certain town flutist.
Instead, Andrew Nieporent has built a strong musical base through his successful organization of the Open Mic Nights at the Ridgewood Coffee Company as well as his overall musical contribution to Ridgewood.
“I’ve given this town something and it’s given me so much more,” said Nieporent during an interview appropriately held at the newly-renovated Ridgewood Coffee Company.
Nieporent started playing the guitar when he was 13 years old and began his impromptu street performances toward the end of his high school years.
He found that his favorite aspect of music was “That moment, when you’re really feeling your songs in their entirety and you can feel that you’ve made a connection with your audience,” he said.
At Ramapo College, he hosted his own radio show where he played the music of local artists, became the president of a concert planning organization called RamaShows, and played Open Mic Nights at his school.
The college’s surrounding towns of Allendale and Oradell provided venues for Nieporent to showcase his music, granting him the opportunity to meet other local musicians. “I have gotten to learn a whole different side of the culture of Bergen County,” Nieporent said.
Before he graduated, the singer-songwriter was brought on by the Ridgewood Coffee Company to conduct its open mic nights.
Since Nieporent already knew fellow musicians from the Ridgewood and the Pascack Valley area, he was able to attract artists and audience members to his events using word of mouth for publicity, and occasionally creating Facebook events.
According to Nieporent, upwards of 40 people attend his Open Mic Nights on a good night, and the current average age of the performers is 20-21 years old, though Nieporent strongly encourages high school musicians to participate.
On July 11, at the first Open Mic Night since the Ridgewood Coffee Company’s reopening, veteran performer and local Ridgewood musician Katie Ortiz described the night as, “more of a workshop than a performance kind of a thing.”
The performers often use the nights as a means to test out material, she said. "They are great because it’s not only about performing, it’s about networking. You get to meet with musicians which leads to connections. You also get feedback.”
Nieporent noted the lack of social hierarchy at his events. Rather, audience members and artists come together and appreciate the diverse blend of performances, which he said ranges from indie to rap to soft folk to punk.
“We’re not prejudiced about music,” he said. “Music is always diverse. We’ve agreed more with a philosophy than what music we play. Open Mic is the idea that we’re all equal," he said, though he admits that realistically equality is not always achieved."
At the aforementioned premiere Open Mic Night, audience member and Wyckoff resident Alicina Memar said, “It’s a really interesting blend of music and timbres, and just excellent musicianship.”
As for Nieporent’s role as the undeclared mayor of the town’s most frequented street, it’s simply because Nieporent has became a valued resident and contributor to the village.
“It’s that I know everyone,” Nieporent said in a humbled fashion. “If I walk down this street, I’m bound to say hi to somebody. I have inside jokes, I shake hands with the bronze mailman, I’ve written songs about [East] Ridgewood Ave.”
If you walk through town, you may just be lucky enough to meet Nieporent yourself!
Or you can check out his Open Mic Nights every Monday from 7-9 p.m. at the Ridgewood Coffee Company. Artists interested in performing must sign up by 6:30 p.m.