A pianist plays inside Sam’s Pizzeria and Cafe in downtown Northampton. Andy Castillo photo

Last Saturday night after returning home from The Big Surf Dance, an indoor, 12-hour winter music fest supporting veterans transitioning into housing, at Hawks & Reed in Greenfield, I heard the sad news that Sam’s Pizzeria in Northampton was closing after 12 years of business. For me, the news was pretty stinging as I imagine it was for others, especially local musicians.

The Sam’s Pizzeria open mic night was one of the best and longest-running open mics in the Valley and took place every Friday night from 8 p.m. until midnight. Although I hadn’t been a regular open mic attendee at Sam’s in recent years, I really cherished the memories and friendships I made attending it. I started going when blues/jazz/country/folk singer-songwriter Eva Cappelli was hosting the night. When she left, others such as 12-string guitarist Burrie Jenkins took over the helm and kept it going with flying colors.

Chris Goudreau performing at Sam’s Pizzeria’s Friday night open mic on his 21st birthday in 2012.

Open mics are especially important for musicians to gain confidence in their songwriting or performance skills and getting to know other local artists on a personal basis. It’s downright inspiring at times. I can’t count the number of times that an amazing saxophonist, harpist, singer, or other performer just dropped by out of the blue and gave a jaw-dropping performance.

I started playing music when I was 17 years old and it didn’t take me long in my late teens to realize that open mics and venues that are open to booking non-established newcomer acts are really the lifeblood of any music scene. Now, a decade later at 27, I look around Northampton and don’t see as many venues that are open to booking non-established acts. The only other open mic night that I can think of in Northampton is the Tuesday night open mic at Bishop’s Lounge, but unlike Sam’s, that open mic is not all ages.

I shared a Daily Hampshire Gazette story about Sam’s closing on Facebook the night I learned the news. Here’s what some of my local musician friends had to say: former Northampton area singer-songwriter Katie Sachs, who now lives in North Carolina responded with “Why?!” Bishop’s Lounge open mic host Tobey LaRoche said, “Truly a big loss.”

And it wasn’t just local acts that loved Sam’s Pizza. When I interviewed Auyon Mukharji, a violinist, mandolinist, singer and songwriter for indie folk group Darlingside, this past fall I asked him what local Northampton spots he was looking forward to visiting. One of the places on the top of his list was Sam’s Pizza, where he had previously worked as a manager and had also played shows when Darlingside was starting out.

For those that aren’t as connected to the music side of things at Sam’s, the pizza shop/cafe also served as a space for local visual artists to display their work. On top of that, Sam’s was also just a really great late night food option. It was open well past midnight for any night owl that wandered through its doors.

Here’s hoping that other music venues will step up and fill the vacuum.

Chris Goudreau can be reached at cgoudreau@valleyadvocate.com.