Art, Music and Monday Night Fun: Welcome to Creative Corner!

Store-frontal view.

     It’s Monday night and I’m heading down Hempstead Avenue, Long Island, NY. I pull onto a side street, off to the side to stay out of the no parking zone. I notice the library to my right and the sushi bar up the corner. I turn onto the avenue and there’s a little shop — dismissible at first glance, but distinct with its sculptures, paintings, and instruments lining its window front. “Creative Corner” meets me in gold paint against a black board.

  I’ve been here a few times and chatted with owner Harry Baldino. I spent a summer here awhile back with friends in a band named Sticky Trigger. They played here months ago in a haze of beer, cigarettes, and guitar-backed laughter. On this evening I’m greeted by two women, Nichole Baldino and Mickey Byrne. They were helping the place open up as people of various ages began lining themselves in the midst of folding chairs for the ritualistic 9PM Open Mic.

Nichole, left. Mickey, right. 2017

“My father runs this place. We still don’t know why he opened it up,” said Baldino, with a lopsided smile. Harry and his family never seemed to be a ‘musical’ family. Yet, some of Nichole’s most vivid memories were growing up surrounded by various collections of songs, sounds, and LPs — an appreciation for music, art, and what they contribute to both an atmosphere and one’s personal growth.

     That seems to be what Creative Corner is about. I asked Byrne, one of the head art teachers about what this place means to the people who come here?  “Creative Corner is about cultivating one’s artistic potential in a friendly and encouraging environment,” said Byrnes, she made a point to mention a woman in her 90s who comes to practice watercolor painting.

She described one of the classes she has with elementary school-age students, where session by session they, together, decided what they’re going to create, practice, and learn for the day. “There’s a time and place for professional training, you know — honing your technique — but we try to make sure that our students are able to have the freedom to decide what they want to do today … to use their artistic creativity.”

Back hallway and storage. 2017

     Creative Corner offers instrumental sales and rentals, open mic nights, music & art lessons, alongside many other services. What makes Creative Corner such an extraordinary component of the community, besides its breathing life into Long Island musicians, is the flexibility it holds for the artists that pass through its walls. Bands are allowed to rent out instruments, practice, and, with some discussion, record on the premises. Shows can be hosted with accommodation, and if that’s a bit too complicated for your needs (maybe your two-person acoustic/harmonica duo just wants to get heard), Open Mic nights on Monday provide artists a chance to sign up on the spot and perform their hearts out. “We’re even trying to open up a coffee shop on the side … something small, you know. Something to help people relax while things go on,” said Ryan Closs with a smile — a professional lute player and one of the main music instructors at Creative Corner.

Julian Halikas
Julian Halikas is a Creative Corner employee and the front-man of Sticky Trigger.

So how did you find out about Creative Corner?

Julian Halikas: My friend Billy put on a show here; he was playing with his band in the basement and called me up and invited me to play with him … that was about two and half years ago, and since then my band’s been coming here to practice. We’ve put on a number of shows. Then I started working here.

What are some of the things Creative Corner offers to help cultivate artistic growth for people?

Entire freedom when it comes to art. It doesn’t matter what people want to do — they can come in and knit. It doesn’t have to be music, it doesn’t have to be painting … Our goal here is to give artists the leeway to act exactly how they want to in order to put out their best work.

It kind of reminds me of like … this word kept popping into my head — a safe space. What do artistic safe spaces do to keep artists creating for art’s sake?

 I think when artists see a place like this, it reassures them, because a lot of times they feel very lost. They don’t know how to promote [their art], or if people even care … I think when people find a place like this, … I thought, “Damn. This is a great spot for me. I can write here, I can play and put on shows here.”

Back corner of main room

How many bands usually roll through here?

One band permanently rents the basement … I’ve been trying to bring bands in. We’re trying to promote it a little more, because its weakness is that a lot of people don’t know about this place. We have about 6 or 7 bands coming in a week, 2 or 3 hour practices or so.

Describe the Long Island music scene for us in your own words.

 I think that the LI music scene used to be great, but … [now] it’s pretty sectioned and segregated. A lot of hardcore and pop-punk bands get fame … nothing’s recognized outside of that. If you listen in right now, we have the funk-jam band in the basement, you know? We have folk, we have soft acoustic on right now … I don’t see that diversity in the scene any longer. I think if a band wanted to play at Amityville Music Hall and they were an old blues band they wouldn’t get booked because it wouldn’t draw the crowds …

Because that’s not what sells.

 I think Long Island’s the only place where that preference is so big. Other places, people prefer the blues, prefer [diversity].

That was one of the things I really loved about Creative Corner when I used to come here … The different types of sounds, the diversity of people both from here and passing through. Whether they were super talented or just wanted to sit there with their guitar and sing out their song. There are some real gems here.

Most places are not gonna book bands if they can’t promise 20–25 people. For local bands, you can only rely on your friends so much right? *laughter* And it’s so hard to get out there when you don’t have the places that’ll host you in the first place.

Any music recommendations? 

Absolutely, man. Look, if you haven’t listened to Frank Turner, get on that. Gaslight Anthem — get on that — Blitz and Trapper … that southern sound but this funky thing going on, it’s weird. Tons of weird stuff.

Basement front view

 After our conversation, I was led by Halikas past the Open Mic session to see the band that was practicing downstairs. Creative Corner’s basement has been known as a jack-of-all-trades for independent musicians. As the hub of much creative output, various artists have utilized the space for practice, recording, and showcasing their latest covers and creations.

Unknown guitarist, left. Matt drumming, right.

     I’m greeted by Matt Maloney and a few of his band mates, a group comprising the funk jam-band currently renting out the basement for themselves and other artists to utilize. Maloney mainly plays with his band Arnold On Mars (a name-pun on the movie “Total Recall”) and on his off-time helps front another band Fearless. He’s been a regular at Creative Corner for two-and-a-half-years, where he and his band mates have been recording, writing, rehearsing, and helping Baldino and his family run the mom-and-pop function. Kevin Maryles, a 22-year-old guitar repairman with a love for Radiohead, joined us downstairs. Along the way, he mentioned to me how an old baseball coach had showed the place to him a couple years back…

Why do you think DIY venues are important?

Matt Maloney: Do It Yourself Venues? Because a lot of people that are running big venues and stuff, it’s more to pack out a place. These days the venues aren’t bringing anybody [for you], you have to do it yourself, so why have them make all the money? We’re here, and we’re charging, and we’re doing the same thing without all the bullshit — like, “Oh, you guys have to bring 50 people down, and if you don’t you can’t play here, and if you do we get all the money, and after 50 people you’ll start making money.” It doesn’t make any sense to me. Tons of people come down [here], they see the bands we’re providing for them … and everyone knows each other, so it’s a really good environment. Instead of “Come out to this bumblefuck bar and pay 10 dollars at the door, and still have to buy drinks, and good luck to ya!” It doesn’t make any sense to me.

Kevin Maryles: If we were huge…

M: If we were huge, I’d love to play the garden. (K: Yeah.) Like where they put on all the bells and whistles, like Umphrey’s Mcgee — none of the local bands are gonna get that. DIY is more intimate, the intimacy of it all… you’re not gonna get a better experience.

Kevin, covering a Radiohead song during Mic

K: If you’re playing one of those places you feel like you’re working for somebody.

M: You are. You’re literally paying them to keep those doors open. For me not to make any money…

K: If you’re doing it DIY, it’s all on you. You have more of an incentive.

M: And I can go to 7–11 and buy a 12 pack of f-cking Pabst for 8 bucks. *laughter* After this great night and 8 beers, after seeing all these great bands … if you’re in the city, you [worry] about the cab, the train and the booze. It’s too much money.

K: And then all the security, all the stuff the venue forces you to pay for…

The only thing you have to worry about is noise complaints. My friends just got their place shut down because of noise complaints.

K: Around here it’s mostly just storefronts so we don’t have to worry about the noise; everything’s closed after 9 or so. The heavy stuff is in the basement. There’s a sushi place and they close around the corner.

M: Oma Sushi. *laughter* Grandma sushi.

K: Yeah. *laughter*

Front-woman of three person band, crouched during Mic performance. 2017

Creative Corner is a space for art located on Hempstead Ave, West Hempstead, NY. It has 2 fully equipped rehearsal spaces with a full backline, house drum set, mic stands, guitar stands, and a comfortable lounge area. Hourly rates are $25 per hour with discounts for monthly commitments. Art and instrumental classes, Open Mic Nights, art shows/features, and various events are available year-round. Call (516) 385–8782 for more information.

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