Columbus, Ohio USA
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Gallery Hop: The Early Years
Nick & Polina entertain throngs of hoppers before being muted by bagpipes
By Joel Knepp
November/December 2014 Issue

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Laurie Von Endt

Thirty years ago, somebody had a great idea. On the first Saturday evening of each month, the people of central Ohio were cordially invited to come to the city, specifically to stroll up and down High Street in the fabulous Short North, there to browse the shops and art galleries, perhaps have a drink and a nosh in a local bar or restaurant, enjoy the ambience of a lively urban neighborhood, and last but not least, gawk at one another. And the gawking was, for tame Columbus, remarkable. In those days the freaks really came out, to everyone’s delight. Men with wigs, makeup, platform heels, feather boas, and even real boas boldly strode the sidewalks. High-fashion women of all ages moved up and down the strip. It was great! Folks came and liked what they saw: the art, the buildings, the quirky shops so unlike the ones they knew from the malls, the stimulating mix of people. Suburbanites who had seldom ventured into the core city after dark braved the experience and were delighted at the vibrancy they found. The Hop became an event. German Village was finally getting some competition.

Among those who wanted be both gawked at and listened to was the youngish musical duo known as Nick & Polina. Nick, otherwise known as mild-mannered downtown bureaucrat and Victorian Village homesteader Joel Knepp, teamed up with Polina, aka Lynda McClanahan, budding local artist, amateur theologian, gardener, and library worker, to busk outside Doug Ritchey’s eclectic store at the corner of Lincoln and High. They played facing south toward the Old Time Religion Hall, with the smooth wall of Ritchey’s behind them providing a helpful reflective quality for their unamplified voices with guitar and accordion accompaniment. Attired in old-timey clothes, the plucky twosome belted out pop, folk, and country chestnuts like Home on the Range and Jambalaya while enjoying the passing parade and exuding as many good vibrations as they could muster. Many folks were receptive to these performances and showed their appreciation with cash and smiles. One notable exception was the always-dour local millionaire who passed them by on several occasions but never left a dime. Some people just don’t appreciate good music.

The Short North was freer and looser in those early years of the Hop. Galleries seemed to come and go, operating on a shoestring, and mostly didn’t display paintings costing in the thousands. Things weren’t as posh as nowadays. The newer establishments were still dotted among plenty of unimproved storefronts and old-school businesses. There wasn’t a street act every twenty feet like now, and Nick & Polina didn’t have to get monthly permits, or any permits; they just showed up and played. The daring duo was either the first or among the very first musical acts that showed up at the early hops to entertain the growing throngs of happy hoppers.

Other than for the love of making music, the reason they joined the Gallery Hop scene was, it must be plainly stated, lucre. In those years prior to the inception of collective bargaining for civil servants, things were lean for the couple. Most spare cash went to pay off their house mortgage early, leaving little mad money. After a couple of hours of spirited busking, the couple was able to go out and have a nice dinner. Sometimes folks who had donated to the beckoning guitar case back at Lincoln and High would see them later that evening in a fine dining establishment and give them the quizzical, if not hairy, eyeball. But they persevered, and so did the Hop.

If you are reading this, you probably know what has become of the Gallery Hop- nationally famous, bigger and better than ever, filled with wonder and delight for all who desire to participate, if they can just find a parking space! But what of the quaint duet once known as Nick & Polina? They continued playing on that corner for many hops, weather permitting, until the newly opened Mac’s Café across and slightly down High Street from their spot at Lincoln got the bright idea of hiring a (shudder!) bagpiper to attract customers. Apparently that establishment’s pub décor, weird Scotch eggs, brewski, and tasty fish sandwiches weren’t doing the trick. Mind you, bagpipes are fine instruments in their place, which is generally either hanging jauntily above a rustic fireplace in a Highlands cottage or, if in the New World, at least a half-mile away on a parade ground or athletic field. But on a relatively narrow city street lined with multistory buildings, when the plaid bag starts pumping it’s all over but the shouting… which is what you have to do if you’re in the vicinity.

And so ended the Gallery Hop run of this perky pair, drowned out by the bellowing, windy whine of the old-country pipes.

Undaunted by this setback, Nick & Polina went on to a fabulously successful career performing at public markets, nursing homes, obscure festivals, cemeteries, dental sealant conferences, and many other fine venues. They even made a few more Gallery Hop appearances, this time receiving actual paychecks and happily lacking bagpipe accompaniment. And, they eventually paid off their house!

The moral of the story is this: When next you attend a Short North Gallery Hop, be kind to the musicians; they might one day be performing in your retirement home!

© 2014 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.

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