For the 10th year, the West Springfield High School Guitar Club is preparing for its Coffeehouse, an afternoon of free-form music played by the school's guitar students.
"The Guitar Coffeehouse was started to give the kids an opportunity to perform their own music," said Keith Owens, the school's guitar teacher, who started the Coffeehouse event. "We spend a lot of time educating students how to play and exposing them to music we feel is important and influential. The Coffeehouse gives them the opportunity to play the music that they feel matters or even play their own compositions."
It's a relaxed atmosphere, set up in the school's cafeteria, and the students are free to play either solo or in groups, said Owens, who has taught at West Springfield for all 20 years of the school's guitar program.
"It's basically an organized open mic night," he said. "The Guitar Boosters make sandwiches and other baked items and local coffee shops donate coffee for the parents and other audience members."
Laurie McCreedy, president of the booster club, echoed Owens' eagerness for this year's event.
"I think the students like going to a place that is fun, warm, and they can basically play guitar together without worries," she said.
Unlike previous years, the booster club is also offering a fund raiser with Schwan Foods, having taken orders over the past few weeks which will be delivered after the Coffeehouse. The delivery truck will have some additional items available for purchase the night of the event, McCreedy said, and the proceeds from the fund raiser go to help the booster club pay for its annual spring trip. Any sales that are not associated with a particular student will be applied to the overall guitar program, she said.
Even more excited than the parents are the students, of course, but a few admit they're a little nervous to perform in public.
"I get nervous about messing up, but once I'm on stage it isn't so bad," said Lauren Marquez, a senior at West Springfield who has been playing guitar for six years and who participated in the Coffeehouse last year.
She got her start playing instruments even easier, she said.
"My grandpa played guitar for me when I was little and sent me my first guitar," she said. "I also play piano and ukulele."
At the Coffeehouse, she plans to play some cover songs with her friend, Maeve Nash.
"It's fun to get together with people and be able to make music for everyone there," she said.
Joining her will be Mitch Faulkner, another senior, who has been playing guitar for five years and who also happens to play the ukulele.
"The guitar always caught my attention when I would see people play it and I wanted to learn, so I did," he said. "I enjoy playing the ukulele, but I'm not very good at it."
This will be his first appearance at the Coffeehouse, and he likes the idea of the relaxed atmosphere associated with Coffeehouses.
"I get nervous playing in front of people I don't know, but it's something you just get used to."
For the event, he hopes to play his favorite song, "More than Words," by the 1990s rock band Extreme.
David Tobul, another senior and a guitar student for six years, said that while he's been playing guitar for six years and also plays bass and synthesizer, he'll be sitting in the audience this year.
"I enjoy the atmosphere and the fun that we have there, just watching friends play and stuff," he said.
Ryan McCreedy, president of the student board of the boosters club, said he's ready to perform in front of his friends and family.
"I tried violin at first but I got bored with it," he said, and he's been playing guitar for six years, including private lessons before becoming involved at West Springfield.
He remembered one time a musician from Woodbridge came up to the Coffeehouse and took the stage for a few minutes, because in the tradition of open mic nights, anyone who wants to perform is welcome to do so.
"Nowadays, when people go to hear music, you have to go to a club and pay to go in," he said. The Coffeehouse is a nice alternative to that, especially for the high schoolers that aren't old enough to get into some of the 18-and-older clubs in Washington, D.C.
Like the others, Ryan McCreedy is hoping for a big turnout.
"It's hard when there's only like eight people in the audience," he laughed.
The Coffeehouse, like the guitar program at West Springfield, is something special students there have, something other schools don't necessarily offer, Ryan McCreedy said. "We're very fortunate to go to a school that has this for us."
This is the first of several fund raisers the boosters have on their calendar: Another is scheduled for Monday, March 7, at the Austin Grill in Springfield, and a certain percentage of that night's sales will benefit the club, Laurie McCreedy said.