Terry’s Serendipity Café Is Safe Space for Montclair Teens

The student-run nonprofit produces monthly drug- and alcohol-free music shows while fostering confidence and self-esteem.

Advisor Ed Carine, front row, far right, sits with Serendipity Café performers on the grounds of Montclair High School. Photo courtesy of Erik Rank

When you hear about Terry’s Serendipity Café in Montclair, you wonder why every town doesn’t start something similar. The student-run organization produces monthly drug- and alcohol-free shows and provides a place for teens to get valuable performance, sound-engineering and event-organizing experience.

It also costs nothing to join, allows kids to gain confidence and self-esteem—and helps keep them out of trouble.

The café, which started in 1995, is an independent organization that gets some support from the township. It’s named for Terry Bynum-Copeland, a Montclair High School student who died of epilepsy in August 1995 and who had been one of the group’s student founders.

Although the students handle virtually all aspects of the shows, including planning, publicity, and setting up and running the sound system, there’s always an adult present to provide supervision and expertise when needed.

For most of the history of the café, that adult has been Ed Carine. He attended the first show with his kids and began going to meetings with them, eventually becoming the adult advisor for the group. An authentic local hero, he’s attended virtually all of the group’s meetings and shows for 27 years, entirely on a volunteer basis.

A musician himself, Carine teaches the kids how to set up and run the PA system and gives informal musical advice if asked. But he stays in the background, letting the students handle as much as possible.

“They recruit the bands, decide the hours and so on,” says Carine. “When I get involved, it’s to help get a place to play or a permit.”

For many years, “Serendipity,” as it’s often referred to, held its meetings in person and staged its shows in one of several church basements in town. Since the pandemic started, the group has held its weekly meetings outside or on Zoom and staged the performances at outdoor venues—even in the winter.

“People learned how to play with very cold fingers,” Carine says. “I think the only time we missed a show [since the pandemic] was this February, when it was so cold.” In October, Serendipty reintroduced indoor performances.

The students in the group take their involvement seriously. Carine says they even enforce the rules of no alcohol, drugs or smoking.

“They will stop someone smoking, even if we’re outside somewhere,” he says. “They also insist on respect and don’t allow racism, sexism or other types of exclusionary behavior and speech.”

Over the years, various alumni of Terry’s Serendipity Café have gone on to success in the music industry in bands such as Vampire Weekend, Pinegrove and Forth Wanderers. Many others gained experience that helped prepare them for successful musical- or audio-engineering careers.

“It was an invaluable part of my upbringing as a musician and just a regular kid in Montclair,” says Philippe Bronchtein, a 2006 Montclair High graduate who’s now a full-time musician in Nashville. “The monthly showcase organized our loose friend groups into an electric, creative community, while teaching us hard skills along the way.”

Tyler Grisafi, a 2022 MHS graduate, is effusive about Serendipity’s impact. “It’s meant so much to me throughout high school and has introduced me to so many incredible artists and people,” he says. “It’s given me a space to not only showcase my music, but that of friends and local bands that I love. As long as people want to play live music, Serendipity will be there to give them a space, and that’s really comforting to know.”­­

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