By Ed Karvoski Jr., Culture Editor
Westborough – Singer-songwriter Tom Potosnak of Westborough has become known for humorously chronicling the life cycle via one-man-shows at various venues. He’s now combining achievements of his careers as an entertainer and owner of a trade-show exhibit company.
Potosnak will present “Subject to Change” on Saturday, Feb. 9, 7:30 p.m., at the Old Vienna Listening Room, housed in his trade-show company ExhibitSense, 78 Turnpike Rd. (Route 9) in Westborough. Fittingly, the stage features the original sign from the famed Old Vienna Kaffeehaus (OVK), which was located from the late-1980s to 1996 in downtown Westborough. Potosnak performed at OVK’s open mic nights in the 1990s.
As a young adult in Wayne, N.J., Potosnak developed an appreciation for singing and songwriting when he heard a Harry Chapin concert on the radio. The concert was recorded in January 1981 at The Bottom Line, a popular music club in New York City from 1974 to 2004.
“I was inspired when Harry Chapin died on July 16, 1981,” Potosnak shared. “His music touches your heart, mind and soul. He could distil the essence of humanity – the everyday things people go through in their lives. I related to his songs and stories.”
When Potosnak began serving as an Army officer at Fort Benning in 1983, he read Roger Evans’ book “How to Play Guitar.”
“I didn’t learn my first chord until I was 22 years old,” he acknowledged with a laugh.
Potosnak moved to Boston in 1983 to serve with a Department of Defense command until leaving the Army as a captain in 1989. Soon after entering the trade-show exhibit industry in 1990, he began gigging at clubs and coffeehouses. He frequented OVK as an open mic performer, as well as a fan. Among the singer-songwriters he saw there were Richie Havens and Shawn Colvin.
In 1997, Potosnak made a pilgrimage to NYC’s The Bottom Line, where he saw – and afterward, met – singer-songwriter Jen Chapin, Harry’s daughter. She opened for her Uncle Steve with her father’s band. The occasion was the release of a double-CD compilation of three shows Harry performed at The Bottom Line in January 1981 to celebrate his 2,000th concert.
Potosnak moved to Westborough in 1998 and opened ExhibitSense in 2004. While in his 40s, he wrote and performed a one-man show titled “The Mid-Life Chronicles” in 2010. A trip to his New Jersey hometown with a friend since childhood prompted Potosnak to write songs that he recorded on his CD “Subject to Change” in 2013 and first performed as a show in 2014.
“It was a beautiful day in the middle of summer, and my friend and I were amazed that no kids were playing outside,” he relayed. “We talked about it on our ride back to Massachusetts and I wrote the song ‘Olden Days.’ The show, ‘Subject to Change,’ has retained the name, but has evolved over time with songs and monologues being revised, pulled and revisited.”
During Westborough’s 300th anniversary in 2017, funds to support celebratory activities were raised at the 1717 Shoppe. There, Potosnak purchased the original OVK sign. It’s now the centerpiece of his Old Vienna Listening Room, which debuted its periodic concerts called “ExhibitSense Presents” in October 2018 with Potosnak opening for Jen Chapin.
“I’ve weaved performing into the very fabric of my business by using the facility,” Potosnak noted. “It’s amazing how things can happen when you pursue what you enjoy.”
Following the example set by his idol Chapin, Potosnak donates half of the proceeds from his shows to charities. His upcoming show will benefit the Worcester County Food Bank. For show and ticket information, visit exhibitsense.com/exhibitsensepresents.