Check… Check… Is This Thing on Fire?
Written by Niki Chaos on February 9, 2020
Community, opportunity, and the chance to hear the next big thing before it breaks… open mics are often the first stop for musicians needing a place to get their sea legs. Learning how to feel comfortable with your stage presence and interact with an audience is one reason why open mics are beneficial to musicians who are just starting out. Veteran musicians also find a place to test new material or check out venues for potential gigs. For the audience, there is excitement in witnessing the unexpected – and the chance to enjoy a variety of acts throughout the night in a relaxed atmosphere.
I’ve been performing at open mics for 30 years. When I lived in San Francisco from ‘97 – ‘99, the weekly meet up at The Hotel Utah was how I found bandmates, roommates and friends. After I returned home from my west coast stint, Positively 4th Street was where I reconnected with my local Troy music scene. My all-time favorite, hands down, was when Mother Judge hosted The Best Damn Open Mic at The Lark Tavern on Madison Avenue. She was an amazing host, and someone who always worked to make everyone feel at home so they could perform at their best. Currently, The Rustic Barn has one of the best open mics for collaboration I’ve ever seen. That place really knows how to jam and get people up on stage together. And it’s one of the few I’ve seen where people regularly get up and dance!
Because this format has been so crucial for me as a developing artist, I feel committed to fostering that community for my fellow musicians, so others have a space to explore their craft in front of a live audience. I’ve hosted several open mics in the past, and with my partner, Bob Donald, currently co-host the RadioRadioX-sponsored Open Mic at Corcoran’s Towpath Tavern in Waterford on the last Wednesday of each month. The biggest challenge is changing up the sound so often for each performer, but you get used to that after a while. One of the best parts about hosting an open mic is seeing old friends and meeting new artists all the time. It’s really a great networking opportunity. The thing that I have the most gratitude for is the uniquely talented people who are brave enough to share their music. It is a glimpse of something personal, and a chance to be part of something special.
For our first open mic in January, Bleak Little World, our psychedelic Americana band, kicked off the night with a few songs. Then it was on to impressive guitar playing and a fine mix of originals and cover songs from the list of musicians who signed up. Each performer had a great reception from the crowded bar, which was busy keeping our thirst and hunger at bay. Feature act Heavy Petting killed it at the end of the night with a powerhouse set of smoldering vocals and guitar playing that set the room on fire. And we had a surprise appearance from John Morse, who played one of my favorite Elvis Costello songs and got Art Fredette up on stage to end the night with a kick ass version of Thunder Road. The talent in the room was amazing.
If you’ve never been to an open mic, either as a performer or an audience member, I highly encourage you to check one out. The Capital Region has an abundance of ridiculously good music of all varieties, and many of the open mics are filled to the brim with music that will move you. (Plus – usually no cover charge!) We are lucky to have so many venues that support live music and musicians with talent that seems endless. If we all get out there and support these clubs, we can keep our music scene thriving – and have a hell of a good time doing it!