Author: Campbell, Bruce

Music By the People, For the People
Last week, one of my regularly scheduled band rehearsals was cancelled at the last minute, due to an illness. Nothing serious – it was just a situation where taking a week off made more sense than spewing virus amongst the bandmates. So I suddenly found myself with the night off. What to do?

Why, go check out an “Open Mic” night at a local establishment, of course! Before I became a Serious Musician and started playing in Serious Bands, I was a frequent visitor (and performer) at Open Mic sessions at various venues around the area. They’re lots of fun, and I heartly recommend them for a fun night out.

It’s a real grab bag, talent-wise, and the likelihood of viewing the Next Big Thing is pretty remote. But surprises invariably await, and the format shelters the listeners from the extreme highs and lows. Typically, there’s a signup sheet, and anybody that wants to play can put there name on the sheet and get 15 minutes onstage. Fifteen minutes is way too short if the act is good, and can be excruciatingly long if the act is terrible.

For some of the performers, this 15 minute performance is their first foray from being a musician who has only played in his or her bedroom to actually performing on a stage, with microphones. The novice learns very quickly the difference between amusing yourself in your bedroom and projecting your talent out to an audience of strangers (most of whom are breathlessly awaiting their turn to play). The experience changes them forever – they either chase that rush forever (I’m guilty!), or they slink away, never to risk humiliation like that again.

This last visit to Open Mic night was pretty typical, although I would venture that the talent level was above the norm. Martinez is a small town, so I was acquainted with at least half the performers. That didn’t mean there weren’t pleasant surprises in store. I saw Ken Smith, of the Avocado Brothers, performing some lovely original tunes in an electric pop duet format with Brian Mau. I saw Jerry Butterfield of the Butterfield Brothers performing some tunes solo (well, almost solo – I accompanied him on guitar as he played mandolin and sang).

There was another combo, three gentlemen with whom I was not familiar, playing some pop standards (Eagles, Buffet, etc.) and they really made the most of their 15 minutes, playing their hearts out. Everybody clapped and sang along. That’s one of the best things about the audience at Open Mic nights – they’re almost all people who are waiting their turn, or who just took their turn, and they’re anxious to show the responses that they themselves would like. Because we all know that feeling, standing there, when it’s our turn for fifteen minutes…..
Posted:  1/11/2006

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