The other night I walked down a narrow staircase, stepped into a basement bar, took out my violin and played some blues in an open mic show.
It was fun. Although I hadn’t played any open mic shows in about three years, I thought I’d take the plunge and go for it. I had that feeling we often get when stepping into a swimming pool, and that sense of commitment just before we tumble under the water and surrender to the sensations. As you know, once you're in, you’re fine. Often it’s just that little push that gets all of us going from one situation to another.
So, I’m wondering – have you ever tried performing at an open mic evening? And more importantly, have you ever tried one with your violin? If not, I think you should consider diving into these curious waters.
Here’s the lowdown.
If you’ve never attended an open mic show, and you don’t know where to begin to find one, go online and search for open mics in your area. So, let’s imagine you live here in Portland, Oregon. Go to your computer and type “Open Mic Nights in Portland”. You’ll get a large choice of venues, and a website sponsored by OpenMic.US filled with opportunities: https://www.openmicportland.com/
Here in Portland, according to the website, we have 26 venues hosting open mic evenings. Now, we are a larger city than many others, so – for example - if you are in Traverse City, Michigan, take a look at the website, https://openmikes.org/
Type in your zip code and you’ll find four opportunities.
So this stuff is out there. It just takes a little research.
Now, once you find something that interests you, call them up and make sure the venue continues to host the open mic. The Internet is a little messy, and sometimes people forget to remove information. I went to a wonderful open mic show for a couple of years until they stopped having the shows. Sadly, although it hasn’t been around for over two years, Yelp still lists the open mic as one of the best in Portland.
So, to save yourself some trouble, call them and make sure it’s still happening.
Next, just go without any plans to perform so you can sit in the audience and see if this is the kind of place where you’d enjoy playing music. Chances are it will be fine, but it is always wise to check because there can be some real doozies out there that are poorly organized, too loud, too empty, or –shall we say – a bit dodgy.
When you go, get there for the start of the evening, and look for the following:
Sign-up started at 6:30 with the show starting at 7 p.m. This venue is well organized, has a great sound system, the host is gracious and energetic, and the crowd was big but respectful of the performers. They do a lottery system for the show where names are tossed into a jar and then the list for the night is created from those random names. While they usually give performers two songs, this was a very crowded night, so we all did one song each. As it turned out, I was the opening act.
Of course, what was unique about the performance was the fact that I brought in a violin. In all my years and over the 300+ open mic shows, I’d never seen a violin in any of these evenings. Hence, that was flat-out-cool all by itself.
Also, I just turned 70 years old. Subsequently, I was 35 to 45 years older than most of the people in the room. Now, if you want to stand out in a crowd, if you want to be unique, if you want people to glance at you and wonder about you, there is nothing like getting older to set you apart from the maddening crowd. There is a bit of mystery about a person my age showing up in a situation like that. Just walk in with the attitude of, " Hey, kids, sit back and listen because I've got this." Some open mic evenings seem to draw an older audience, some are mixed with all ages, but this one – on this particular night – was a young crowd. I was a stranger in a bit of a strange, but welcoming land. Also, when they saw my violin they immediately paid attention to what I was doing.
I played a medley of blues songs. I’d never played my violin in a public venue. Beyond recitals, student soiree’s, a couple of Bluegrass jams, and my grandchildren, this was the first time I’d put my solo fiddle out there. I’m glad to say I did a rather adequate job. Once I was done I received warm and enthusiastic applause.
After I opened the show, a woman sang a beautiful ballad. Next they presented two excellent comedians, followed by a kid who did an angry song and the evening progressed from there.
The bottom line is this – it was fun.
Now, you may be thinking, “I only play classical music. I doubt a quiet piece would go across in a basement bar. Alas, I'm doomed to concert halls and recitals in poorly ventilated rooms!" Ah, but do not fret. I have something for you as well. Check out Classical Revolution. This is a growing movement among classical music lovers. They offer monthly open mic nights with a variety of combinations of orchestral instruments in an informal setting that celebrates chamber music and brings it to the people.
So, I’ll be doing this again. How about you? It’s fun, great experience, and it gets you out there.
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