By Jake Dromgoole
“You’re gonna want to show up early. The list fills up pretty fast.” Familiar words to any aspiring performer looking to showcase their talents to a crowd. For many musicians, the open mic is where you have the opportunity to debut or even try out a new song. For hobbyists, it is where you can go play your favorite Beatles song, or even a classic like Oasis’ “Wonderwall” to a supportive crowd. For others, the local open mic is a meeting place where musically like-minded people can gather and support one of their own, friend or stranger.
I came to Austin just before the summer of 2011 in the hopes of becoming the next great singer-songwriter to come out of the capital. I had a guitar and a couple songs I was pretty proud of, and I was ready to make my mark on the Austin scene. A good friend of mine told me about an open mic night at Hill’s Café on South Congress. “The place with the good corn poppers?” I thought to myself. I was completely unaware of what to think when I strolled into Hill’s late one weeknight. The host was incredibly nice though, and since there wasn’t anyone else signed up, he let me take an extra couple songs. I walked out of Hill’s that night and I was hooked.
Long-story short, I did not become the next great singer-songwriter to come out of Austin. However, thanks to open mics throughout the city, I was afforded the opportunity to become a performer, and in the process, meet and play with some of the finest people in Austin. I have also had the chance to see some once in a lifetime performances.
I’ll never forget the time I saw local guitar virtuoso Black Moon and his preprogrammed one man band melt faces one warm spring evening at South Lamar coffee bar Irie Bean. Then there was the time I witnessed an up and coming Jackie Venson perform solo at Stomping Grounds on South Congress one late Monday night. Honestly I don’t think I’ll ever forget the stirring performances I heard when I stopped in to listen to Kacy Crowley’s open mic at Strange Brew on Manchaca. With open mics, you just really never know who is going to walk through that door.
The communities you discover, or create, when you are at an open mic are part of the magic. At first they will start as strangers, then when you come back you’ll get the inevitable, “Hey! I loved your set last week! What’re you gonna play this week?” By the third time you come back, you’ll be sharing drinks and staying for your new comrades set, maybe even getting on stage to sing harmony or accompany them on your own instrument. In the end, these are the friends that will support your new music, and be excited to hear about your new EP or song. They will be the ones to share your posts, and introduce your music to new listeners. These fellow open mic attendees will become your musical family.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. Two of the venues I mentioned in a previous paragraph (Stomping Grounds and Strange Brew) have disappeared from the scene. This isn’t a new phenomenon for Austin residents though. Far too often great venues have disappeared in exchange for new business ventures. Sadly, when venues disappear or simply stop hosting open mics, the communities formed at these open mics disappear also. For many, the one night of the week at an open mic is the only time they are able to perform live. For others, it is one of the few times they are able to see their friends.
It is because of this that I urge you to get out and support your local open mic. If you play an instrument, write comedy or even have a story, go out there and share it with the scene. I promise you will be opened with welcome arms and a lot of applause. Your open mic host and their patrons will be your biggest fans for three songs or for your ten minute set, whichever comes first.
Featured image by Jake Dromgoole.