We open it up for half an hour, then turn the show over to whoever wants to play, says Babiarz, referring to his band, Incognito, which includes Darla Roland and Ed Roth. It started as an acoustic open mic, but has kind of turned into a free form jam.
Earlier, there was a bass-heavy Chili Peppers-style jam going on. Now a different performer is bellowing out his version of a classic rock tune, lively and heavy on volume. But its not all electric guitars. This event attracts an eclectic group of musicians and artists, including clarinet and violin players and free form poets. There does however, seem to be a limit to the types of suitable talents: No humping the jukebox, Babiarz calls in the direction of two especially animated spectators. We go for most anything but that.
Like many bars and coffee houses in Northern Michigan, Bos reserves one night of the week to turn the microphone over to anyone willing to step up. Open mics are great opportunities for the inexperienced to try their hand at performing and for the skilled to entertain in a more casual setting.
There are fabulous local musicians in this area. We get good quality people here. We even get some girls who play, says Marty Stevenson of Sundays open mic at The Loading Dock, which he co-hosts with Kurt Bowman.
An important factor in the popularity of open mics in the area is a relaxed atmosphere that gives confidence to first-timers.
In Lansing, it was really hard to get up on stage. You had to know someone or be some whoop-ass guitar player, says Bowman, who has been leading the event at The Dock for almost two years. If youre a beginner who plays at home and has never played in front of anyone, this is a perfect opportunity. The bar provides a stylish, comfortable stage drenched in red light where the two hosts typically open the evening with a set of their own bluesy rock tunes and a few covers. Then they surrender the mic to the awaiting performers, carefully adjusting the sound for each via a professional soundboard. The response has been positive, and the Cass Street bar draws a sizeable crowd with a variety of acts including violinists, steel guitarists, and horn players.
Places like the Roast & Toast café and coffee shop in Petoskey are turning the microphone over to fresh voices as well. Recording artist and host Kristi Kates sees it as a great opportunity for people at all stages of musicianship. Even when I go to New York, I still play open mics,“ she says. “Theyre a chance to showcase original material. And its free entertainment. While the show at the café is generally characterized by the sound of acoustic guitars, they invite quirkiness to their Sunday night affair.
In Gaylord, Harmony Grounds coffee shop holds its own event on Thursdays from 9 p.m. until midnight. With a variety of acts and instruments including a piano, the café offers an outlet for the community to come play music and hear music, in an environment available to all ages, according to owner Kurt Van Dusen.
Another place to let your talents be heard is The Key to the County in Lake Leenlanau. Gavan Thomson, who has been in charge of the Wednesday night open mic for several months, welcomes all. Come on down. Its a great opportunitya breaking the ice thing. The setting is cozy and informal, with spectators gathered on couches and a small stage with a drum set, bass, bongos, and acoustic guitars, all swimming in disco ball lighting.
Other open mics in the area include the Cedar Tavern in Cedar on Wednesdays, Wednesday nights at Union Street Station, and Tuesdays at G.T.s in Traverse City, Mondays at OKeefes in Suttons Bay, Tuesdays at The Villager Pub in Charlevoix, and at the Town Club in Elk Rapids on Thursdays. Beginnning Sept. 25, The Mackinaw Brewing Co. in Traverse City resumes its “smoke free“ open mike with host Bill Dungjen.
Despite a relaxed and welcoming attitude on the Northern Michigan open mic scene, there are a few common pet peeves among organizers and spectators. Drunken behavior is never appreciated, and hosts like Thomson would rather not have to contend with it. Its a bummer to tell people to get off the stage, he says. Poor etiquette by performers is another annoyance, as some take advantage of the limelight without reciprocating. They come in to play and bring all their friends. Then, the second they finish, all their friends leave, says Kates. Lack of volume control can also be a problem, something Loading Dock owner Ryan MacManus deals with by maintaining a strictly acoustic event -- no drums, no electric guitars -- as a courtesy to its patrons because, God knows if it sucks and its really loud, youve got nowhere to go but somewhere else.
For performers, open mics in Northern Michigan are an opportunity to be heard in a casual, unstructured setting. For spectators, they are free, unpredictable entertainment -- a fly-on-the-wall perspective of living room talent. If youre like me -- and perhaps Mr. Thiel -- they can make you smile or squirm. You hope you will be pleasantly surprised and entertained and pray you wont spend too much time flinching into your beer (or coffee). As an occasional open mic performer myself, I worry about eliciting those dreaded emotions. However, that uneasiness could simply be a symptom of taking the whole thing too seriously. In the words of one open mic regular, More people should come out. They should just get over themselves and try it.
SIDEBAR (Box in please)
Beginning Monday, Sept. 16, there will be a new contender on Northern Michigan‘s open mic scene: a monthly session dedicated to poetry at Horizon Books in Traverse City.
“Just come on down and read your work,“ says organizer Michael McManus, a Traverse City ophthalmologist who‘s trying to create a local poetry scene with co-host Todd Mercer.
The open mic poetry readings will be held on the third Monday of each month at the Horizonshine Café in the Traverse City bookstore. Be prepared to emote.