Hippo Manchester
September 29, 2005

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Nite: When you are the star

Open-mike nights offer cheap but uncertain entertainment

by Richie Victorino

The open-mike night is a staple of any city. Many clubs, bars and larger venues give up one night each week to allow locals to show off their talents. Originals, covers, yodelers, solo acts, bands — you name it, and you can probably find it at an open mike. But the usefulness of the open mike is open to debate.

Is it worth it for a bar to roll the dice and allow just anyone to sing to a room full of its loyal patrons? What if the performer is absolutely dreadful? What if no one shows up because they know it’s open-mike night; or worse yet, what if people leave during the night because the performances are that horrible?

Then you have to think about the performers themselves. Sure, some open-mike characters go on stage merely for the fun of it, a type of real-music alternative to karaoke. But others are using open mike as a launching pad, another way to get their music heard. Is it working?

The business side

When you look at open-mike nights in the area, you’ll find a majority of clubs and bars use Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Thursdays as their open-mike night. Business-wise, that makes sense. Mondays are bad nights for bars. More people go out on weekends, meaning club owners want bona-fide entertainment on Fridays and Saturdays. But do people avoid bars and clubs in the middle of the week specifically to avoid the open mike?

“Wednesday is hump day, which can be great or bad,” said Dan Biron, owner/manager of Stage Door Café. “If it’s the right week, it’s jamming.”

Hogs Trough Saloon owner Steve George agrees open-mike night can be hit or miss. His Tuesday night open mike usually gets good attendance, but not always. Many times the folks who are performing will bring a group of friends for support. But to mitigate the possibility of small crowds, George offers a “two for Tuesday” drink promotion, which he hopes will also help bring in the customers.

Not quite The Gong Show

In truth, not everyone is meant to be on stage but many people are in denial. That’s good for them — let them chase their rock-star dreams — but it could be bad for business. That’s where the host of the open mike comes into play. The host has to be kind, and allow people to play — but he also has to know when enough is enough. Sometimes the bar owner will give the host a sign, like a “get that person off the stage” signal. That’s all the host needs. He can either be creatively kind to the performer, and say something like, “We’ve got a lot more people who want to play so we have to move on” or she can just tell the performer that the club owner is not digging the music. Either way, bad performers must be stopped before they go on too long. Musical freedom is one thing but, in the end, a club is a business. It has to make money. And without clubs, there’d be no open mikes. Many of the hosts, such as the guys in Kan-tu Blues Band or Brian Morse of Morse Code, are local musicians, which is an advantage because they know first-hand what it’s like to be on stage.

Will you be “discovered”?

So why are you even going to an open mike? Is it to practice a new song or get comfortable on stage? Or are you hoping the club owner or someone in the audience will like what they hear?

Many local clubs have hired open-mike performers for actual gigs. The Hogs Trough Saloon has hired people for their all-original Wednesdays as well as for a Friday night gig. Johnny’s Pizzeria in Hudson hired MidKnight Train. So, it does happen.

Tupelo Music Hall, which probably has the most professional open-mike night in the area, hired Mike Morris to open for John Eddie, twice, because Tupelo’s owner, Scott Hayward, liked what he heard from Morris at the open mike.  The reason I say Tupelo puts on the most professional open mikes is that, for starters, everyone, including performers, pays $5 to get in. Plus, Tupelo is a bring-your-own-beer establishment, so you don’t go there to drink, you go to hear music. If you’re really intent on having people pay attention to you without many distractions, Tupelo Music Hall is a place to check out.

Keep in mind what type of music a particular venue is known for. Hogs Trough Saloon, as George is quick to admit, is a rock ‘n’ roll club. Go ahead, play your blues and country there — in fact, on one open-mike night Veronica Gone came out with her banjo — but you won’t get a gig afterward. It’s just not what the club is looking for.

Check out our listings page to find a host of open-mike nights in the area.