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
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
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
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
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.