The open mic: where stage fright goes to die.It's one of the only places in the world where you can wash your laundry while toasting fine tequila over a game of pool as you tap your feet to the strumming rhythms of a singer/songwriter's acoustic guitar. The M&J Tavern is a proud host of a weekly open mic on Wednesday nights. If the tavern with its cement floor, pool tables, video poker machines and long rustic bar and old school juke box, could be personified it would be Bob Dylan during his country stint in the late 1960s.
It's been just over a year now since I first signed my name on the open mic performer's list. The sign-up sheet is sometimes full with visiting and local musicians. On other nights it's marked with just a few signatures. Initially, I was motivated to get a new music project, Kousefly, then a duo, out of the stuffy garage and in front of people; it was a nerve-racking, gut-wrenching and humbling experience. But I loved every second of it and was hooked immediately.
During my open mic nights, I've met artists with all types of influences and skill levels, ranging from blues to folk to reggae to rap or all of the above sandwiched into one ear-bending performance. Normally, the performer's sign-up sheet is placed on the table near the front door around 8pm by the bar manager, who doubles as the host. On a slower night, the first couple positions are left nameless - nobody ever seems to want to kick things off. Once someone gets behind the mic, the action begins and musicians start jockeying for playing position, trying to get behind the mic before the midnight hour.
The M&J isn't the only spot in town where the open mic phenomenon has caught hold, and I'm of course not counting joints with karaoke nights - karaoke is the bastard second step cousin of the open mic. The Northside and the Summit both host blues jams, which is kind of an open mic, but more of an opportunity to meld your talents with those of other locals. The Summit is also testing out a Comedy Jam, the ultimate open mic, considering there's only a mic onstage. And the monthly Bend Poetry Slam invites local wordsmiths and rhyme schemers onstage for a competitive battle of literary prowess.
No matter where the open mic, there's some lessons to be learned regarding playing an open mic. First, and most importantly, DON'T STOP. One time I forgot an entire verse, and with wide eyes and trembling hands, I stopped strumming and the entire bar turned and stared. A few weeks ago, my finger got caught on the high E string and I ripped off half of my fingernail. I kept on strumming, finishing the song with a bloody guitar. It hurt like hell. But that pain was more tolerable than an upset crowd.
On some nights the tavern is packed with people, most of them sipping down a few drinks before skipping across the street for a big show at one of the Midtown venues. Most nights are more mundane, finding us playing to regulars who are into a game of cards, catching up with friends or shooting a game of pool, or maybe just waiting for their turn.
Open mics are friendly environments, but don't expect everyone to be friendly. Chances are, there will be some hecklers lurking in the crowd. Also, as the night gets later, I keep an eye out for closet musicians who've had their fill of liquid courage. They'll often come up and ask to use my guitar so they can play that Led Zeppelin song they learned back in high school.
The M&J Open Mic
8pm every Wednesday. 102 NW Greenwood Ave. 389-1410. Free!