I think the reason I’ve avoided open mic nights for singer/songwriters is the same reason I’ve avoided comedy shows until recently: I hate to see someone bomb. It makes me uncomfortable to see someone else who is uncomfortable – particularly in front of a crowd. I, myself, once performed an original song at a fiddler’s convention (don’t laugh – they were big in Alabama. My song probably lasted five minutes, but it probably seemed like twenty to the very kind audience. I didn’t win.
I can’t really remember if I’ve ever attended an open mic for music since until this year. I guess the experience scarred me a bit. To spend an evening seeing a series of earnest, but not-so-talented people sweating on stage just seemed like an unnecessary torture. I’ve recently re-thought some of those misconceptions.
Al Murrian, one of the friends I’ve met downtown, is an interesting person in many ways. He’s a part-time door-man at the Holston, has an interest and some expertise in virtual reality and he’s a Bob Dylan fan. It turns out he is also a classically-trained pianist and a very talented vocalist, guitarist and songwriter. He invited me to see him at the Square Room for their open mic night.
A group of us attended on a Wednesday night and found a warm, supportive host in Kenny Woodhull. The atmosphere was a very encouraging one and a series of singer/songwriters did their thing. Some appeared to have a natural comfort on the stage, while others seemed better suited for sitting in the living room and working the craft in solitude.
The surprise, for me at least, was that none of them were bad and, in fact, several of them were very good. Adam Whipple, who also works at the Square Room, performed an excellent couple of original compositions with a rolling guitar sound and uplifting, sometimes spiritual lyrics. I couldn’t help thinking of Mississippi John Hurt.
I’ve mentioned how much I enjoyed Al. Some of the others got past me, though they were good, as well. The stage was owned, however, by a fifteen-year-old with stage-presence to burn and a powerful voice that should belong to a whisky-soaked thirty-year-old. Sam Hatmaker‘s original songs are very good and really do seem to come from a much older place than one might expect from someone so young.
She’s opened for Mindy Smith, performed on WDVX Blue Plate Special and headlined a two-hour concert at the Clayton Arts Center. You might characterize her style as Country Soul. It will be interesting to see what becomes of this very talented girl. I’ve linked her song, “Southern Soul,” below so you can get a sample. It’s a single she released just last month and it’s available on itunes.
I also attended the K-Town Open Mic Showdown at Preservation Pub. Hosted by 105.3 personality Cullen Kehoe each Tuesday night, this show is a bit different. A winner is declared each night and the nightly winners go on to a bigger contest later which will ultimately lead to a $2000 prize and five days in a recording studio. That’s some serious motivation. Still, Cullen, as does Kenny at the Square Room, sets a supportive tone.
Again, none of the performers were bad enough to make me uncomfortable and several were very good. There was an overlap between the two open mic nights with Al and another of the Square Room performers coming to try out a different venue.
The camaraderie among the performers was striking. They mostly seemed to know each other and, even with $2000 on the line, there didn’t seem to be any obvious acrimony. Two of the performers that night were actually in a relationship with each other as I recall. One of the singers was making a return appearance even though he’d already won a spot in the finals and he was exceptionally good.
I wasn’t able to stay all the way to the end of the night, so, I ended my night with Billy Lawson. Billy is about as much a powerhouse presence as you will find. He’s warm, quick with a smile and a hand-shake. I pictured him on this blog a few weeks ago in the guise of a pretty rough-looking elf. He made an appearance on the most recent “Homemade for the Holidays” CD. His exceptional performance included guitar pyrotechnics in his cover of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower,” and solid songwriting in his original material. He’s one to catch, if you get the chance.
So, come out and support these creative folks. It happens every Tuesday night at Preservation Pub (free) and every Wednesday night at the Square Room ($5 which you can use toward any $15 food purchase). I think you’ll be pleased at the quality you hear. Yes, America has talent. But so does your own city! Get out and support it.