Out of all of the events that I attend as a staff member at , the monthly Open Mic Nights may just be my favorite, and for a paradoxical reason: they are both completely surprising and quite predictable. Every third Friday, I line up rows of folding chairs and put out platters of cookies and coffee cups, never knowing what sort of talent is going to provide the night's entertainment. There are usually a bunch of poets, a handful of fiction writers, and a sprinkling of non-fiction authors. The rest of the performances, though, are a big song-writing, tap-dancing, puppet-yielding question mark. At last month's open mic night, a smooth-voiced blues guitarist performed, harmonica in tow. A few months ago, an attendee put on a one-woman puppet show, complete with a stuffed bird, baby doll, ventriloquist dummy, and inflated man (and yes, she held them all). We've even had folks read poetry and sing in their own created languages.
This is, clearly, the surprising side of the open mic nights. And as exciting as the colorful variety of performers is, the predictable side of the open mic nights is one of my favorite things about it. I remember, a few months ago, just before 8:00, a man who I had never seen before walked into the Writers' Center to sign up and read. "Slot number one is empty. You should start us off tonight!" The face I was met with was pure terror, followed by nervous laughter and "Oh, I don't think so. I'll sign up, but I'm so nervous I might back out - just a head's up." After a few encouraging words, I was able to wrestle his name down onto the sign-up sheet. Later on in the evening, his name was called. Everyone applauded as he approached the podium. "Oh, well, thanks. I'm really nervous. This is my first time reading at an open mic." The audience erupted in continued applause and a resounding "welcome!" filled the old train station. After the open mic had ended, I noticed our regulars walking up to him, patting him on the back, exchanging emails, lauding his efforts. He left that night with an infinitely happier expression than the one he arrived wearing.
No matter what sort of talent shows up at the open mic - and trust me, we've seen every sort - one thing that never changes is the supportive environment that envelopes these events. Everyone is rooting for everybody else. If someone's chapbook, that they've been reading from for months at the open mics, gets published, everyone cheers. If you're a first timer, expect extra applause. That nervous man who didn't even want to place his name on the signup sheet has been back every month since then. Some regulars have even been with us for years because of the delightfully surprising and predictable experiences they have every month.
Join us this Friday, May 18, at 7:30 pm for this month's open mic night. For $3, share what you've been working on with this supportive community and enjoy some cookies and coffee.