If you have ever written a song or have picked up a string instrument, it’s a good bet that you have been to an open mic. Open Mics are interesting places; they suspend reality the moment you walk through the doors. Conventional life rules and normal social standards are often left at the door. However, an Open Mic can be a glorious occasion filled with collaboration, community, and great music. I find that the former is usually true.
I’m a product of an open mic. Before I started Blood & Dust, I was just Doug, playing a few songs I had written in my living room during my final semesters at grad school. I started going to a small Open Mic just north of San Francisco in order to “try out” this music thing and during that time I began to notice certain patterns of the people in attendance. Open Mics are always filled with certain personalities and characters or rather caricatures.
Recently I decided to attend an Open Mic from which I had long been absent due to a busy schedule. I was swept back into this odd world of caricatures and I decided to make a Top 10 list of the Open Mic Rap Sheet of Characters for those who have ever experienced this third dimension but perhaps haven’t been able to put a finger on what they are seeing/hearing/feeling!
10. The First-Timer: The name says it all. This is that person who is at the Open Mic for the very first time. You know they’re a first-timer because they’ll tell you. If they don’t, you’ll certainly be able to tell by the number of apologies you can count within the first 30 seconds preceding the actual start of the song. We’ve all been there right?
9. The Story-teller: We all love a good story right? Most cultures have a long oral history that is richly built upon the stories of our ancestors. The Open Mic will always have the Story-teller: that person who has to tell the story behind the song or the story of writing the song, or the story of their day before playing the song. The story-teller will always share more words than music.
8. The Talent: Some folks are good and they know they are good. I like to call them the Talent. They are superb songwriters and performers; they are the people you don’t want to follow when you’re performing. They can be arrogant or humble and they often find their way out of the OM scene into playing booked shows. Every Open Mic has the talent.
7. The Shredder: Not unlike The Talent, the shredder is also very talented. They command their instrument and it obeys their every whim but, all they do is shred. Don’t get me wrong, I like a good solo as much as the next man, but also find my mind wandering after the first 3 minutes of pure soloing. To each his own.
6. The Promoter: The Promoter is possibly one of the most typical characters at an open mic. The Promoter spends a good chunk of their time on stage plugging whatever show gig or feature they have coming next. We’ve all been the promoter to some extent but some folks spend OM time in rare form.
5. The Michelangelo: Some writers spend a lifetime writing that “song”, you know, the one that’s gonna make them famous and pay their bills for the rest of their life. The Michelangelo looks at every O.M. as their avenue to a better life so they will typically play their nine minute opus every chance they get with as much melodrama as you can handle.
4. The Middle Child: The middle child is a character that wasn’t apparent to me until recently. Typically the middle child rolls with another performer as part of their entourage but is most often overshadowed but they take every chance to bask in the glory of The Talent they showed up with. They tend to be loud and scream for the attention of those around them.
3. The Twofer: All Open Mics have different rules. If you go to any in the Bay Area, you might find that there is a One song or 5 minute limit. The Twofer says “to hell with the rules” and turns one song into a 2-3 song medley. Hey, you came to rock right? Got to take every chance you get.
2: The Negotiator: As previously stated open mics have rules; Some are “first come first served” or “Lottery” at sign ups. Lotteries are the luck of the draw and sometimes you have bad luck. The Negotiator will cut any deal they can to get a better slot.
1. The Astronaut: No matter what open mic you go to you will inevitably find The Astronaut. Some people go to open mics to showcase the talents they possess but in an culture twisted by “15 minutes of fame syndrome” and “American Idol” we have shifted to thrive on the obscure. The Astronaut is named so because no matter what they are doing they are just ….. out there…..in left field……or in outer space. Whether it’s in true Andy Kaufman brilliance or the “be weird/get noticed” mantra that has seized the young folks with delusions of being famous, the Open mic will always have it’s Astronaut.
I hope you enjoyed the List. It’s just for fun. No musicians were harmed during the writing of this blog post.