Open Mics by the Dozen: A hearing-impaired poet's take on 12 open mics attended whilst on a grand vacation
By A C Everson
First I would like to thank all the hosts, friends and fellow open mic goers that helped this annoyingly hearing impaired gal know when it was her turn at the mic, and clued me in on what I could not hear. Also to say to those who didn't know and might have thought so, that I'm not stupid, insane or a bitch, just sorta deaf.
Tip: I've found that it is sometimes a good idea to call ahead for a few reasons. Internet lists are a great resource but sometimes the info is outdated. Many listed open mics are no longer being held, are on different nights, different times or sometimes even different seasons.
From March 15th to June 10th I had the great pleasure to travel many places on a Grand Vacation in three parts. The first I hit the road with 5 pinatas, 50 cds (Idi Annine and the Mamas) and 40 chap books with the intention to distribute and break them all along the way at open mics. I did. The second part was the New Orleans Jazz Fest. I just partied, danced and ate my way around there. The third part armed with more chap books and cds I hit the UK and Amsterdam planning amongst other things to hit some more open mics. I did that too, and this is the tale.
1. The Pier on Lake Austin
River Hills Rd.
I had been striking out with the list I had gotten from poetz.com. The first attempt was a cool cultural experience at a cheap eats place called The World Beat Cafe. When walking in I noticed signs on the door. In English and Spanish the signs tell all would-be patrons the legal consequences of carrying firearms and explosives inside. Oh yeah, I'm in Texas. It looked to be a good spot for cheap chow, and in a good location on MLK by Guadalupe, but they weren't doing poetry readings there any more. Another reading was listed to be on a street that didn't seem to exist. I wasn't finding it with my map and eyes peeled. I chalked it up to a not-meant-to-be. It could well be there, but it was doing a Brigadoon that day. I found the listing for the open mic at The Pier on the Austin Music Network when I was kicking back in my hotel room. On the AMN there was a scroll on the bottom of the screen with all the weekend club and SXSW info. I was appreciating it. Neither poetz.com or the Chronicle (Austin's Voice/Metroland like weekly free rag) had that one listed, and it turned out to be the only open mic I got to in Austin this time.
So my first open mic was at The Pier on Lake Austin on 3/21. A very nice way to start the spring on a very nice lake, at what is essentially a very nice clam shack-like place, with indoor and outdoor tables and stages, boat rentals and pool tables (pool tables are important to me, but that is another story for another day). The open mic that I checked out was being held on the outside stage. I was told by the host that that day was the first open mic he had hosted and was hoping to have a good run of them there. At the time of my arrival there was a small group of women in the bar conversing in sign language, along with a bartender and bar maid. Outside there was a women who appeared to be a friend of the host and a couple, drinking beers looking like they were there to enjoy the view and said beers, and me. That was it. Noticing the host's guitar, I figured it was an intended music open mic, noticing as well that at that time I was the only other person there with an interest to perform, I figured it would that day at least be poet friendly. I was right on both counts. I was his first performer besides himself. Cool, huh? By the time I was up at the mic a few other folks had come in with guitars. The crowd might've been small but they were friendly and supportive. Even one of the signing gals seemed to enjoy my small set. I decided to skip the piñata, but did shove CD's and chap books at the folks there.
When I was searching the web for updated info, to add to this, the page for The Pier on Lake Austin was not listing an open mic. I would call ahead on this one to see if its still happening. I hope so.
Honorable mention. While looking for other open mics in Austin I was directed to The Hide Out on 617 Congress Ave. They have an open mic on Mondays 7-10pm. Unfortunately I wasn't going to be in Austin on a Monday night. After checking the place out, I plan to next time. Its a cool café with internet access (I'm always looking for that when I'm traveling) and looks like a cool place for an open mic. Check out their web site at thehideout.org.
2. The Cobalt Café
22042 Sherman Way (west end of the valley)
Canoga Park (LA)
My second open mic was in LA at The Cobalt Café. Hosted by Rick Lupert every Tuesday night at 9pm. Check this reading out if you're in the LA area. Rick is an excellent host of this piñata friendly poetry open mic. It was well worth the one drink minimum. I noticed a selection of various Snapples, bottled water, coffee and the like. I was having a very bad hearing night(I have bad, very bad and nope don't hear a thing days).The venue itself looks like a great place for all-ages hard core shows, or seedy dirty comedy nights(I think it has both) along with being the home of what is now one of my favorite poetry open mics. It's comfortably set up with mismatched tables and chairs and couches along the walls. Even not being able to hear what Rick was talking about to each poet, and not being able to hear the poetry of a wide variety of readers, I was thoroughly entertained and made to feel very welcome. I also really liked the idea of a group poem. That is a piece of paper
passed around to all with direction to add a couple of lines, and it's read at the end of the night. Each poet performing gets 7 minutes, which to me is plenty of time to do my thing. Check out Rick's web site at poetrysuperhighway.com. Its loaded with Rick's stuff, featured poets and lots of excellent links and info for the interested poet.
3. Karma Koffee House
1544 N. Cahuenga Blvd. (just up from Sunset)
My third open mic was at the Karma Koffee House in Hollywood. I liked the name and the location, and decided to check it out. Its a poetry/music open mic hosted by Tony. The venue is a comfy place with good hot chocolate and scary Danishes. Actually I might've just got an odd old one, and the others might've been fine. There were no restrictions on time or content. I thought it was cool when Tony was stating that in the beginning, that if anyone had a problem with something to just go outside and chill out. I think that says it all for this one.
For other LA listings check out halsguide.com or http://members.aol.com/nextmag/calendar.html (there are enough open mics listed on this one to keep you busy for a couple of years) or poetix.net.
4. Perry's Joint
1661 Filmore St.
My fourth open mic was at Perrys Joint on Filmore in San Francisco. The Celebration of the Word hosted by Jeanne Powell is every Monday night 7-9pm. Its a piñata friendly venue, where you have tables along the wall on one side, a counter on the other serving up Coney Island style hot dogs. The host and crowd are friendly and supportive. Each poet gets 5 minutes, and there is a featured poet each week. The night I was there, the feature was an excellent poet from LA , Rea Brown. She was so good that some one even bought one of my chapbooks(I was sitting next to her). Jeanne made only one request; that the poetry not be full of swearing, and no nudity. When it was my turn, I explained to her before starting that I was referring to someone as a bastard, and was going to mention a naked man, but assured her that she wouldn't find it offensive. I proceeded to do Cupid is a Bastard along with the piñata piece. She enjoyed them both. If your work is heavy on the Fuck This Fuck That and God damn I'm getting fucked up the ass you might want to skip the Celebration of the Word.
5. Canvas Café
1200 9th Ave. (by Golden Gate Park)
My fifth open mic, at the Canvas Gallery/Café, was the only open mic on this list that I didn't do anything but watch. The night I was there, it wasn't really an open mic. Ill get to that in a moment. First I want to describe the venue. Its a cozy, spacious café/bar gallery. My first impression of the place was, I really like the art. Throughout its 4,000 square feet of space is a variety of art that I could honestly say there would be something of interest to anyone who had an interest in art. As stated on their web site, the space is anchored by a central bar under a dramatic 30 foot skylight, with bistro style tables intermixed with eclectic grouping of refurbished 60s and 70s vintage furniture. They stated that better than I could, so I went for the quote. They have an excellent and varied menu that I believe would suit anyone as well. Okay on with the open, but not open mic. I was there for an unusual open mic, held on Tuesday instead of its usual Wednesday night. They were filming what was hoped to be the first of many to come segments for an open mic documentary. Being the first, I was told that they arranged the line up ahead of time. Also I was assured that any other time I would be able to sign up. I liked the look of the crowd and the feel of the place, and decided it would be no hardship to hang out and be an appreciative member of the audience. I was glad I did. Even though I didn't perform I became an active participant. The gent who was manning the camera was by the table I was sitting at, getting set up and ready to start. I had introduced myself and chatted with him a bit. (a hazard to anyone who is near me anywhere) At one early point he asked if Id like to be his first interview to help him get the feel for it. You bet, sure. Oddly enough I didn't mention I was a poet and the interview was more about my taste in music. I was dressed (not uncommonly) all in black, with my favorite rather worn Disney World magic shop black hat. I was first asked after the initial name and info, if I liked the blues. I in turn asked if it was the hat that tipped him off, and further stated that I like all kinds of music. That was about the extent of it, and I imagine if the documentary comes about that my part would've been long since edited out. It was fun to do all the same. This open mic is on Wednesday nights, hosted by Mike Fleming and listed as a Talent Show case. Its a 7 pm sign up and goes to midnight. Its open to musicians, poets, and comedians. All the performances are recorded and made available upon request.
Other San Francisco list sites
6. The Matrix Coffee House
437 NW Prindle St.
My sixth open mic was deep in the heart of the rural northwest where a shining pocket of the open minded can be found at the Matrix Coffee House. Its open only Thursday -Sunday (the open mic is on Thursdays 8-12) and run by a fine family and friends. I would never have known of its existence if not for the first of the two Ruth's that I stayed with on this grand vacation. This Ruth is an old friend who knew me way back when, and we've stayed close since then. Whenever I'm in Washington State I make a point to visit her and her husband on their back 40 farm in Winlock. (90 miles south of Seattle) This time knowing that I was hitting as many open mics as I could with my piñatas and all, Ruth had found a open mic in a near by town. She had even called ahead to make sure they were piñata friendly. As I stated Ruth has known me for a long time and in the past my piñatas have been big, and have often needed to be hung in a somewhat traditional manner. She moved to Washington before I scaled most of my performing piñatas down to hand held size. When we arrived I was directed to Moon (the son) to ask about the sign up. Having been told ahead that I was bringing a piñata he offered what ever assistance I would need. I thanked him for the offer, and explained that the piñata was a 2 = foot long exclamation point that I was going to hold then brake it like a stick over my knee. He was cool with that, and pointed out the sign up sheet where I got my first and only shock of this nature at an open mic. It said on the sheet that everybody got 20 minutes. 20 minutes, holy shit. That, in my world, is a feature length set. I thought about it for a while. Humm, I can and have filled 20 minutes and more, but decided that night that I didn't even want to listen to myself for that long. I decided to do the set I had pretty much been doing this trip, and was glad I did. The piñata and poems went over great. The Dad offered to put a show together for me, with advanced warning, if I should ever come back. Wow there is not much in life that feels as good as being that welcomed back. Its definitely up on my list of places that, I will be back. I just don't know when. Given the 20 minute time limit, there was the potential for some long and laborious sets to sit through. That was not the case. There was mix of musicians, only a few poets and some comic stuff. I enjoyed it all.
7. The Red Sky Poetry Theater at the Globe Café
1531 14th Ave.
My seventh open mic was at the Globe Café and is called The Red Sky Poetry Theater. Its hosted by Diane Westergaard and has been held almost every Sunday night for 19 years. Being that its almost every Sunday it might be a good idea to check ahead. There's a 3$ cover and a featured poet. The feature the night I was there was Morris Stegosaurus. Its a nice café with booths along the side walls, tables down the center, with a small stage by the door. You get 5 minutes. Enough time for me to do 3 poems and a piñata. It was actually a rare night for me, where I was able to hear most of the poets that night. Coincidentally one of the poets there had lived in Albany NY (home to me and many) and had brought 2 poems he had written there(here) long ago to read that night. I gave him a Love A C Style. I traded one of those with Morris for one of his mixed up chap books. Its mixed up due to the pages not being in order. Another poet there, who I had shoved another Love A C Style at (his poems sounded like he was of a like romantic mind as mine) mentioned an open mic in Bellingham. Oddly enough I was planning on being in Bellingham the next night. It was a nice group of friendly folks there that I felt fortunate to meet. I recommend this one to anyone.
8. Stuart's Coffee House
1302 Bay St.
My eighth open mic was at Stuart's Coffee House in Bellingham WA. A gent named Bob hosts the open mic there every Monday night. I'm afraid my memory is foggy and the journal lacks the info on the sign up and start times, but I can say for sure that the list and room fills up fast, so get there early. Amongst the standing room only crowd were two poets I had met the night before in Seattle. One was an excellent poet of Boston slam fame, Jack McCarthy. The other was Morris Stegosaurus and he was the feature that night as well. Jack asked if I had another piñata. I told him I did and apologized that it was the same one. Morris fortunately did a slightly different set which he started in a bunny costume. The open mic started with Bob letting all know that you have 3 minutes, and that he wasn't interested in stories about poems or poets. Just do the poems in 3 minutes so that he might not have to cut anyone from the end of the sign up list. With that in mind I did the fastest what's Breaking My Art spiel and run through I Just Know, smashing the piñata and throwing the stuffings that I have ever done and will likely do. It was my last piñata to break at an open mic, and seemed like the last open mic I was likely to hit on this trip (my next stop was the Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Fest and the next trip was to the New Orleans Jazz Fest. I didn't intend to do more than dance and party at either of those places). It was a good place to finish the state side open mic tour. It was the largest in space( three rooms and a balcony) and the largest crowd of all 12 open mics during the Grand Vacation. I had a good time there swapping books with Jack (his stuff is good, check it out) and shoving chap books and CDs at the people I was sitting with.
Washington links and sites
9. Poetry Club
22 Betterton St.
London WC2h 9BX
Convent Garden area of London
My ninth open mic was at the Poetry Café in London. Carl Dhiman hosts the open mic every Tuesday night. Its a 6pm. sign up and 7:30 start. The first night I went by the Poetry Café to check ahead about the open mic, there was a Haiku event happening on the 2nd floor. The café itself is on the first floor and the open mic, I later found, happens in the basement. According to the flyer in the window, I was informed that to insure a spot on the sign up list to get there early. It was a good and accurate tip that I was glad to have. I didn't stay for the Haiku thing. I might have accidentally written one, but for some reason they are something that I have yet been able to do when I try. Being the anxious sort of gal that I am and especially as the open mic was on my last night in London, and not wanting to miss doing my poetic bit at an open mic in that fine city (I had been striking out with my list of other open mics to check out due to their being on different nights or in unknown locations) I arrived at the café at about 5:30, a half hour early for the sign up, 2 hours early for the start time. I'm glad I did. The café itself is a smallish space, that sits about 30. When I got there I was able to grab a seat at an empty table and order up a pot of tea (man I love London for many reasons, the tea is towards the top of the list). By 6pm. the café was packed, the other seats taken at my table and many eyes looking for the sign up to start. Its not a sign your name aside a number sort of sign up. Instead its like a raffle where you put your name on a ticket that's put into a hat. You're given a ticket with a corresponding number (a small rectangle of paper). I think the numbers are only for the host to keep track of how many sign up and the only other significance to me and all, was to have a n affirmation that yes, our names are in that hat. I need to make a confession here. Before the open mic got started, whilst all were gathered in the café, I had a punk moment. Where I copped an attitude when I shouldn't have. A gent came through going able to table with chap books that he was asking a pound for (2$ American, in other words not that much). When he reached the table I was at (in the back by the counter next to a rack of chap books including the one he had and a bunch of other info) I mistakenly thought he might be like a few other poets I've met along the way. Very absorbed with their own work with no interest in anyone else's living or present. With that in mind when he made his pitch, I countered with a would you buy one of mine. When he hesitated in his response I changed my offer to trade mine for his instead. After a moments thought he agreed. Unfortunately the other poet at the table when asked if he would purchase The Polka Dot Ceiling, responded the same way I had. I looked, I hope, slightly ashamed when I apologized stating that I hadn't meant to get that started. Later back in the Hostel I discovered that the chap book is comprised of many poets poems and that he does indeed support other peoples poetry. I owe that man a pound. Carl in a loud carnival barkers voice let everyone know the open mic was to start in 5 minutes. Not true but it was a good idea to grab a seat in the downstairs room. It was set up with folding chairs set as close together as humanly possible for an adult to fit. To enable as many as possible to sit, I counted about 40, with a few folks standing in the back. The place was packed by the start time which was closer to 8 than 7:30. Carl started the open mic with a similar spiel as Bob had at Stuart's, with a You have 5 minutes, if you tell a story or explain or what ever, it's all a part of the 5 minutes. Be considerate of the time, I want to get everyone signed up, up. Then he explained how the hat worked. Each poet up picked from the hat for the next poet up. It turned out to be a rare night for me for three reasons. First, with me copping an attitude, I haven't done that much in my sober adult life. Secondly because I could actually hear all but one of the poets (I love loud people), lastly because most of the poets rhymed. I've become used to being one of the few rhyming poets at the open mics I've been going to for the past decade. It was a good feeling being in the majority. Being hearing impaired, I admit there might have been many other nights where most of the poets rhymed, but I was too deaf to know it at the time. All in all I gotta say its a good open mic. Carl is a fine host with a good sense of humor and patient when dealing with distracting audience members. The Poetry Café is a good place for info on poetic happenings in the area and worth a stop by even if you cant make the open mic.
10. ABC Tree House
My tenth open mic was at the ABC Tree House which happens there on the last Friday of the month in the beautiful city that is Amsterdam. I can honestly recommend Amsterdam to anyone. Just watch out for the bicycles. There's more than a half million of them peddling around any given day and they tend to have little patience for tourists strolling in the bike paths.
The ABC Tree House is an art gallery that reminded me of our now sadly missed Changing Spaces. The lay out was different in that the ABC has alcove spaces and its shaped like a squared off C. Its common ground with Changing Spaces was more the atmosphere, events the venue hosts and the art. I spotted who I figured to be the host and asked about the sign up. In the process of signing up I was told that although it wasn't necessary that it was a good idea to sign up on the ABC web site. It was further explained that it gave the host info about the performer ahead of time so that she could present whoever better and help her mix the poets and musicians in a more cohesive manner. In retrospect, I would recommend the web sign up. I was the second person to sign up on site and the second to last person up after the second smoke break. I cant say for sure that signing up on the web would've gotten me up sooner, but its a possibility. The poetry that night was spoken in a mix of Dutch and English. Being hearing impaired I don't think that I missed more than I usually would if it was all in my own language. The music was a range from a woman playing clarinet doing jazz standards, a duo doing Jethro Tull covers to a gal singing along to a boom box playing Celine Dion. The atmosphere was friendly and supportive. It wouldve been a good place for a piñata. Maybe next time.
The open mic at Sapphos is listed to be on Tuesdays at 7pm. Its actually closer to 9. It was also listed at the time, to be a poet friendly open mic. Apparently it had been, but not so with the new host. I was very lucky to have my friend Amy (whom I was also very lucky to being staying with) with me there that night. Amy is an excellent song writer, singer and musician who had played the open mics when she moved there a couple of years ago. She had been to Sapphos back then and was willing to check it out with me while I was there. When we arrived at Sapphos at the listed time the bartender/proprietor was the only person there. I saw that it was a cozy bar/cafe kind of place and hoped the open mic was happening. She let us know that it was, and it wasn't due to start for an hour or so. We went a couple blocks down the street to an excellent Italian restaurant for dinner to fill the time. When we got back to Sapphos things were underway. Amy spotted the host. He was someone whose band had played a gig together with Amy's a year or so before. When Amy was talking to him about signing up and referring to me the poet I am, she hit resistance. The host explained that there was another open mic night for poets, and his was not. Amy (goddess bless her) did some quick talking, saying that I was hoping to have some music backing me up if anyone there was willing. The host thought for a moment then said sure, that he would back me up with his Harp and that I could have 5 minutes. He'd let me know when. Harp, wow, okay. I've never performed with a harpist before. I got to thinking, what of my stuff would go with a harp? The music started and most of the participants before my time played upbeat popish, rockish kind of tunes. When the host called me up, he was saying how he'd really liked all the jolly songs, and thought jolly in general was great. I wasn't going to do a jolly piece. As the host tuned up his harp I told the audience that even though I had jolly poems , that I didn't think they would go as well with the harp as the one I had chosen to do, and proceeded to do I Just Know. A piece about what I don't know. I've got to say that, aside from the version of that on Idi Annine and the Mamas that I thought it sounded about the best it ever has with the harp. The compliments I received from the other folks there, I think, back me up on that thought too. I also think in retrospect that the host might be the only person I gave Idi Annine and the Mamas to that might not like a damn thing on it. I could be wrong. I was however grateful to Amy for making my participation possible. Id like to play with a harpist again some time.
Other Amsterdam link
12. The Cumberland Arms
James Place Street
(off Byker Bank)
My twelfth and final open mic was at The Cumberland Arms and called the Dharma Banana and is held every Sunday night. It starts at 8:30 pm and its recommended to get there early to secure a spot. It was my second friend named Ruth that I stayed with on my Grand Vacation that told me about this open mic. Like with the first Ruth, it turned out to be one of the best. This Ruth went one step further than the telling and accompanying me. She had got on the phone to her friends and generated what was to be about half the crowd there to cheer me on. Ill get into that more in a moment. The Cumberland Arms is an old style New Castle pub with bars on two floors. On Sunday nights both floors have open mics of sorts. The first floor hosts an open blues jam, the second floor is home to the Dharma Banana open mic hosted by Aiden and open to musicians and poets. You get to do 2 pieces. On the night I was there, there was only one other poet along with the musicians and of course the crowd of Ruth's friends, a boisterous group of area artists, Annie's new man, Ruth's stepdaughter and her boyfriend; the largest and friendliest group I've ever attended anything with. The musicians performed mostly folk style music that was excellent. The other poet was too soft spoken for me to know what style of poetry he was doing. I had decided to do I Just Know, having told the harp story on the way there, and Cupid is a Bastard, which is my one sure as shooting crowd pleaser. I was right. Before I got 4 steps from the stage I was to receive my, I think, first ever encore requested by the host, not the horde I was with who were indeed hooting and cheering me back up to the stage. I did The Beast. It was also the first time I was ever called brilliant. I soaked it up like a sponge. I know I'm good, I also know that I'm not brilliant, but it was very nice to be told so anyhow. The evening ended with Aiden calling each of the participants up to do one more. I ended with Where the We. Afterwards just about everyone made a point to speak with me and swap compliments and to welcome me back anytime. I've said it before and Ill no doubt say it again, that it is about the best thing I can hope for is the warm hearted and honest knowledge that I would indeed be welcome back. I hope to be back, like I also said before, I just don't know when.
It was the perfect ending to my open mic tour abroad. I have the wonderfully talented Ruth Gowland to thank for it.