Get on the mic
Take the Stage
Black Dog Saloon
7:30 p.m. every Tuesday
Carbondale Beer Works
8 p.m. every second and fourth Tuesday
8 p.m. every Wednesday
It’s just after 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday night, and Jeff Rice, open mic night host and designated silence-filler at the Black Dog Saloon in New Castle, is just getting started.
Rice and a couple percussionists put on their rendition of the Eagles’ “Hotel California,” changing the lyrics to “Hotel Colorado,” before inviting another guitarist to the stage for a Rolling Stones sing-along.
“It’s too early in the night for this, but we’re gonna play it,” Rice laughs before starting “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” It’s only 8 p.m., but the patrons scattered throughout the bar enthusiastically join in on the chorus.
This is a slower open mic night, according to Erin Williams, Rice’s fiancee. She said the bar has around 15 regulars who perform at open mic, but the number of musicians varies from week to week.
“On some nights, nobody comes,” she said. “A lot of nights, it’s packed. A lot of times, we have four or five drummers, a bassist, an electric guitar — it’s totally hit or miss. But it’s been great lately. There have been a lot of people coming in.”
The Black Dog Saloon is just one of many places throughout the valley that offers performers a chance to get on stage and share something with an audience. At the Black Dog, the process is just showing up. After almost every song Rice and his spontaneous band finished, he called out, “Anybody want to play something?” There is also a sign-up sheet, but Williams said most people just take the stage when they feel ready.
Williams said hosting open mic nights is a great business move because “a lot of people who like to come and play music also like to enjoy their beer, which is very beneficial for a bar.” But one of her favorite parts is getting to see musicians take the stage for the first time.
“We have had a couple people I’ve noticed who come and visit a few nights for a few weeks to kind of feel it out,” she said. “You don’t have any idea that they want to sing, but then they come forward and they sing.”
Williams, who is the head bartender at Rivers Restaurant in Glenwood Springs, has worked the Rivers open mic night for five years. She said she sees more people take the stage for the first time there, but a lot of people like the smaller space at the Black Dog Saloon.
“People just love to come in, and it’s small, so they feel more comfortable doing it,” she said. “But mostly the open mic night over at Rivers is where people do their debut.”
Farther upvalley, Carbondale Beer Works hosts an open mic night every second and fourth Tuesday of the month. Music coordinator Lyn Byars said they used to host jam sessions every Monday, which morphed into an open mic night. Then last June, she and the two other organizers fell on busy times, and open mic night was canceled. It was brought back in November to take place twice a month.
Byars said performers are usually musicians, and they get an average of 12 to 15 performers each night, but sometimes people will come in and do spoken word poetry.
The strangest thing she’s ever seen at open mic was when a performance art group from Boulder came in.
“They showed up and did performance art,” she said. “While someone was reciting something, the other gal walked around with whipped cream and a mirror and got really weird with that.”
Byars said there’s something about the concept of open mic nights that draws people in. Musicians are able to meet and play together for the first time in front of a supportive audience, and that breeds creativity and community.
“It’s just a mutual appreciation and encouragement that I think performers like,” she said.
At Carbondale Beer Works, performers are able to sign up on a sheet broken into 15-minute slots, but Byars said that’s not set in stone; it just serves as a sort of guide for the night. After everyone gets a chance to play, the evening turns into a jam session. People who don’t know each other will come up and play together for the first time, and regulars look forward to playing with friends.
Byars said the best part about open mic night is the support performers get from the audience.
“It’s the kind of place where people can come up and miss the chords, sing out of tune, stutter and have to start over and get applauded for it, especially if it’s their first time,” she said.
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