Last night on my way home from the Alex Cameron charm your face off experience I ducked into a cafe/bar that just started a new open mic night. Open mics are curious creatures, though uniformly named and conceptualized each is very different. Some are baby artist play pens, where one in ten songs might be originals, and three and ten songs are just trainwrecks of execution. Other nights are the last bastion of old rockers, men and women who at some point laid it all down and walked away, and then decided to come back now and again for people who like to play the dangerous game of open mic watching. They knew what the blues was, and could show you, if attention spans weren’t shredded to bits, salivating for the latest acoustic cover of that years bar anthem, which could be up to 30 years old.
Regardless, each Open Mic night becomes its own scene, with regulars who get to skip the queue and that special soul the regular weeknight drinker there to applaud with enthusiasm or politeness. I had never had the chance to experience and Open Mic night in it’s infant stage, where it hasn’t decided if reggae is OK, or if it’s a sit down affair. During the day the venue was a source of the cheapest and least pretentious coffee accessible from my office, so I was interested to see if I could turn Monday into a 12 hour gauntlet of activity with a free domestic Open Mic pint to cap it off.
I was a bit flustered upon entering. The rain had started to fall and my ancient leather jacket, that had belonged to my father when he was half my age wasn’t up for a good soaking, so I had been hustling from awning to awning along the 3 blocks from point A to point B. When I entered the venue a rapt audience sat silently in all the nooks and crannies. There wasn’t a bartender or a seat in sight. A lone woman, steadfast in her 20 somethingness, stood at the microphone next to a red guitar. What I presumed was the preamble to her set was being delivered with a conviction that seemed to be teetering on complete collapse as it reached out for the right words to set the scene. I settled in to a standing position that would make for the easiest pint once the bartender reappeared. Someone across the room I don’t know nodded to me as if he did know me. When there was no further movement I realized he wasn’t the bartender. I also realized this wasn’t the preamble. This was the amble.
“In the moment, amongst the brush, he looked at me, and I at him and like, I became certain that there was a connection here. Not just a fleeting moment, but a profound human connection that was just being amplified by the contrast in our conditions. I, someone out for a stroll in the park, and he, out for a supply run before returning to his woodland home where he fights to secure himself within nature safe from the city the doesn’t want him to be anywhere near it. It was just, so, so sad, and beautiful and profound, and compelled me to take this moment to tell you, a room full of friends and strangers about it, so we too might continue that connection.”
Conclusion and clapping. The thirst and awkwardness in the face of such earnestness had dried my mouth out to the morning after cigarettes for hours. Nonetheless, I had committed to examining this protoplasmic open mic, and as the host thanked the girl for taking advantage of this open concept stage, “where it doesn’t have to be music or poetry, but in fact can just be someone talking with the power of a captive audience and a microphone,” [paraphrased] I figured it would be worth seeing the next act.
Then I saw the fedora, obnoxious patterned shirt, and hollow-body guitar appear wielded by the rigs of daddiest mamma jamma I could have envisioned. The bartender was still nowhere in sight. The rain continued to fall and threaten my family heirloom, but the hypnotic refrain of the showman who begun the night reminded me that “It’s just water,” and I fled from a room full of people I did not understand.