Open Mics: Lifeblood of Local Writers

First time I showed up at an open mic I was the only one there. It was a Vancouver pub. (Still is, I suppose.) I had my Seagull six-string acoustic (no pickup), both the guitar and I showing our age. In all fairness to the organizers, there was no reason for anyone to be there. I was an hour early for signup. Beyond nervous. Then the hosts arrived – recording artists Kaitlin Deavy and Nimkish Younging, immediately making me feel part of a community. The venue works, but the hosts made it exceptional. An eclectic array have paraded across that stage: singers, comics, writers of poetry and prose, the ultimate performer grab bag. Everyone fits, the way patchwork quilts become treasures.

The next time I mustered the courage to repeat the mildly masochistic experience, I’d tracked down my friend Michael Averill of Michael Averill Productions. He ran a vibrant session at Corduroy in Kitsilano – so popular in fact musicians would draw numbers to determine who got mic time – an engaged, energetic crowd. Averill managed the supply-demand inequality seamlessly, facilitating inclusive jam opportunities, the results fun and creative. And the guy can rock a cello. I was welcomed to sneak some spoken word into the mix one night. Even hard-core music fans enjoy lyrics in differing formats.

Michael and I took our mini-show on the road to Vancouver Island, paying a couple of visits to Nanaimo’s 15 Minutes of Infamy run by WordStorm Society’s Ian Cognito along with Carla Stein, a thriving event with pre-booked performers held several times throughout the year. These offshore poets run one of the best-blended offerings of poetry, storytelling and song in a seamless live mashup. The performers even managed to convert a clump of drunks in the corner, the surprised crew finding themselves new lovers of verse as they ramped up the applause.

“Whether you’re finding your chops, an accomplished professional, looking to network, socialize, get some performance time or just support artists and local business, open mics check every box.”

The quietly accomplished Marq De Souza has been running successful (pre-COVID) shows at Vancouver’s Trees Coffee on Granville, an innovative blend of open mic Thursdays and feature-performer Fridays, Trees draws an all-ages crowd with an array of musicians and the occasional mixed media performer. I’ve also been privileged to be part of pure-poetry open mics, superb events run by Bonnie Nish of Pandora’s Collective at a swath of Vancouver venues – from libraries to art galleries and raucous bistro bars, akin to RC Weslowski’s popular and long-running slam events around town. And Warren Dean Fulton of New Westminster’s Poetic Justice makes a point of utilizing open mic to showcase new talent alongside established featured writers, creating an infectious sense of community, akin to Simon Fraser University’s TWS (The Writer’s Studio) series and Sound Coast’s Amanda Neil with her magical open mics in North Vancouver and Squamish.

Whether you’re finding your chops, an accomplished professional, looking to network, socialize, get some performance time or just support artists and local business, open mics check every box. I owe a lot to these events and the people who run them, welcoming musicians, poets, and every other artistic weirdo I consider a peer and a friend. I still get butterflies before a performance, but no longer need a pint or two to get on stage. The creative collaborations I’ve been part of continue to inspire and humble. A lot of good people are running a lot of great open mics, many of which now happen on Zoom. Every one offers something valuable. The more inclusive, the better.

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