The Roots Report: Is This Thing On?

Okee dokee folks… Maybe you made a New Year’s resolution to finally get out and perform in public. If so, open mics are a great stepping stone to get into the world of music performance. In case you are not completely sure what an open mic is, I will clue you in.

First of all “mic” (pronounced like “Mike”) is short for microphone. At an open mic, anyone is permitted to get up to the mic and do their thing — music, poetry or sometimes comedy. Some open mics are run as a ruse to get folks into a venue on a slow night, whereas others are set up for the genuine purpose of nurturing novice performers. Usually there is a limit to the time you are given (10 to 15 minutes) or the number of songs (3 to 5) you can perform. It usually depends on how many folks have signed up on that particular evening.

The absolute BEST open mic I ever performed was at the Old Vienna Kaffeehaus in Westboro, Mass, during the early ’90s. This was a serious open mic where people listened. You had to get open-micthere early to sign up and names were tossed in a hat. You never knew exactly when you would get to play until the names were drawn, and even then they only did the first half and then drew more names about halfway through the night. This eliminated/discouraged one of the rude habits that some open mic performers have: leaving right after they play. This wasn’t an open mic where you played cover songs. You were there to play your own tunes and get feedback on them. This open mic was attended by both the newbies and the stalwarts of the folk scene. I still remember Martin Sexton doing a kind of Al Jolson bit while smoking a cigarette (yes, they still smoked in venues back then — UGH!!!).

If you want to get into performing at open mics, here are a few tips:

  • Be prepared.
  • Have about a half dozen songs practiced and well oiled that you can perform from memory. Make them your strongest numbers.
  • Don’t tell the story in the song before you sing the story in the song!
  • If you are playing someone else’s music, give them credit.
  • Be sure your guitar is tuned before you hit the stage. Have your guitar strap adjusted, and have your pick, capo and guitar cord all readily accessible.
  • If you are playing a keyboard or some odd instrument, make sure you coordinate set-up with the host long before your performance time.
  • Sing into the microphone — about 1 to 3 inches away from it, not over it and not 3 feet away from it.
  • Take your open mic performance seriously and act like it is a mini gig.
  • Be professional.
  • Be conscious of your appearance. Lose the backward baseball hat and the sunglasses. Wear shoes and not flip-flops — no one wants to see your ugly ass feet!
  • Whether this is your first open mic performance or your hundredth you are still up there to entertain, so remember that. Some people do just go to open mics to listen.
  • Be courteous to the other performers; listen to them and don’t talk over their performance.
  • Stay until the end; don’t play and leave!!!
  • Network, listen and learn.
  • Lastly — and this is one of the things that kills some open mics — avoid the tribe mentality. Some folks go into an open mic, play every week and take it over. If this sounds like you, then it’s time to move on, get a real gig and start a whole new learning process. Go out and play a lot of different open mics and practice playing under all kinds of conditions, from the real listening crowd to the noisy bar where you can barely hear yourself play. It’s all learning and it is a constant process. Open mic on…

One of the folks who takes her open mic very seriously is Joanne Lurgio. She hosts an open mic every Tuesday at the Pub on Park in Cranston ( Gary Fish runs an open mic on Tuesday at Sandywoods in Tiverton ( Don Tassone holds an open mic on Thursdays at the Mediator in Cranston ( The Pump House in Peacedale schedules an open mic/potluck once a month — usually the last Saturday ( The Galactic Theatre in Warren has a Wednesday open mic night ( The Parlour on North Main also holds a Tuesday open mic night ( Perks & Corks on High St. in Westerly has a Monday night open mic ( Lori Silvia, who was a great friend and mentor to me THIRTY-some-odd years ago when I was just beginning to perform, runs an open mic at Strings Bar & Grill in Johnston on Wednesday nights ( These were all off the top of my head, but this should get you started. Lots of other local bars and coffeehouses also have open mics, so just check their websites and keep your ears open for more. Have fun!

Waaaaay back, when I ran the Rhode Island Songwriters Association, we held a weekly open mic. One of the people who would frequent that open mic was Dean Petrella. Back then he was in his late teens. Nowadays he has a band, The Complaints (, and has been performing up and down the East Coast and beyond for over 20 years. Besides Petrella, the band includes bassist Chris Cruz and drummer Anthony Marotti. The Complaints have shared the stage with many national acts including Sugar Ray, Train, Collective Soul, 3 Doors Down, Nickleback and Guster and have won numerous awards, including  the Band of the Year award from Motif. Though they are primarily a rock trio, their latest CD offering, Talk To Me, is more of an acoustic recording. They celebrate the release of their fourth CD on Sun, Feb 18 at 5pm. The party will be held at The Last Resort located at 325 Farnum Pike  in Smithfield. For more, “Breathe” over to

Finally, if you are cold this winter and need some warming up, then get to Rhodes On The Pawtuxet on Sat, Feb 10  for the 26th annual Mardi Gras Ball where you can dance yourself hot and sweaty. Doors open at 6pm in anticipation of Grammy-winning Cajun band Beausoleil avec Michael Doucet, international performers Nathan & the Zydeco Cha Chas, and New Orleans blues from Rhode Island’s own Knickerbocker All-Stars.

Cajun and Creole cuisine is offered by the renowned Chili Brothers Food Company, arguably the most popular food vendor at the Rhythm & Roots Festival every year, serving up their world-famous Louisiana-inspired cuisine. The ball also features a costume contest with cash prizes in a variety of categories, including best group, best couple, best individual and a grand prize of $250 for best overall costume. The event will benefit VSA Arts RI, the nonprofit organization that opens the world of art to children and adults with disabilities. For more, zyd-e-go-go to

That’s it for now. Thanks for reading.

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