Modern Watering Holes: The Herds at Open Mic Nights Part 1

Hello everyone, I’m David Attleborough and welcome to Modern Watering Holes. A show where, each week, we explore the culture, habits, and environments of the various herds of people that gather in contemporary human society.


Today’s Episode: Herds of the Open Mics

As any aspiring writer or performer will tell you, whether it’s music, comedy, poetry, or spoken word, there is simply no substitute for getting onstage and trying out your material or routine in front of strangers. Is it a good song? Is it a funny joke or story? Our friends and family might not let us know how they really feel, but the audience will, whether we like it or not.

In seeking out opportunities to put our proverbial toe in the water, open mics can provide an ideal environment. However, with time and experience, you will quickly find that not all open mics are created equal, and that each and every one has a hierarchy. So, we will now feature seven herds you are likely to encounter at the watering hole of an open mic.

The Hosts

Without these pivotal gatekeepers, an open mic can quickly devolve into a noisy and even hostile free-for-all. Denizens of the amateur stage, hosts often juggle announcing, ushering performers on and off stage, helping performers set up, “do you play standing or seated?” and may also be running the sound system if there is one. In addition to all of that, they often usually open the show by performing themselves.

First up…

The Randy Rock Star

Usual Habitat: Bars, music venues, clubs, church basements. Any place that will have him really.

Similar to a horny college kid who is ready to sow their wild oats, this eager multi-instrumentalist will hop on stage with nearly all the other performers. He will jump from bass, to drums, to guitar, and vocals, wherever he may be needed. He will also insist, “I can just follow you,” even when presented with original music that changes key. The result is unharmonious at best.

His natural friendliness and eagerness win over many, and thus he may open a door for proper gigs. But for now, he’s just happy to be here.

The Boomer Hippie

Usual Habitat: The third Sunday of each month at the local Unitarian church. 

Will likely forbid any and all electric guitars. Will demand absolute silence during performances. While their taste in music will predictably veer towards all things Dylan, Garcia, and Young, they themselves will often be shockingly illiberal in their politics, having decided the younger generations don’t understand anything.

Typically, cannot play barre chords and will demand everyone playing pay a cover.

The Hog

Usual Habitat: Having done most of my research in New England, it seems Irish Pubs are their preferred home.

Will have absolutely no embarrassment about eating up an entire hour or more performing, no matter how full the list is, and even if they were late getting started. You can expect to hear the same songs as last time and nearly all are adequate guitarists who, in an unforgivable act of artistic overreach, have decided they can sing, too. Most play seated with their nose in a three-ring binder and their own mic-stand mounted drink holder that they brought to keep their IPA available.

Many wear baseball caps indoors. If they don’t play The Wait by The Band, I’ll be shocked.

The Aloof Artiste

Usual Habitat: Bars, music venues, coffee shops. Is sometimes employed behind the bar or in the kitchen when needed.

Will make no effort whatsoever to see that those who arrived first get to go first. Sets out the list while avoiding eye contact as the mob of grown-ass adults rush in front of each other to get at the list. May blow smoke up your ass about joining your band. Caveat emptor: He’s already in too many bands. He’s spread thin trying to cultivate as many projects as possible, and excelling in none of them.

Always arriving as if it’s show night or a photo op, The Aloof Artiste will be well groomed, perhaps sporting a snazzy bowling shirt and cowboy boots over his pant legs. Back in the 2000s, his type favored T-shirts over long sleeves well into their late 30s, and occasionally beyond.

He’s also likely to arrive with a few thousand dollars worth of music gear for his three-song opener.

The Metal Maniac

Usual Habitat: Any place that will put up with a cranked Marshall stack.

Frozen in amber around 1992, this shaggy, tattooed, often leather-clad rocker knows what he wants and it includes the Bud Lights and well whiskey he gets as part of the gig. Like The Hog, he will open every show with the same handful of songs that showcase he’s a guitarist who’s singing, not a singer who plays guitar. More technically proficient than The Hog, he has a proper band that is guaranteed to demolish your hearing if attended regularly — bring ear plugs!

The Concierge

The absolute monarch of this particular hill, The Concierge owns the building and lives upstairs.

Businesses on the first floor can range from coffee shops, restaurants, bed and breakfasts, and even thrift stores.

In all cases, the dire sense of economy will be easily identified by the rummage sale decor. Mismatched lighting, furniture, tableware, and other used items are arranged to create the illusion of planned chaos. They are determined to save a buck and they call the shots around here.

If the open mic occurs in a coffee shop owned by The Concierge, refrain from purchasing anything that doesn’t come in a sealed wrapper with a barcode on it. The Concierge is a chronically overworked one-person show, incapable of maintaining quality control or brewing a decent cup of coffee. Those overpriced, home-baked goods, hastily wrapped in store-brand polyethylene, will taste only of disappointment.

The open mic itself will usually have technical problems as The Concierge insists on putting the PA speakers behind the microphones, to save floor space.

This open mic is a boon to those attempting original work, but a bane for the rest. The Concierge offers “originals only” open mics, ever since they received a cease and desist letter from attorneys representing ASCAP and BMI.

The Saint

Warning: Endangered.

This musical cryptid does something none of the others do, The Saint accepts RESERVATIONS. This patient, fair person goes the extra mile to make sure everyone gets a shot at playing and keeps things moving along smoothly through the various performances. A fine musician themself, they strike an ideal balance that the others should learn from.