Roots Report

RI Philharmonic show. (Photo courtesy of RI Philharmonic)

Okee dokee folks… I like to “stir the pot” a bit. Okay, a lot. I posted my thoughts about something on social media that got a lot of “knickers in a twist.” It’s fun. My post was about open mics. Specifically, it was about “venue bookers” who want you to play their open mics BEFORE you are booked for a paid gig. This is ridiculous and insulting to professional musicians. Would you have a carpenter make you a birdhouse, a plumber fix your toilet, a painter paint a portrait, or a car mechanic fix your brakes BEFORE you hire them? No! Then the same respect should be paid to a professional, seasoned performer who has a long resume and has been actively performing for years. That was my initial point, but the comments devolved into an open mic discussion that got me thinking, “What is the value of an open mic?”


Now, as always, this is my opinion; not everyone will agree. That’s the fun part!

Open mics are available for performers, usually novices, to practice and learn how to perform and for others to try out new material. Some open mics are great while others are just a ploy to get bodies into a venue. You need to assess what the open mic has to offer to you so you can form your own opinion.

Back in the mid ’80s when I began performing solo, publicly, I started by playing open mics. I had zero information as to what it took to be a musician and needed to learn. The open mics were a great start, but when I started performing regularly, I needed to reassess the value of the open mic.

After I formed my duo, Fuzek-Rossoni, we needed to try out our sound before taking it “on the road.” We had to find a different kind of open mic to suit our needs. Open mics like the Hoot at Stone Soup or the Old Vienna Kaffeehous were the type we needed. They were where the folk folks gathered, where musicians tried out new songs and networked with other artists. They primarily dealt with all original material. A feature I liked was the Old Vienna Kaffeehous didn’t have a “list” per se. When you signed up, your name was put into a hat and names were drawn for the performance order. This kept folks in attendance and paying attention instead of planning their exit. You could also hear a pin drop when artists were playing. One open mic that has legendary status is the Blue Bird Café in Nashville. I am not sure if it still happens, but back then there was a film titled The Thing Called Love that was centered around that open mic; it starred River Phoenix, Sandra Bullock, and Dermot Mulroney. Fuzek-Rossoni actually played a show with River and his band Aleka’s Attic, but that is a whole ‘nother story! Besides the networking opportunities, the folk open mics usually offered valuable performance opportunities with bookings at these venues or others. BTW this is a far cry from my original complaint about today’s open mics.

Open mics today are a bit different. Sometimes there’s a featured act, sometimes not. They don’t always require original music and the skill level varies greatly. A lot of tribalism happens at open mics. A small group of people dominate certain ones and it becomes their “thing.” They are “the big fish in the little pond.” There are a lot of hobbyists who really don’t have lofty goals and are happy to continue playing open mics.

The other big issue I have with them now is the lack of respect for the music. You CAN’T hear a pin drop; you can barely hear the music. As I mentioned previously a lot of them are offered just to get bodies in the door and sell alcohol. Sure, they bring in people who want to play, but that’s it. If there is no feature and no respect for the music, then the only folks who come are the ones who just want to play and aren’t concerned about the conditions.

You may not sound your best at an open mic even if you usually sound great. Open mic hosts are not sound techs and unless they know what they’re doing or have a dedicated sound person, then your sound could suffer.

Now, for all you folks whose knickers are in a twist, please know that I ran a few open mics back in the day so I actually do know what I am talking about. I don’t attend open mics anymore because I don’t know of any that would satisfy my needs, nor do I have the patience, time, or desire to go out to a bar and deal with the issues I have with open mics. This does not mean that you cannot be happy with an open mic. I just wanted you all to have critical info about them. You need to trial run them until you find a fit. Open mics do serve a purpose, but they need to serve your purpose. Read on…

I rambled a bit too much today so a quick rundown of things to check out! Folk legend, Tom Rush will be at the Narrows in Fall River on February 24. I’ll have a podcast up with Rush by the time you read this. On March 2, KC and The Sunshine Band performs at Twin River in Lincoln. Indigo Girls play with the RI Philharmonic on March 23 at PPAC. Marc Maron, actor, comedian, and podcast host of WTF comes to The Strand on March 9. Maron is one of the best comics out there today! The Vagina Monologues, Jim Brickman, a Jimmy Buffet Tribute, and a Johnny Cash Tribute are all upcoming at the Greenwich Odeum! And finally, the AMAZING Nicole Gauthier does her Joni Mitchell tribute when she opens a special Forever Young acoustic show at The Blue Room on February 17. She will have your jaw on the floor!

That’s it for now. You can listen to my podcasts at Thanks for reading and listening.