By Jennifer Pund
Open mics are a wonderful outlet for first timers looking to shake their nerves, living room musicians wanting to play to a wider audience and locals who love to listen to new and undiscovered talent. These nights can be a chance to try a new song or give a working piece a little extra sound playing with different instruments and styles. Many mountain communities offer opportunities to show a talent, share a song, or play an instrument alongside a friend or neighbor. Open mic nights provide benefits for the musicians as well as the venues that host them. Most find they are good for business just about any night of the week.
First-time musicians, old-time musicians and sometimes-musicians can all appreciate the open mic forum. The relaxed atmosphere allows for a comfortable feel while still playing to a live audience. Professional musician Jon “Blackdog” Ridnell, who leads various open mic nights and bluegrass picks in the region, encourages his students to get out to open mics and picks to learn outside of a lesson.
“It’s the first step to playing in front of people,” Ridnell said. “It allows students to receive valuable feedback from other musicians that can really help their playing.” The setting also gives newer players the chance to get used to playing in front of a live microphone and a live audience, leading to their first applause.
Perfect for beginners, The Open Jovan open mic night at the Jamestown Mercantile is every Monday from about 6-8 p.m. The popular night of local music was started by a guy named Mike so when Jovan took over, in pure Jimtown style, it became the “Open Jovan.”
What separates their open mic from others is the “incredibly easy approach and accessibility,” said Rainbow Shultz, owner and operator of the Jamestown Mercantile. Jovan begins each night with silly and ridiculous songs to ease the nerves of potential performers. Described as the “most supportive and welcoming open mic around,” some nights the audience is the kitchen staff, but most times several local musicians come allowing for a show-ending jam before heading home.
Open mics, in general, are a great first stop for new musicians in town. The atmosphere is perfect for meeting folks that share an interest in music and playing live. For Jason Seigel of Idaho Springs, it is a way to continue his passion in a new place. “I moved here from Nashville where I was heavily involved in music, played in a bunch of bands and performed three or four nights a week. I got here and it’s pretty much been a dead stop. It’s a little slice of sanity I get from going down and playing music with a bunch of guys.” He finds the openness of the people and the environment just right for his musical growth. “It’s very laid back and nobody’s judging you or anything. I can write songs again and try them out there and not be so worried about it.”
At Spirit Hounds Distillery in Lyons, “Thursday nights are a great night for both new faces and old friends,” mixologist Talia Tiram said. “These nights… provide an opportunity for the community to get together and support their fellow musicians. First-time musicians can expect a very friendly environment where they can either perform solo or with other artists.” Spirit Hounds hosts an Open Mic night every Thursday from 7-9 p.m. Hosted by Taylor Radio, first time attendees can expect to hear a mix of folk, bluegrass, rock and even pop.
Raina Anderson, co-owner of the Tapestry Coffee House in Allenspark says their open mic nights have been “very well attended” over the last four years, but this season has “definitely been the busiest and most fun.” The cozy space is typically standing room only on Saturday nights in the summer for their open mic nights. The nights are great for business as it usually packs the house, she said, but the greatest value she sees is “the networking and sense of family” that runs through the Tapestry. “Logan and I have met some amazing people through the coffee house and open mic nights,” she said.
The open mics at Tapestry are open for anyone. “We have singers, songwriters, comedians and poets, so whatever your talent, we’d love to see you,” she said. They are always looking for a host for the events so send an e-mail or give a her a call, if interested. Anderson plans to continue the tradition though the winter “as long as people keep coming in the door,” she said.
These unique musical nights provide a great opportunity to get out and play for the sake of playing and having fun playing with other people. “There are a lot of guys that should be playing professionally,” Ridnell said, “but for many reasons, they aren’t.”
Seigal finds the same phenomena in Idaho Springs. “A lot of these closet musicians are really good. Everybody’s having fun and that’s what matters. You start to see songwriters and musicians come out of the woodwork,” he said.
“There are probably a bunch of musicians here that are bad ass that we don’t know yet.”
Very Nice Brewing Company in Nederland has open mic nights that are very informal and take a very causal approach with no host according to co-owner Susan Green. “The group of musicians that come to our open mic really enjoy working together and take turns encouraging each other to go to the mic or join their talents and our regular customers love to hear new or unknown musicians,” she said.
Open mic nights are also a nurturing place for bands to form. According to Ridnell, many bands have come together professionally through open mics in Nederland. “I’ve seen a lot of people start off at an open mic, and then bands are formed,” he said. “If you’re good, someone is going to want to play with you.”
When he’s not touring with the Jeff Austin Band, you can catch Eric Thorin at Oskar Blues Grill & Brew in Lyons. For nearly 10 years he has co-led the well-known, well-loved Tuesday night bluegrass jam—where all players are welcome to join in the fun—with K.C. Groves. Numerous Colorado bluegrass musicians have been discovered and inspired by the weekly event over the years.
For those who don’t play an instrument, open mic nights are great for listeners, too. Chris Eddy, co-owner and main “geek” at Geeks for Hire, Inc. finds open mics a way to discover new, local talent.
“I’m much more interested in the open mic as a musical venue and finding rare artists that are really special to listen to,” he said. Eddy finds the low-pressure, low-key environment of the Pioneer Inn like playing in someone’s living room. It is also a place where beginners can play with much more experienced players. “Want to be a bullet proof amateur musician? Play with the likes of Jon Ridnell, Dave Lyons, Will Garrison, Dan Perez, Ben Sproul, Neil Bender at the Pioneer Inn—it’s not hard to do,” he said. “They have a huge database of tunes they just know, and give lift to everyone they play with.”
The Grumpy Jam held at the Alpine Restaurant in Georgetown on Sunday nights from 6:30-9 p.m. is incredibly popular and great for business according to owners Aaron and Tina Smith. Most of their large banquet room is filled with reservations for those nights, and most are primarily listeners, they explained. The music is folk and some classic rock is played using a wide variety of instruments. “We see everything from acoustic guitars, flutes, banjos, and even a wash bucket,” says Tina. “And, whoever knows the songs can join in.” She says the Grumpy Jam has a limited number of musicians that can participate due to the space, so if you want to play or attend, reservations are highly recommended.
On Wednesdays, head to Estes Park and join host Justin Faye at Lonigans Saloon’s open mic night. Performed on the front stage, bring instruments, songs and play some music while having a lot of fun. Faye is a pop singer, songwriter and guitarist, originally from Senegal, and can sing in five languages.
This winter, don’t put your instruments away or hibernate at home, hone your skills, meet new and talented musicians and learn a new tune by showing up to any of the many open mics and pics around the mountain communities.
Open Jovan (Open Mic Jimtown Style) –
Open Mic – Pioneer Inn
Bluegrass Pick – Oskar Blues
“A Night at the Goat” Open Mic – KYGT 102.7 FM
Blues Jam – Pioneer Inn
Open Bluegrass Pick – Jamestown Mercantile
Brown Bag Lunch Jam – Highland Music
Open Mic w/Justin Faye – Lonigans Saloon
Bluegrass Pick – First Street Pub
Open Mic: Taylor Radio + Potluck – Spirit Hound Distillery
Ross & Pinners Open Mic – 1860 Tavern
Open Mic Night – Tapestry Coffee House
Open Bluegrass Pick – Salto Coffee Works
Grumpy Jam – Alpine Restaurant & Bar
SECOND THURSDAY MONTHLY
Open Mic – Very Nice Brewing
LAST TUESDAY MONTHLY
Open Mic – Ed’s Cantina
LAST FRIDAY MONTHLY
Old Gallery Open Mic Night – Kelley House
Partial list. Events, days and venues subject to change.
Originally published in November 2014 issue of MMAC monthly