Upon the advice of some trusted folks and the encouragement of facebook friends and twitter pals alike, I decided to attend my first open mic night last night.
I convinced The Maifan-San to accompany me and after doing a brief search on google found a local event.
At an Anarchist Coffee Shop.
Not to be daunted, I figured if nothing else it would be an interesting adventure (and blog entry) so I re-convinced The Maifan-San to come with me and off we went.
-Technically I freaked out for a few moments trying to decide what to wear, I printed off a few poems just in case I managed to work up the nerve to actually participate, I discarded them and printed off different ones… Then we headed off.
Being who we are, middle class and newbie, we got there WAY early. Upon closer inspection it turned out to be a teeny tiny little room (and patio area) with crowded book shelves, Zine racks, and home made coffee served in a “provide your own cup” sort of way. Also, not surprisingly, they only took cash.
We left briefly to rustle up some cash and some coffee mugs (The Maifan-San’s office was relatively close by) and got back just in time to order our coffee (1 buck each) and find seats on the folding chairs before the show started.
The floor was cement, scratched and stained. The walls were bare. The people milling about were pretty much what you expected to see in downtown Santa Cruz at 8 pm, a mix of college skaters, veterans, the Raging Grannies*, beatnik bums, well pressed yuppies trying to fit in, even a biker or two. The coffee was extremely strong. There was soymilk on hand and chunky organic sugar.
The Maifan-San, having been a resident of Santa Cruz much longer and also having had a very different college experience than I, wasn’t really all that surprised by the “acts” that we saw. He was moderately impressed by the skill of a few of the guitar players and by the number of guitar/music acts (they were mostly musical with a few poets thrown in for good measure).
I, on the other hand, was blown away.
Not by the raw talent, although there were a few pretty talented people there, but by the whole idea. With a five minute time limit (lights that would lower just a smidge to let you know you were almost out of time) and a very open and friendly atmosphere, this open mic night was the perfect place for artists to try out new material, deal with the demons of stage fright, and participate in my personal favorite aspect of art: shared inspiration.
Shared Inspiration. Whether it is a group discussion that stars in one place and meanders down long twisty paths that lead the participants to new ideas and inspiration… or an interactive art show where you respond directly to the art around you by making your own art right then and there… or in a jam session where musicians feel the ebb and flow of a musical conversation… or story telling where you have the freedom to adapt the narrative as you go based on how your audience is reacting…. In all these cases (and many more) the creation of art is two fold… Art being created for the pure sake of art and Shared Inspiration. Sometimes you need the energy and the input, the momentum of the audience or fellow artists or partners in order to create something totally unique and beautiful.
No, they didn’t spike my coffee.
I have missed that sort of thing…and stupidly, I had never thought it could happen at an open mic night.
Yes, there were “acts” that were pretentious and poetry that was, subjectively, awful. But there was also a spirit of art, a spirit of sharing that transcended the few political spiels to make that tiny space seem huge with possibilities.
We had to leave early due to needing to eat dinner and go to bed at a relatively decent hour, but as we left, I was buoyed by the experience. Snippets of verse still floating in my head, I let my mind wander and found ideas and inspiration for myself.
Will I go back? Probably.
Someday I might participate. For now though, it is a comfort to know that places like this exist and that art is still evolving.