“Open mics prove Rochester has the talent for a great music scene,” says Tarek Abdelqader, a local drummer.
Abdelqader’s opinion suggests open mics are an important aspect of the local music scene. Many Rochesterites are surprised to learn they can attend open mics four days a week.
Allowing veteran and novice musicians to mingle while taking turns as performer and audience, each mic has its own unique flair. On Sundays, Kathy’s Pub offers Bandoke. A former emcee for this event, Winston Howard, claims, “Bandoke is different from everywhere else that holds an open mic because we do live arrangement karaoke.” Sometimes learning songs on the spot for performers, a rotation of talented, high-energy musicians anchors the stage. Guest singers and other instrumentalists join in throughout the night.
One of the organizers of Bandoke, local DJ Jordan Vanhook, fondly remembers when members from Cracker showed up to Bandoke this past summer. Vanhook notes that Bandoke will be re-launched on Sunday.
Another Bandoke musician, Cameron Smith — a multi-instrumentalist playing drums, bass and guitar — recounts how he owes some musical success to open mics: “I started getting bar gigs by playing in open mics. It led to my band Push and Turn getting our first gig.”
On Tuesdays, Tracy Sonnier, the host for the Viking Lounge open mic, presides over the longest running open mic in Rochester. A 56-year-old singer/songwriter who has frequented the Viking event for five years, Pat Eagan mentions his growth as a musician and credits it to the community of open mic musicians.
Nestled between popcorn and pull tabs, Eagan plays originals such as “Dancing at Milwaukee Road,” about a Minneapolis train depot. “You never know what inspires you to write a song,” Eagan said, quickly pointing out the Viking mic has birthed bands, such as Thomas and the Rain, that now perform regularly.
The open mic moves to Whiskey Bones Roadhouse on Wednesdays with the gifted Jeanne Walker as host.
“My favorite moments are when I see people who have never been on stage before take their first chance here at Whiskey Bones, and the joy and satisfaction it brings them,” Walker said.
Often, musicians attend multiple open mics. Oliver Books, before beginning an impromptu jam with another guitarist and banjoist, a configuration temporarily dubbed “The Flying Capos,” says he appreciates the Viking’s laid back atmosphere but also has performed at the Whiskey Bones’ mic, and he extols the Interlude open mic’s virtues.
Books says the Interlude mic, occurring at the Salon on Thursdays and open to all ages, offers a huge diversity of performances including poets and filmmakers. The Interlude’s attentive audience is one of its strengths.
James Denzer, a 24-year-old musician, cites “a live improv dance complete with backflips” as one of his favorite Interlude open mic acts.
Mylan Fizer, sometime drummer for Bandoke and part of the band Suite, sums up the open mic experience perfectly: “Being in a room full of music equipment and talented musicians and singers … like, that’s the best feeling in the world, man.”