Here at Thalia capos, we love open mic nights.
They’re a great opportunity to meet other musicians, as well as to take your guitar playing out of your house and into the great wide world.
But much more than that, the awesome thing about open mic nights is that they’re, well… open. Unlike a bona fide, ticketed gig, literally anyone can get up and play.
As a result, all kinds of charactersfrequent these events. If you’re a regular open mic night attendee, you’ll probably know what we’re talking about.
So, with that in mind, here’s our salute to the heroes of the open mic night scene. They’re sometimes eccentric, often brilliant, and testament to the unifying power of the guitar.
The Gear Head
For this guitarist, collecting obscure pedals, boutique amps and obsessing over pick-ups is as much as a passion as playing the guitar itself. Case in point, they’re likely to rock up to a Wednesday night open mic with more equipment than Guns N’ Roses took on their last world tour.
To the gear head, the five minutes of setup time allowed at the open mic night is a vague suggestion rather than a hard and fast rule: “Five minutes isn’t nearly enough time for the tubes to warm up! Besides, getting that vintage Klon to do its thing is a fine art, man, not an exact science.”
Once finally assembled, the “rig” looks more like the control desk to the Starship Enterprise than a pedal board. It’s an appropriate metaphor, because the gear head will manage to create sounds with that equipment that are truly out of this world. His playing is weird, wonderful, and definitely worth the half-hour setup time wait.
This guitarist will be a huge fan of “insert name guitarist here.” And by huge, we mean devoted to a level or near religiosity. He’s bought every album, every bootleg and every instructional DVD – even the ones only available on import.
His guitar rig is the guitar hero’s rig. His wardrobe isthe guitar hero’s wardrobe. He almost certainly has the guitar hero tattooed on at least one part of his anatomy….
After enlightening you at the bar with an in depth-rundown of the subtleties of said guitarist’s right-hand technique, he’ll get called up. No prizes for guessing what he plays.
The disciple will absolutely nail the rendition of “name guitarist’s” signature tune. Why, because he’s the disciple, and that means putting the hours in.
His conversation might be limited, and he might only know how songs by “name guitarist.” But, the disciple knows what he likes, and dang, can he play it! For that, we salute him.
The Dark Horse
Sat at the back in his polo shirt, slacks and loafers, nestling a bottle of Miller Lite, to say that the dark horse is inconspicuous would be a major understatement. Heck, you probably didn’t give him a second glance when you walked into the bar.
As he shuffles onto the stage and produces a $300 Yamaha Dreadnought from a padded gigbag, he still isn’t turning any heads. But, when he starts playing, you can guarantee that the bar will be stunned into silence.
This guy is like Kottke, Emmanuel, Atkins and Knopfler all rolled into one. His finger dexterity is phenomenal, his tone is the clearest you’ve ever heard. Between the percussive strikes and the cascading melodies, you wonder why this guy is playing a Wednesday open mic night and not Madison Square Garden.
Unfazed by the raucous applause, he’ll walk off as he came on, finish his Miller and then leave.
You’ll go back to the same open mic night six weeks in a row hoping to hear the dark horse again. But, he’ll never show. Was he a ghost? A hallucination? The regional manager of a mid-tier data entry firm? You’ll never find out… but you’ll always remember that performance.
Unlike the dark horse, you can count on the regular making a weekly appearance. Not just at this open mic, but at every open mic in the tri-county area. Six of the seven nights a week (his wife won’t let him out on a Sunday), if there’s a bar with a stage – and the stage isn’t a deal breaker; he’ll settle for “a slightly raised performance area” – he’ll be there.If the night starts at seven, he’ll be there at six thirty.
He’s a best friend with the organizer, he knows all the regulars and is the glue that holds the open mic night scene together.
The regular isn’t the world’s greatest guitar player. His repertoire isn’t the most impressive. But that doesn’t matter. His enthusiasm for getting up and playing, for keeping the local scene alive, is infectious. It carries through in his performance, and the scene loves him for it.
How many of these open mic night characters have you come across? And, are there any other guitarist types that you regularly meet at open mics? Share your stories in the comments!
Leo Kottke is a fingerstyle institution, and an inspiration to guitarists across the globe. His unique blend of folk, blues and jazz and his distinctive syncopated, polyphonic melodies have earned him accolades and followers galore. And, his battles with adversity – he’s overcome partial hearing loss and a near career-ending bout with tendonitis – are testament to his dedication to his craft.
We’re living in a great time for acoustic music. Fingerstyle guitar is thriving, and outlets like YouTube give exposure to new guitarists on a regular basis. But, this wasn’t always the case. In the ‘80s, when synths and electronic sounds reigned supreme, some thought the humble hollow-bodied six-string would go the way of the dinosaur.