Open Mic Thoughts

I’ve been thinking very seriously, of late, about the future of the Open Mic at Escape Java Joint. It needs to change in some sort of substantive manner. I’m not certain what the nature of that change should be. The Downsides (why change seems needed) For a start, things have been absurdly slow in the last month and a half. One expects a certain level of that from about the middle of June through the return of the students in August, but this has been ridiculous. We’ve had, on average, two to five performers each night. That’s wretched. With a start time of eight o’clock that still leave us finishing up around nine thirty or so. Maybe things will pick up in the next couple of weeks, but I’m not so sure. We’ll see. Secondly, now that they have started putting bands in the gallery on Saturdays, we are relegated to the lounge for most of the month. That seems to be wearing on people a bit. We’re in the Gallery only on the first Saturday of each month. Even at that I have to remind what few people are coming in what room we’re going to be using each week. Two weeks ago the venue was showing a political film in the gallery and had a band playing on the front patio. The open mic, having been sandwiched between them, actually had six performers and a room full of listeners that week. The whole place was such a madhouse, what with three events going on, that I’m not keen to repeat the experience again. The third problem is that I’ve been doing this virtually non-stop for nearly five years now. In the music business that’s one hell of a long run. I’m fortunate that there have been a number of people who have been willing to help out and take over the open mic when I’ve been booked out of town. But, I haven’t really had what one could honsetly call time off in five years. As a result, I’m very close to burning out on the whole thing. Possible Solutions The first problem may just be a matter of cranking the Publicity Machine a little harder. On the other hand, it could be that folks are just getting tired of me. I could step away from it – only host once in a while and hope that the other hosts would step in to keep this ball in the air. I could also discontinue it. Angela Smith’s open mic at Café Zou-Zou is cast in much the same spirit as ours has been. Maybe it’s just time to pass the baton. It just might be the fact that the darned thing happens on a Satuday night. I’ve never been happy with that. We can’t go back to Fridays. Escape holds its weekly art opening on Friday nights. We could move it to Thursdays. That, however would put us head to head with Jim Scwall’s Songwriter’s Night at Bab’s French Quarter which is just a few blocks away. Wednesdays would put us in direct competition with Mark Croft’s open mic. No matter which night we put it on we’ll be pushing against some kind of other event. Doing it on a weeknight, however, might help in getting some working performers in to play. Open Mics are great places to break in new material in a no-pressure situation. Maybe moving the night will help. The last problem is more difficult to solve. I’m back to the passing of the baton idea. Maybe it’s time. Maybe some of the above mentioned changes will help to relieve the burnout factor. What has made this so much fun for me has been to watch people grow and change. There are people who got on stage for the first time with us and are now working entertainers. We’ve given the first local exposure to a number of people who had just moved to Madison and wanted to break into the local scene. We’ve even been written up in a mainstream, daily newspaper. Almost no open mic anywhere has had that happen to them. If they get written about at all it’s in the alternative weekly papers. I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved with this event through five years and three venues (Speed Jump Java Joint, Urban Market, and Escape). I have made no final decision yet. I’m open to suggestions. In fact I would love some help on this. Please, send me your thoughts by e-mailing me ( or just responding to this blog directly. All suggestions, ideas, and thoughts will be welcomed. As one might well imagine, my perspective is not all that it could be on this subject. Be well. Stephen Lee Rich

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