I recently checked out the open mic at Coffee Works. I am still thinking about the evening, and how much value there is in musical spaces like it. I seem to remember having left the open mic thing back somewhere when people were moving away from Joni and Dylan songs to cover Oasis and Ani. I’ve been missing out, so I’m glad to get back to the possibility of coming out on a random Tuesday night and sharing tunes, maybe with friends, mostly with strangers.
There were some very good lyricists there. A decent mix of the young, the nervous, the regulars—a nice version of everything one expects an open mic to be. As for the inevitable cover tunes, I find them either a comfort or a curiosity. I don’t mind at all sticking around to see which oddball or overplayed tune people will pull out, and how they’ll decide to change it up. That night, there was everything from Paul Simon to Otis Redding to Taylor Swift, which says something (positive, I think) about the fairly wide demographic. I played “Into the Fire,” a song that has every intention of making it to my next CD, and the harmonium version of “Holy River.” I hazard a guess that the harmonium is an instrument not often played at Coffee Works. I had to push myself a little to not just settle for being the appropriate and expected “girl with guitar” in that context. I’m glad I did.
It has been a long while, but I did have a few gigs at Coffee Works, at least one where I may as well have been a radio. Not long after that, I decided that I had learned enough from coffee house type gigs where I was likely to be treated as a soundtrack to conversation and grinding coffee beans. Deciding to force myself into situations that demand more intentional listening or participation was a good thing. Forgetting that there might be something good about future events in coffee house venues or even (gasp) trying again at this same place was an oversight.
Granted, it is a bonus that the place has increased dramatically in its cool factor in my humble opinion now that people like Jeffrey Gaines, Graham Parker, and Steve Forbert have been gracing the stage. Perhaps I shall wax poetic about my love of Steve some other time.
In the years just after I sang and played keys in Spy Gods, there was a uniquely moving period for acoustic music – and particularly women’s acoustic music— in New Brunswick, NJ. I played in the local cafes there sometimes, but was in a deeply quiet, incubation period of life. I remember myself then more as a proverbial wallflower, growing internally but not quite ready to bloom with new words and music. That time period feels remarkably similar to what I‘ve just been through, though it seems like a little more wisdom is hanging around. Can one trust the mind that thinks it is wiser?
I’m ready to go back to beginnings in the open mic environment to start playing some works-in-progress, even if they’re not Virgo-perfect. That scares me, which is precisely why it is going on my Bold Steps list of things to do. Ego-self would rather appear only on grand stages, and feels like open mics are stepping backward. Sinking into the deeper knowing, there is value waiting for me in creation outside of a vacuum, the sounds of others daring to be excellent or imperfect, and even in the risk of being ignored in lieu of a mocha soy latte.
Personal ashram life is allowing space for me to be more observant, more appreciative. I have been noticing things worth exploring that have been nearby all along. I’d believed the hype that if it’s in South Jersey it can’t really be that cool. This was an incorrect and not so helpful an assumption. I have a few more amusing ASSumptions to ramble on about next time.