So I hit this open mic in Rhode Island at a live music venue called The Parlour. It was terrific in so many ways — space, structure, talent, vibe. That night, I met one of their regulars: a guitar player who also happened to be the most enthusiastic attendee I’ve met at 50+ open mics in 36 states.
And he got me thinking…
Regulars Make an Open Mic Better for Everyone
As every host knows, the soul of an open mic is a gorgeous, multifaceted amalgamation of the people who come to play and listen.
And while it’s at least partly true that — ahem — size matters, it doesn’t matter half as much as other things. Like attention, for one. And responsiveness. And sticking around after your slot to hear other people perform. And being nice to new people.
Part of the host’s job is to curate that soul. To overtly encourage the kind of behavior that adds to the vibe and to subtly discourage that kind that detracts. This is how you define a culture for your event, one that your regulars can help foster and reinforce, and thereby create a bona fide community (and maybe even save the world).
As with every other aspect of making an open mic happen, the host could use a little help with this.
Just one person who sends all their attention toward the stage, who isn’t afraid to get a little hyped, whose love for the show is contagious, can raise the waterline of energy for everyone in the room—on stage and off.
Meet America’s Most Delightful Open Mic Regular
Like sea salt on chocolate, everything that happened at The Parlour was better because one guy was there. A guy who, as he told me, they call No-K Nic.
No-K Nic arrived before me (and I was more than an hour early). He was quick to introduce himself, quick to answer my newcomer questions about the host and the rules, quick to show me where the line forms before the sign-up list gets posted. He didn’t know too much about the history of the show, but he held nothing back.
He told me about a rapper whose set he’d promised to video. He told me about the
stuffed owl alien (a la The Fourth Kind) in his satchel. He told me about the girl he wants to meet, the one he’ll take car camping in Alaska, how they’ll skywatch underneath the Northern Lights.
When I told him about my quest, Nic immediately offered to take pictures during my set. And he did.
(He also asked if I was gonna mention his alien in my blog post. And I did. 🦉👽)
Despite his early arrival, Nic wound up pretty far down on the list, which could only have been by design. And by the time his set rolled around at the wee end of the night, most of the performers had left already and even the host’s energy was flagging a little.
But not Nic’s.
Nic emptied the contents of his romantic soul into that microphone, and he made a point of thanking the venue, the host, and the other players for giving him the chance to do it.
I’m not sure whether The Parlour knows what a gem they have in No-K Nic, but I know it. And if they asked, I would tell them that Nic is more than a regular and he’s more than an unpaid hype man. He’s a beating heart that pumps warmth throughout the space from his table down front, stage left.
He’s a kid with a lotta love to give, and he’s giving it to their show and their performers and anyone he talks to. And it makes their experience memorable, delightful, better in all ways.
How to Attract Regulars like No-K Nic
So how can a hopeful open mic host cultivate regulars like Nic? Well, first they’ve gotta find you. Which means you need to promote your show. More on that in a future post.
Just starting your event? Give it a search-friendly name.
Once they’ve found you, make a point of knowing — and remembering — them.
Here’s 3 ideas to help:
1. Tend the door and the list
I’ve been to a handful of open mics where someone posts the list and just…walks away. Some do a nice job of also posting the rules and other info a newcomer needs — which is functional enough, but not exactly friendly.
As host, you probably can’t staff the sign-up list yourself. Being the host is a bit like being the bride at a wedding. Instead, station one of your fellow organizers — you gotta have at least two — so they can greet everyone who comes in the door.
And by everyone, I mean everyone. Even the introverts trying to slip in unnoticed, terrified that someone will pressure them into performing.
People like to be acknowledged on arrival. (And when you reassure those introverts it’s totally cool to just listen, they too will appreciate being welcomed.)
The idea is to know who’s in the room, learn their names, and build a little rapport.
2. Bring your old sign-up lists to the show
The sign-up list is more than the run of show for a single night. It’s a low-fi, DIY archive. All you gotta do is write the date at the top, just like high school homework, and you’ve got useable data.
If someone comes in looking kinda familiar from last month (or was it the month before?), those old sign-up lists can solve the puzzle of “was his name Andrew or André?” or “I think that’s the poet who closed the show.” And you can reinforce both your memory and that rapport you kicked off by saying hello.
3. Take notes
Your sign-up list is a handy place to capture more than just names and performance order. For each performer — and especially for voices new to your show — jot down whether they’re a poet or musician, who their style or sound resembles, a title or chorus or best line from each piece they share, maybe something they mentioned in their intro.
Anything to help you fix them in your memory.
Better yet, get yourself a co-organizer who’s also a compulsive note-taker. At Tongue & Groove, our official historian could tell you how many attendees we had at our May 2018 show, how many performers total took the mic last year, and who our most frequent time slot violators are (she also happens to be a crackerjack timekeeper).
It’s hard to understate just how handy this is.
There’s been many a show when I half-recognized someone and she was able to fact-check the archive and give me material for a more personal introduction when that performer’s slot rolled around.
Obviously, there’s only one No-K Nic. If experience is any guide, your most ardent regular will fall a good ways from his place at the far end of the spectrum of zeal and delight. Regardless, they’re a linchpin in your community of local talent — or they could be, if you do right by them.
Also, full disclosure — I didn’t see the folks at The Parlour doing any of the things I recommend here. Sometimes, fortune smiles upon host and event and the gold comes to you.
But if, like me, you prefer systems over luck, try what sounds doable and see if it nudges your event in a direction you want to go.