A while back I compiled some advice for aspiring hosts and organizers about how to name an open mic show.
(Granted, it’s a rarefied problem, but if you ever need help, I gotchu.)
Anyway, the post lists a handful of shows with cool names, including one that was still on my to-hit list.
Every Thursday from 7-11pm, on the east bank of the Merrimack River, the good folks at Stark Brewing give over their brick-walled event room to New Hampshire’s longest running open mic.
They call it Slam Free or Die.
And like the adamantly independent spirit of their home state, this open mic does things their own way.
One Rule with a Subrule
An open mic is defined, in large part, by its rules.
Slot length is sine qua non (well, except for that hookah bar show in Hilo, HI). Many also set genre limits (like our #SorryNoComedy policy at Tongue & Groove), no-hate-speech-type content advisories for performers, and respect-the-mic-type behavior guidelines for the audience.
Slam Free or Die keeps it simple.
Like the Sauron of open mic, they’ve unified the many and powerful rules into one that rules them all (albeit with an annotation):
DON’T BE AN ASSHOLE…ON PURPOSE.
As tolerant of inadvertent missteps as they are of deliberate BS, SFOD strikes a balance you can’t help but admire. Across 36 states, no other show rivals the spartan clarity of this injunctive umbrella statement.
Like, if you don’t understand it, friend, this ain’t the place for you.
3Xing the Signup List
The SFOD signup is actually 3 lists in one: 10 slots for people who’ve been there before (labeled as open mic), 5 for first-timers, and 5 for a waitlist.
Now, when it comes to list management strategies, I’m generally against anything that adds ambiguity into the order. Mostly because it feels cliquish (see #5 on this list for an explainer).
But SFOD found a way to make list manipulation an act of creative generosity. Because they don’t do it to favor their friends. They do it to make sure that new voices — people who probably struggled to muster the courage to come at all — don’t go home with unrealized dreams.
In fact, the SFOD organizers didn’t sign up at all that night, not even on the waitlist. Instead, they held their poems until everyone else had a chance to read.
Any team who brings that much humility and grace deserves mad respect.
Featured Poet Done Right
SOFD charges cover ($3-5 sliding scale) and holds a raffle — mostly poetry books, that night — to raise funds for their featured poet, who also sold books and other merch.
(Aspiring hosts and organizers take note: Poetry performance is legit entertainment and potentially life-altering enrichment. Poets should get paid. Full stop.)
That night, Topaz Winters read from two of her books — gorgeous and arresting poems — in an understated style that kept our attention on the words. Which exemplar, as a poet who leans a little too forceful and theatrical sometimes, I appreciated deeply.
And which created quite the contrast with SFOD’s collective personality…
America’s Most Rambunctious Open Mic
Indulge me in a little scene setting here:
The night before my Slam Free or Die experience, I’d been in Connecticut sharing music, poems, gratitude, and at least one long silence with the delightful folks at The Buttonwood Tree.
SFOD was basically the polar opposite.
From the moment the show began, every transition was celebrated at volume.
As I later learned, before they stepped into the current roles, the current host and organizers were co-captains of what they called The Hype Table, always sitting together down front to feed off each other’s energy.
The Hype Table veterans shouted out the one rule and the subrule. They hooted for the feature. They shouted out the bartender, the raffle, the merch. And after every first-time performer, they led the room in a group loveshout:
THANK YOU! WELCOME HOME!
Going from Buttonwood’s love and light vibes to SFD’s rambunctious crew could give a lady some kind of energetic variant of the bends. But in a majorly joyful way.
Honestly, everything about Slam Free or Die was joyful and big and as memorable as their name. So if your open mic energy is flagging and you could use an infusion of zeal, go see what’s up at SFOD. They’ve got it in abundance, and they’re happy to share.