Practical Advice and 8 Awesome Names that Flaunt It

So you want to start an open mic but you don’t know what to call it. It’s a special problem to have, and there’s not a lot of places to go for specific advice.

Ask an SEO expert and they’ll tell you to get a jumpstart on promoting your open mic by giving it a practical and intuitive name. The kind of name people go searching for.Ergo, the practical host names her event Open Mic or Open Mic Night.

Combine those 2-3 words with just a couple more, and your website, Facebook, or Meetup presence will announce to all Googlers—including your friendly open mic tourist—not just what you are, but where or when or for whom:

  • Open Mic Wednesdays! 
  • Poetry Open Mic! 
  • Third Friday Open Mic Music!
  • Open Mic @ Frank’s Hot Dog Stand!

You get the idea.

Despite the inherent practicality of this approach, some of us can’t resist the urge to name our babies something unusual or provocative or just fun. 

(My own open mic is called Tongue & Groove—and yeah, the idea was to welcome poetry, spoken word, storytelling, and musicians. But it’s also just fun to say.)

As someone who spends a lot of time searching for open mics online but also adores originality, I appreciate anyone who tips the balance toward personality.

So viola! A list of 8 true originals encountered on my open mic tour to date (with many still ahead). And a toast to their founders, who set aside pragmatism in favor of character. 

I haven’t been to all of them…yet. But for those I’ve experienced, there’s a link to one poet’s story of what it’s like, how they roll, and what you might see if you stop by.

Midway or the Highway — Jamaica Plain, MA

Midway or the Highway takes place at the Midway Cafe in Boston’s Jamaica Plain. So while their name is a location reference, it’s also got a little love-us-or-leave-us sentiment, which IMO warms the core of any open mic. You’ve got to accept that 

  • The show is a group construct
  • Anyone can sign up for a slot
  • Each performer can—within house rules—use their 5 or 7 or however many minutes as they please. 

And if that doesn’t work for you, buddy, there’s the road.

The New Sh!t Show — Minneapolis, MN

Is it just me, or does everybody love a grawlix? 

No?

Fine. Because the whole d@mn concept of The New Sh!t Show—“where every performance is a debut”—is awesome.

And the fact that they telegraph this criteria in their name while also invoking the slam tradition of shouting NEW SHIT when a performer declares she’s about to read something fresh…that’s cake.

The spelling is just the icing.

Slam Free or Die — Manchester, NH

Slam Free or Die (<– Facebook link) is on my wishlist for events to hit when travel is a thing again.  The name captures the ferocity of their state motto in a four-word manifesto that just makes you want to spit. 

Not like actual spit. Word spit. As in spitting poems.

(I know, I know. Ew. I’ve never really gotten comfortable with that phrase either.)

The point is, I can’t say what this slam is like from personal experience, but my expectations are high.

Red Dirt Home for Wayward Poets — Oklahoma City, OK

So yeah, maybe I was biased to love this one, because inside me is a little girl with iron stains on her knees from a childhood in Stillwater, OK.

But when your hosts are Jack Tapestry and Rat Pack Slim, it just kinda follows that your name will be gritty and poignant. And for this poet, more than a little nostalgic. 

The Red Dirt Home for Wayward Poets holds up to its name in all ways. It’s got a vibe that blends lost and found and creates a sense of belonging for artistic misfits.  

Night of Free Speech — Nashville, NC

This one has changed venues since I went and may be on hiatus. But if and when they get back up again, I’d lay odds its character will remain unapologetically uncensored.

Walk into an event called Night of Free Speech, and there’s no wondering whether you’ll be able to read that sexytime poem or political rant or string of random syllables you’ve been working on. There’s no wondering whether you can say fuck. Or serenade your toaster.

Now, it doesn’t mean absolutely anything goes. They don’t allow hate speech, as no open mic should. And it doesn’t mean you’ll get applause or a trophy.

But if it’s protected by the 1st Amendment, it’s fair fodder for the mic.

The Human Experience — Las Vegas, NV

As names go, The Human Experience is lofty and expansive. It pulls the rug aside and shows you the trapdoor beneath the stage of every open mic.

See, when you go to an open mic—whether as performer or audience—there’s a good chance you might fall through the words and the chords and feel what it’s like to be someone else.

Writer’s Block Poetry Night — Columbus, OH

Self-billed as “one of the most irreverent poetry nights around,” Writer’s Block takes that whole know-thyself thing to heart.

Beyond entertainment and camaraderie, open mic nights are also a wellspring of inspiration. If you’re out of ideas, go listen to a motley of fellow creatives. Someone just might say something that shocks your angels, rocks your devils, or otherwise gets you writing again.

Bards & Brews — Birmingham, AL

I’m not sure when municipal libraries gave up the stodginess and the shushing, but here’s to more like the Birmingham Public Library system!

Every first Friday at one of its branches, BPL hosts Bards & Brews: An open mic (and sometimes even a Southern Fried slam) with the added bonus of beer from a local brewery.

Recap: Poetry and beer. At the library.

Save me a pint, BPL. I’m coming back one of these days.

An Open Mic by Any Other Name

For hosts-to-be, naming your open mic baby is a mixture of fun and anxiety. Do you go traditional? Hipster? Evocative? Mythological? What will people think? Does it rhyme with anything embarrassing?

All I can really do is wish you luck, and hope that having a few more ideas in your tumbler will net you something that shines.

Meanwhile, check out more tips on hosting an open mic—including managing the list, drawing the audience in, and making your open mic what you want it to be.