At its best, an open mic can become a kind of local artists’ colony.
From what I saw this week, in only its third month of hosting musicians and other talent on Tuesday nights, Cory’s Grilled Cheese in Charleston, SC, is leading off strong.
As I’ve said before, researching open mics online is tricky business. They come, they go, and they leave a lot of digital red herrings that make it hard to tell whether it’s worth the drive. With Cory’s, I hit paydirt on their Facebook page, where recent videos made it clear that this was a place with a rich, welcoming, collaborative spirit.
Unusual as the venue sounds, it turns out that a corner storefront by the Dollar General, where they stock marshmallow fluff in giant jars along with fig jam, brie, and chevre (for the swanky Downtown grilled cheese) is sort of perfect.
Hosts Joe Wheaton and Cameron Johnson and the eponymous Cory (who jumped in on banjo when things evolved into a medlyfest jam session at the end) don’t bother much with rules. Sure, they put out a list, but they skip the customary fixed time slots and just let performers play as long as they want.
Dangerous as this could be at some open mics I’ve seen, they have good reason to be confident in the local talent. And no one took advantage, checking in with Cameron before playing more than, say, three or four in a row.
That night, we heard looping hip-hop love songs, country covers, small group originals, and a dizzying series of medlies that blended Michael Jackson, Juice Newton, Johnny Cash, and I lost track of what else. There were guitars, a mandolin, banjo, fiddle, cajon, djembe…and one lone poet.
Yeah, that was me.
No one said as much, but I got the sense I may’ve been the first poet to take them up on their invitation for all types of talent.
So it goes.
This trip reminded me how much more fun it is to go on an open mic adventure with a fellow performer (especially one whose fiddle playing adds to the impromptu magic and who’s agreeable enough to improvise during one of my poems).
But my happiest takeaway was getting to see what happens when musicians forget other people are listening and start making things up as they go, morphing one song into another and another because no one wants it to end.
But eventually, 10 o’clock comes and the big man with the key knocks on the window and it’s time to pack up…