When I declared this open mic tourist thing to be A Thing, my sights were set only on the lower 48. And I’d have been plenty happy with that.
But when my older sister paved the way for a seriously amazing family vacation on the Big Island, I couldn’t not try. And after several months of searching and stalking, I found a reliable weekly at a bar called Hilo Town Tavern.
Only hitch: The best night for me to go was the day we arrived.
No Frills Phil and the Basics
Hilo Town Tavern holds open mic in the smoking section of its bar—a patio of sorts under a tent to the side of the bar with teal picnic tables, giant butt cans, a high stage with pretty good sound but only one mic and one pick-up that I saw, and vandalized surfboards hanging from what passes for walls.
I’ve got nothing against smokers, per se, but from what I could tell none of them came out that night for open mic talent. Based on the anemic applause after each set, the other performers didn’t either.
(Trust me, I did my best, but one two-handed lady sitting down front can only send but so much love stageward.)
Our host Phil was pleasant enough and he handled the basic tasks of list management and introductions well enough. But like the rest of the room, he spent the night with his head in his phone.
The Advantages of Jet Lag
Doing open mic while thoroughly strung out has some upsides. All your defenses are down and any nervousness is short-circuited. (Yeah, I still get nervous sometimes.) And if no one’s listening, not even the host, you may not mind so much.
For that matter, if you’re the only person paying any damn attention because that’s what open mic is supposed to be about, you won’t even mind if one of the other performers singles you out for heckling from the stage. Even if it crosses the line several times between awkward-funny and awkward-creepy.
You also won’t notice or care whether slots are really 15 minutes or stretch to 20.
Because, y’know, whatever.
The Good Parts
Despite the foregoing list of meh-lights, the host and attendant people (calling them an audience is a stretch) weren’t any ruder to the lone poet of the night (me). And the night did serve up one or two of those moments that make up for everything else.
Most notably a ukulele player named Mosiah, self-billed as The Hawaiian Jukebox, who played traditional Hawaiian tunes, a Michael Jackson cover, and—the highlight by far—the Power Rangers theme song. I came this close to buying his CD for that tune alone.
Add to that, a fresh catalog of fun superlatives, including
- First open mic in a tsunami evacuation area
- Most people in flip-flops
- First time a performer sang lyrics so violent and tasteless he had to close his set by saying “Please don’t kill any women tonight, people”
- First open mic during which a toilet was rolled through the room on a dolly.
Nope, not kidding.
But, But, But…Hawaii!
It’s true, something about Hawaii tempers my inclination sum up on a low note.
But if you’re coming here anyway and you’re on a quest for dots on a map or stamps in some goofy passport you made up and you have pretty thick skin or maybe you’re just bored on a Monday, well…I imagine they’ll be here.
And to summon my experience in Dexter, ME, last summer, that’s something.