By Sarah Egan Warren
Unlike, Anna, I don’t have a lot of open mic experiences—either at home or on travel. But because of Tongue & Groove, I am certainly an open mic convert.
My original reason for attending was to see Anna perform—and perform she does. It is a distinct pleasure to see her on stage, and I watch with a sense of pride because that’s MY friend up there being so brilliant with her turn of phrase, clever play on words, and carefully constructed and passionately delivered poems.
Other than the joy of seeing Anna perform and the adrenaline rush of performing myself, what I like the most about Tongue & Groove is that you never know what’s going to happen—and sometimes, most times, actually, it feels really magical.
So for the sake of lists and posterity and because I feel like it: Behold!
My top 5 magic moments across three years of Tongue & Groove…
1. The French Pear
Originally, Tongue & Groove made its home in a popular Raleigh Irish bar. There were a few positives about this, but an open mic in a bar faces a few distinct disadvantages—it’s noisy, part of the audience isn’t there for the show, and the flow gets interrupted.
One night, a new performer delivered, in a perhaps melodramatically French accent, an ode to a pear. No one knew who he was and no one knew whether he was actually French. His poem was curious, unusual, and funny—but he delivered it with passion and reverence, as if it was the most serious topic ever discussed.
That might’ve been enough to make my top 5 list on its own, but then this French-accented performance inspired another performer to read a poem in French. Followed by a bar patron, who hadn’t expected an open mic that evening, announced that his family was visiting from France and HE got up and read a poem.
The serendipity of this unusual chain of events stuck with me ever since, and I always hope to see the “Pear Performer” walk in again…
2. Interpretive Dance
I badgered my friend, Diana Yarish, to attend T&G, promising her a fun night out. Before the show, we chatted with some other attendees, and she hit it off with Annelies Gentile.
When Annelies took the stage to read a poem, she invited the audience to participate—and specifically opening the door to interpretive dance. She looked right at Diana…and Diana did it!
It started off silly—the audience laughing along as Diana acted out the words (remember, Diana had no idea what the poem would be). But as Annelies continued, something changed.
Diana’s movements stopped being silly and exaggerated. They became more serious, meaningful, real. The audience stopped laughing. We became engaged in the moment, and together everyone in the room made something surprising and remarkable.
3. The Dad and His Teenage Poet
One thing we can always count on at T&G is an open, encouraging, and respectful audience. We may not all agree with each other, but we always listen. Performances cover a wide range of topics—light-hearted, serious, personal, controversial.
One repeat T&G performer is a high school poet whose work speaks to the challenges of sexual identity, depression, and the high school experience. The work is strong, but what stands out for me is this poet’s father, who sits proudly in the audience—supportive and encouraging—as his almost grown-up child shares some difficult and complex content.
If all teenagers had an adult who honored their passions and interests, the world would be a much better place.
Bravo, dad. Bravo.
4. Spoken Word + Spontaneous Collaboration
At Tongue & Groove, we have a tradition of encouraging artistic collaboration. A tradition embodied and symbolized by a hat placed on a mic stand to invite other performers to join you on stage.
We also have the great fortune of having some pretty amazing musicians show up each month.
One night, after Nathan Kornegay had performed two characteristically wonderful songs, a poet named Shaun Harris—who’d never met Nathan before—asked him to repeat one of his songs while Shaun did a spoken word piece. They were joined by Andrew Crowe on our house cajon, and Annelies (yup, the same Annelies from the interpretive dance) who sang harmony.
Even though these four performers didn’t know each other, their spontaneous collaboration produced a memorable and truly magical moment.
Mind blown. I remain in awe that Shaun was able to hear in Nathan’s song a rhythm that would blend with his own work—and to pull it off, unrehearsed, so perfectly!
Fact: Neuroscience research shows that singing with others is good for us. (Also fact: I’m an academic and a giant research nerd.)
And this is one reason I love that at Tongue & Groove we can almost always count on a sing-along:
- One of our regulars, Mr. Abby Sale, is a bona fide folklorist who shares a brief lesson on the history of his chosen tune and often leads us in a sing-along—sometimes bawdy and always fun.
- When Ben Molini hosts, he occasionally uses a short sing-along as his artistic sorbet between performers.
- The audience is never shy about joining in with some of our regulars—especially “Midnight” by Alan Oatley—or, when asked, with a familiar cover to close the night.
My personal favorite sing-along was actually a kazoo-along…
Musician Andrew Crowe debuted a quirky tune about laundry, with storyteller and drummer Greg Whitt on cajon. And at Andrew’s request, I passed out our T&G kazoos to the audience (we have a thing about kazoos), and together we all improvised a kazoo chorus to bring even more quirk to his tribute to finishing the laundry.
Pro tip: It’s not easy to play a kazoo when you’re laughing!
So that’s my list as of right now, but know that it could change after the next night of magical moments at Tongue & Groove.
I have a feeling it will. And I can’t wait.
Sarah Egan Warren is a closet poet and co-organizer of Tongue & Groove, a monthly open mic held at VAE Gallery in downtown Raleigh, NC.