The Brillance Of Open Mics

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Tom Kiesche at microphone
Photo courtesy of: Horace Birgh

So, as some of you know I have been doing more singing at open microphones around Los Angeles for a little while now… And I have to say that while some of the nights have been… “meh…” Some of the experiences have been quite amazing. So yes, high points and low points. Watching and learning from some amazing performers, and wading through some of the longest real face twisting off key pitchy clunkers.

A few weeks back, out at a piano bar, after I sang two songs, a good friend of mine turned to me, unsolicited, and said, “You’re going to be a star, and when your career takes off, and you become huge… All this… All your work is going to pay off for you.” (Yes, I’m paraphrasing as I didn’t write it down or record it.) At the moment, I heard it, and I took in what he said as a huge compliment… However, today, several weeks later, I possibly understand it more than I ever expected to.

I don’t know what my singing will lead to as a career or hobby… I don’t know if I’ll continue to sing in my closet and make videos (ClosetSinger.com), sing in small theaters, cabarets, or some day I’ll sing in front of thousands or on TV or films… But having a wide variety of experiences of singing in various places, can only, and has only enriched my performing and creative life…

Picture a dive bar, with smoke residue from 40 years ago still present, and smashed bartenders swearing at under-aged patrons to get the fuck out, as you attempt to sing tender songs… Having pianists who have never seen the music in front of them miss key and rhythm changes… Forgetting lyrics to songs you thought you’ve known. Being introduced incorrectly. Having people walk by you on their way to the bathroom as you’ve held dramatic song ending high notes… Having mic stands come apart or drop in the midst of a performance… Well, how could any of that NOT be good for someone’s performance chops. If it was all easy, if every venue were filled with people politely sitting quietly, in packed theaters, with no talk backs, no issues or problems, imagine what would happen when out of the blue something odd did happen…

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A night out of “the Closet” singing (ClosetSinger.com)
Pictured: Jackie Gibson at the mic tells the story of being a 2nd generation piano bar singer, as Tommy Dodson tickles the keys.

I often think of one of my other dear performer friends who has told me many stories of when she worked as a singing waitress… People would request things from her as she neared their tables with a microphone in her hands, or spill things she’d have to clean up, and there she would have to be, continuing right on, without missing a beat, singing… Picking up plates, dropping off food, or passing the salt… It gave her an amazing ability to handle just about any thing that could come up while she performs. Last time I saw her she was mixing drinks, while holding a microphone in her hands and singing back up. When I told her of my amazement, she responded with someone like… “This? This is nothing.”

And the truth of the matter is, if you ask anyone who performs in various venues… Stand ups, singers, actors, poets… Well I would imagine they all have a wealth of horror stories.

Larry Davis Open Mic
The very talented Larry Davis at microphone
Photo courtesy of: Horace Birgh

So, this past week I’m singing in a dive bar… My first song… “You’re Nobody Till Some Bunny Loves You…” Honestly, was pretty unmemorable, and for what ever reason failed to capture the attention of a good percentage of the overly chatty bar crowd. And I’m pretty sure no one but possibly one other than the pianist, knew of my seasonal word switch.  My second song, which I sang a good amount of time later, “The Best Is Yet To Come,” seemed to go a little better…  It apparently inspired one to clap along and another to kinda drunken disco dance… Which, is cool, however, the person clapping was not only off the beat, but also off rhythm. Still it’s awesome that people allow themselves to enjoy. The third song I sang was the my favorite experience of the night… “The Impossible Dream.” Vocally and performance-wise it was possibly my best of the three, though I wasn’t completely happy with it… A rare Pilates workout, given to me by yet another friend who challenged me to take her class earlier in the week, was still effecting my abdominals and I was not able to get them to release completely as I sang and breathed, and I felt the song never really dropped in my body below my chest… But the funniest thing about it… And as I write this, I know nothing is funny about it… Was that a paraplegic man in a wheelchair, an apparent bar regular, with apparently speech impediment issues, started barking out sounds throughout most of the song. And as I was singing, at the mic, under a clip light with a red bulb, and I was feeling like an old French fry standing near a white trash table clothed covered pool table, I didn’t know if the wheelchair bound man was heckling me, singing along, happy, emotional, or just ordering the world’s most complicated drink from the working bartender…

Tom Kiesche at microphone
Photo courtesy of: Horace Birgh

I continued with the song, switching between closing my eyes, focusing on the story of the song, watching the TV playing in the far end of the bar, and trying to find a pair of intelligent interested eyes in the audience. Ah yes… I remember it well. It was a sheer brilliant moment in my already long performance career… A story to be celebrated… And honestly, it’s just another one of many.

Ah yes, I remember it well…

– Quiche Out

Feel free to post your favorite open mic location in the comment section below… Or your favorite pianists… Venues come and go, but open mics will always be around. Best thing to do is go to one and start asking around. Talented pianists want talented singers… So, go out and meet them… Some of the many pianists I’ve sang semi-regularly with (in Los Angeles) include: Bryan Miller, Tommy Dodson, Ron Synder, Greg Glienna, Lori Donato…

The follow embedded open mic performance video happens to be the first time meeting and singing with Bryan Miller who I have since sang with dozens of times.

5 Comments »

  1. I remember a few years ago I believe it was Aerosmith talking about how in the past up and coming singers would gain their experience through performing in garages, dive bard and/or seedy venues that equipped them to handle stressful situations in larger venues when their career started to progress. Fast forward to the present, many singers are going through vocal competitions where they start in venues that are fully “stocked” with professional grade equipment and is pretty much a perfect venue. Those singers don’t have that experience and it makes them a lot less prepared to face stressful situations when they inevitably arise. This makes their careers a lot less consistent. I thought that was interesting.

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      • I agree with Diane. You’re more commanding, and it’s not because of command of the voice or being louder or singing more demanding material, in my opinion, it ‘s coming from finding the truth in your lyrics. You killed “I, I Who Have Nothing,” last week with Lori Donato on keys – and from my perspective as an audience member, it’s because you found the honesty in the story. Loving the spin you’re in.

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