Local Rhythms – Try an Open Mic Night

open_mic.jpgA reader called last week, asking for my opinion of some home recordings he’d made. He wasn’t looking to quit his day job, but fancied himself a singer and wanted to know what I thought.

It was good – his version of the Dixie Chicks’ “Godspeed” reminded me of Danny O’Keefe and Kenny Loggins – but, hey, I’m no talent scout.

One question he posed, however, was easy to address. “I want to take the next step,” he said. “How do I find a band, or someone to sing with?”

Two words, I told him: Open Mic.

On any given night, there’s a pub offering aspiring entertainers a chance to flaunt their chops. It’s a great way to experience playing in front of people and (as I told my curious friend) perhaps even meet a future band mate or two.

Local options can be found to the north and south.

Montpelier’s Langdon Street Café has theirs Mondays. Adagio Trattoria in Brattleboro persuaded longtime Mole’s Eye ringmaster Kevin Parry to take over their Thursday night free-for all.

Closer to home, Salt Hill Pub in Lebanon began with an open mike a few years back, then switched to an open jam session. Now they’ve returned to the original format; Jimmy Ruffing and Mike Benoit share hosting duties, Thursdays at 9.

Also on Thursdays, Sean Powell and the Clear River Band back wannabe pickers and warblers at the eponymous Clear River Tavern in Pittsfield.

Another Thursday hoot (quite a popular day, it seems) can be found at Keene’s Dark Star Pub.

At Skunk Hollow Tavern in Hartland, Wise Rokobili took the helm from longtime host Jason Cann – theirs happens Wednesdays.

The bluegrass duo Loose Change recently resumed their Friday night gathering at Pat’s Peak Ski Area in Henniker, which will run until the snow melts.

Local musician Jesse Peters hosts a pair of once-a-month open mic nights – first Fridays at McKinley’s Tavern (downstairs from Penelope’s in Springfield, VT), and first Saturdays across the river at the Heritage in Charlestown.

If you become addicted, there’s even a web site (openmikes.org) for finding talent nights nationwide (with helpful ratings).

The only thing better than practicing in the basement is doing it in front of people – so don’t be shy.

Here’s what the pros are up to this week:

Wednesday: Paul Rivers, Canoe Club – A guitar teacher at the Sharon, Vermont Independent School for the Arts (which hosts a student recital tonight if you’re interested), Rivers joined Boston phenoms Teddy & the Pandas near the end of their Sixties run, opening for everyone from the Turtles to Buddy Miles to the Kingsmen. These days, he’s playing acoustic at places like Canoe Club and Elixir, all the while hoping to find a blues band.

Thursday: Carolina Chocolate Drops, Hopkins Center – If the George Clooney character in O Brother, Where Art Thou? had been played by Denzel Washington, it might have prepared me for this band. In the early 20th century, there were many black string bands like the Chocolate Drops, playing and banjos and blowing into whisky jugs, but their music fell out of favor. You have to check their YouTube videos – this stuff is more addictive than microwave toffee.

Friday: The Moores, Salt Hill Two – Terry and his sons Tom and Toby bring a family tradition to downtown Newport. With their band Yer Mother’s Onion, the youngsters play a lot of jam band material from bands like Phish, Guster and Dave Matthews, so expect a bit of a tie-dyed vibe. I’m told that anything can happen at these hometown shows. Guests show up, requests come out of the woodwork and, oh yeah – the place is packed, so you should get there early.

Saturday: Kid Pinky, La Dolce Vita – The de facto house band at New London’s popular eatery, the Kid and his cohorts (the Restless Knights) play with the spirited conviction of the Fabulous Thunderbirds and the Radiators – ferocious, but with a groove. The bandleader is a triple threat on harp, piano and vocals.

Sunday: Willie Nile, Iron Horse – A victim of late 70’s “Next Dylan” fatigue – he was probably number 11 or 12 to inherit that dubious title. But his stuff was angrier and edgier than anything the Minnesota Bard served up. It reminded me more of Springsteen than anyone else. His first two albums were great. He’s still making timely music – check out his rocking meditation on the Madrid terrorist attacks, “Cell Phones Ringing (in the Pockets of the Dead”).

Tuesday: Ladysmith Black Mambazo, St. Paul’s School – Their Zulu gospel music first came to fame on Paul Simon’s immortal “Graceland” album, but believe it or not, their first gold album came for their first release in 1973. They were the first black South African band ever to achieve that feat. The group has been singing a capella since 1960, when they were known as Ezimnyama Ngenkani, or “the Black Ones.”