Locals Aspire to Inspire
New Orleans Open Mic Nights
BY By Kelly Kropog Schwarck
Deep down, everyone has a desire to be a performer. With the open mic trend on a rise across the country, a lot of folks are getting the opportunity to have their 15 minutes of fame. Whatever an individual's talent may be, there is likely a place that will let him or her showcase it—and the New Orleans is no different.
Ranging from comedy to poetry to music and beyond, open mics are popping up all over the Crescent City. Whether you want to show people what you've got or you are merely a spectator, you will discover a multiplicity of open mics at bars and coffee shops on any night of the week.
For the comedian in you, a number of venues offer up their stages. Whether it's a relatively new hobby or an outlet to try out new material, hysterical hopefuls will have no problem finding an audience willing to listen (and heckle.) Sure, comedy is a hard thing upon which to embark. There's always the chance your oneliners will be greeted with an awkward silence—not everyone can be Mitch Hedberg. But what makes taking that chance worth it? I asked that question of local stand-up comedian Tony Frederick, host of Treme's Bullet's Sports Bar's weekly stand-up comedy open mic. "The first time on stage, there was immediate gratification," says )Tony. "When an audience responds well and there is uproarious laughter, that is a really great high."
Tony, who has been circulating the stand-up scene for years, participating in both open mics and professional performances, says there is a definite difference between those who take part in open mics to jumpstart their careers and those who are just looking for some amusement. Tony observes that the comedians who are serious about comedy work very hard at their delivery and material, working hard to make their acts better each time they take on an audience. Tony also remarks on the distinct difference between the crowds who attend open mics and those who attend professional comedy shows. Open-mic crowds tend to heckle more frequently and be more boisterous, while those paying to see a professional show tend to be more attentive and well mannered. Catch Tony hosting at Bullet's free open mic on Monday evenings at 9 p.m. Also providing a stand-up comedy open mic is Uptown's Carrollton Station. Funny people go on Wednesdays at 9 p.m. and there is no cover charge. Thursday nights give you a choice, with both the Warehouse District's legendary Howlin' Wolf and Sidney's Sports Bar in Marrero offering amateurs a chance to make bar patrons guffaw. Comedian Skip Guidry plays host at Sidney's, New Orleans' longest -running comedy venue, starting at 9 p.m. At Howlin' Wolf, bargoers may also catch some local seasoned musicians sprinkled in the night's lineup. Five dollars in cash will get you in the door for the 8 p.m. Live in the Den: Comedy Gumbeaux event. On Friday evenings, Uptown's La Nuit Comedy Theater, "the nerve center of New Orleans comedy" and the leading training center of the Gulf Coast, calls comedians to join them for its free open mic starting at 10 p.m.
Not witty? Don't worry. Musicians also get their time to impress. Arrays of musical genres are represented in open mics throughout the metropolitan area. On Tuesday nights, the musically inclined can croon their hearts out at Carrollton Station, host of the free-of-charge acoustic open mic night. An individual who prefers to sing with a twang will be pleased to learn that Kerry Irish Pub on Decatur hosts a free "Honky Tonk" open mic Tuesdays at 9 p.m. To sing the blues, head to Jefferson Highway to Deckbar & Grille every Wednesday for the long-running show Big Daddy's Juke Joint Blues Jam. The show starts at 8:30 p.m. and participants rock with Louisiana's own Oscar and the Blues Cats. Also preachin' the blues, Igor's Checkpoint Charlie in the Marigny serves up an open-mic blues jam on Sundays at 8 p.m., hosted by New Orleans songwriter Jim Smith. At The Maison on Frenchman Street there is a New Orleans musicians open-mic jam every Monday at 10 p.m., an event that the venue itself dubs "a jam of epic proportion."
For the more sensitive souls, many spots cater to those seeking spoken word. Head Uptown to the Maple Leaf, which hosts a stet poetry and prose reading series on Sundays at 3 p.m. The event entitled "The Everette C. Maddox Memorial Prose & Poetry Reading" is in memory of a local poet who was a loyal customer of the Maple Leaf, often using it as a mecca for writing and presenting his work. The event is held in the bar's courtyard and according to the venue's website it is the longest-running poetry reading in North America. Local featured writers take the stage and share their work. An open mic session follows. On Tuesdays, Marigny jazz club Sweet Lorraine's hosts a jazz and poetry open mic and invites poets and musicians to take the platform. Five dollars will get you in the door. The Garden District's Neutral Ground Coffeehouse welcomes the community to a poetry open mic on Wednesdays, a free event starting at 8 p.m. Said to be New Orleans' oldest coffeehouse, Neutral Ground prides itself on "featuring the finest in auditory, visual and culinary arts."
While some venues are genre-specific, others have an assortment of talents at each of their open-mic nights. Old Point Bar in Algiers Point invites people to come every other Wednesday to sing or recite whatever is on their mind. There is no cover and the show starts at 6:30 p.m. The newly smoke-free The Rusty Nail, located in the Warehouse District, hosts a free open mic on Tuesdays hosted by Whiskey T of local country band Country Fried. Bywater's Yellow Moon Bar has its free open mics on Wednesdays at 9 p.m., hosted by triple-threat poet, artist and musician Stormy Leonard. Yellow Moon's owners dish up a complimentary pot of food and invite patrons to bring a dish, if they so desire, for the weekly open mic and potluck event. Champion Sports Bar in Mid-City leads an open mic on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. conducted by Louisiana blues musician Troy Turner. Even performance artists and painters have a chance to show off their work at The French Quarter's Gold Mine Saloon at its 17 Poets! reading series. The weekly event coordinated by poets Dave Brinks and Megan Burns takes place on Thursdays and is free to the public. Silent for the summer, the series returned Aug. 26 for the fall.
The open-mic scene is an appealing one. Yes, it's scary; yes, there's a chance we will fail. But with so many options presented to us, why not stand up and stare stage fright directly in the face? No one ever gets anywhere by hiding behind the curtain.