Why local open mic nights have thrived during the pandemic

To a songwriter, the first step in testing a new song—and how it feels to perform it—is to play at an open mic night.

These set-aside events are made for helping singer-songwriters perfect their craft in a friendly setting filled with music fans and fellow artists.

“They’re great for figuring out where you need to fine tune things,” says Baton Rouge singer-songwriter Peyton McMahon, a successful local musician who has been writing and performing since he was 16 and has a popular YouTube channel. “The crowd typically listens more at an open mic night than at a booked gig, and you can get feedback from other musicians.”

Baton Rouge’s small but significant open mic scene includes weekly gatherings at spots such as Tin Roof Brewing Company, La Divina Italian Cafe and Jolie Pearl Oyster Bar.

And because the shows tend to be smaller and intimate, they’ve largely been able to continue safely during COVID-19.

Unlike scheduled shows, singers add their names to a list of performers during open mic nights. Each one takes a turn on stage, playing a handful of songs before the crowd. Generally, this means original work, but some artists might also play cover tunes to hone their performance skills.

“You always want to play your best stuff,” says singer-songwriter Margaret Fowler. Fowler plays in a family band called Moon Pie and also plays regularly with her partner, Jason Milam, a member of the local band Unselfish Lovers of the Blues.

Fowler says open mic nights serve an important purpose in a city’s local music scene because the gatherings build a stronger songwriting community. They give artists a chance to perfect their craft and learn to connect with a crowd.

“For someone who might not have booked gigs, it gives them the opportunity to get up there, and build their confidence,” Fowler says. “Performing is all about communicating. You’re literally looking at people, and playing what you’ve written.”

And sometimes, parts of a song don’t feel right. An open mic night can reveal those imperfections, which a songwriter can correct back at home or in the studio.

“It’s a litmus test to your songwriting,” McMahon says. “Sometimes, I’ll write songs quickly and go to an open mic night with just me and my acoustic guitar to try them out. If the song has life, or if it needs work, I’ll go back and work it.”

McMahon says open mic nights are also great places to build relationships between local songwriters looking for other creatives.

“You see a lot of the same musicians,” McMahon says. “And that’s cool to be able to network and get feedback.”



Tin Roof’s Open Mic Night

Every second and fourth Thursday

8-10 p.m.

Find it on Facebook

La Divina’s Original Music Group


6-8 p.m.

Find it on Facebook

Jolie Pearl’s Singer Songwriter Sundays

1-5 p.m.

Find it on Facebook

This article was originally published in the September 2021 issue of 225 magazine.