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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.”

WHERE TO CATCH OPEN MIC NIGHTS

 

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

Fridays

6-8 p.m.

Find it on Facebook

Jolie Pearl’s Singer Songwriter Sundays

1-5 p.m.

Find it on Facebook

Allons danser!

A big part of hearing and watching live music is the spontaneous dancing—really good dancing—that inevitably breaks out among spectators. Two-stepping couples swing and sway in time with the beat, predicting each other’s movements with style and finesse.

How do they do it? Unless they grew up dancing at home, they might have taken advantage of one of Baton Rouge’s adult dance schools, including the well-known TC Dance Club International, whose Government Street location celebrates 50 years in business in the same location this October.

“We teach social dance, as opposed to competition dance,” co-owner Rick Carpenter says. Students ranging in age from their 20s to 70s enroll in the school’s Monday through Friday sessions, Carpenter says, and they don’t have to be part of a couple to feel comfortable participating. There are plenty of single students. TC Dance Club teaches many different dances, including what Carpenter calls the “big five”: swing, jitterbug, cha-cha-cha, foxtrot and waltz. These basics work for social experiences from weddings to live music.

“The Cajun waltz and the Cajun swing are the same as the American waltz or swing, just set to Cajun music,” he says. “Once you learn them, you just adjust the steps to the music.” tcdancebtr.com


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