The open microphone: Perhaps the most inviting and intimidating piece of communication technology ever assembled. To some, the open mic at your local bar conjures mental images of karaoke with a recently purchased “first” guitar. In some cases this is true, but this is both the beauty and pain of the “open jam.”

The role of the open mic in the musical community is multifaceted. It perhaps most importantly gives young, aspiring musicians a place to play, often for the first time. Watching a musically young person realize validation, watching the fear on their face get replaced by a realization, is a gift and a joy to participate in. Being able to instill a feeling of confidence that can project a person to new heights with a simple look and a smile is invaluable to everyone involved.

Many times the open mic is also a gateway to work. If a player strikes a chord with the crowd, or the owner or manager, a gig could follow. Maybe not the first time, but the great thing about the open mic? There’s another one next week.

On occasion a band will come to an open mic in an attempt to audition, said Randy Barnett, host of the Sunday open mic at the Dockside in Marathon. He’s seen it many times. 

“I love to put a good band behind a new up-and-coming player. It gives them a chance to shine.

Some acts are good enough, they get booked at the place, and this puts their foot in the door at more venues in the area. I love to help out good talent. I’ve seen many great bands form from an open mic, and I have met many great musicians this way,” Barnett said.

The open mic is also advantageous for the venue. Open mics can be hosted by one person to a full band. The hosts are compensated by the venue; the people who come to play are not. The regulars who come for the band, the atmosphere, or to play, are now accompanied by the aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, grandparents and cousins who all came to see Suzy play her guitar at a real bar. And who knows, Suzy may be the act that fills up the bar next Saturday night.

For the musicians, the networking is invaluable. If you’re new in town there is no better way to learn what’s what and who’s who. Deon Adar, host of Looe Key Tiki Bar’s open mic on Ramrod Key, is an example of going from being new in town and attending an open mic, to eventually hosting the very same jam night. “These open mics provide a resource far greater than any internet service or musicians classifieds ever could,” he said. “It maintains a focal meeting spot for musicians.” 

There are a few other open mics in Key West including General Horseplay every Sunday, Kava Bar on Wednesdays, and Andy’s Cabana on Thursdays. The Key West Comedy Club has an open mic on Tuesdays if you want to try your hand at stand-up. So the next time you see the open mic sign, stop in and see what surprises the night holds. The guy next to you may be just  one drink away from grabbing his buddy’s guitar and singing us all his version of “Folsom Prison Blues.”

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