Some come to watch, and some to perform. For both, an open mic can be an escape, music therapy, comic relief – just a good time.
I ordered Swan’s ‘The Bean,’ stopped by the food truck The Arepazo Grill for a Cachapona and settled in for a night of entertainment. The atmosphere was relaxed, and the weather was invitingly crisp for local talent to get on stage to show the crowd what they’ve got.
I spoke with Swan Brewing’s Open Mic Night MC, Wiley Christopher Widner (@wcwidner on FB) about the event. “I have been hosting open mics since the early ‘80s,” he said. “I still turn up at the open mics around the area, sometimes to perform, sometimes just to listen. It can be pretty inspiring.”
Wiley added, “Years ago I heard a phrase ‘Sometimes it’s magic and sometimes it’s tragic’ …but you can bet it’s always entertaining.”
According to the MC, the open mics are a way for newcomers and experienced performers alike to, “hone their style and perfect their craft.” The event is advantageous for those newcomers to, “become more comfortable performing in front of a live audience,” he said.
One of the more seasoned acts up that Tuesday night was a musician and former radio disk jockey, Scott Hooker. Hooker said he’s always had a love for music and has been in the business of entertaining in one form or another since he was 14 years old.
When asked what he liked to perform, Hooker responded, “I like what sounds good to me – it could be rock, country, blues.” He loves county for its lyrics, older country especially. He even writes his own songs and will pull out an original at an open mic on occasion.
His resurgence on the open mic scene about three years ago was spurred by a personal tragedy. After his wife of 20 years suddenly passed away, Hooker said, “I needed something to get out of my head.”
For him, getting out of his head meant performing. He admitted, “The open mics were a God-send for me.”
Hooker has been attending Swan Brewing’s Open Mic Night since shortly after they started it last year. He described the brewery as being very welcoming to local talent. “I cannot express how valuable those [open mics] are to up and coming musicians, to seasoned musicians, to people who just love performing, love writing, love playing music,” he said.
Wiley got up and serenaded the crowd for a bit before giving the stage to Scott, followed by several other musical acts, one of which were neighbors who had never played together before, though you wouldn’t have guessed that hearing them jam out.
Throughout the sets I noticed Swan Brewing owner Dan Thumberg rocking on from the side, cheering on the talent.
“Great music speaks to the soul and has always been an integral part of the Swan Brewing atmosphere,” said Thumberg. “We’ve all got songs that remind us of good times in our lives and when you hear someone playing it live in front of you, there’s really no better feeling in the world.”
Each act is given at least a three-song/ 15-minute set. Many performers have gone one to be booked by Becky Abel to play gigs at the brewery.
“We have had a singer plug in her phone and sing songs from Frozen. We have had a 5 piece bluegrass group play some gospel and a 5 piece rock band with harmony. On any given Tuesday night you’re likely to hear everything from Abba to Zeppelin,” said Wiley about the open mic’s diversity of talent.
The night’s closing act was a stand-up comedy set performed by Nate Fleming, founder of Swan City Improv in Lakeland. Fleming’s first introduction to the standup stage was 19 years ago. He started simply by memorizing material from joke books that he enjoyed and performing it at shows he was a part of.
The comedian went from being in Star Search at his school and performing for his church youth group, to now starring alongside a talented troupe of actors at Swan City Improv and doing hilarious stand-up at local open mics.
I asked Fleming what his personal comedy career goals were. “I used to want to get really famous and have a TV show and movies and make a ton of money to have a mansion that I live in all alone because I never focused on making friends and say Rosebud as I die in my bed with only my maid at my bedside while I do,” he joked (I think). “Now I just want to be able to pay my bills by doing comedy, have it take me all over the world to make as many people laugh as I possibly can and hopefully educate people while I do it.”
He stressed the importance of a local stage open to new talent. “You can’t create performance art completely alone. You have to be able to get in front of people to see how your work affects them, hear what it makes them say and really feel how they are responding to what you make.”
Fleming passed along some of the best advice he has ever received. It seems a bit counterintuitive at first glance – to just give up, that if you haven’t already done it, then don’t do it now. But, he explained, “If you heard that advice and you ignored it, then you are ready to give stand up a go because most shows will make you want to give up until you start getting good at stand-up.”
And if you’re nervous to try it alone, Fleming offers his friendship, saying he could always use friends that will keep him in the habit of going to open mics. Find Nate on social media @TheNateFleming.
Musician Scott Hooker also had some words of encouragement to new talent. Whether you know all the lyrics or just a few chords, everyone is there to support you. He expressed, “That’s what I love is the encouragement, because those people who are nervous, those people who are unsure of themselves – who knows, they might keep at it and keep at it and become the next Springsteen.” Find Scott on Facebook @Hooker Music.
Anyone with a gift they’d like to share with the community is encouraged to give Swan Brewing’s Open Mic Night a go. Their sound system is able to accommodate just about any act – solo, duo, trio, or otherwise. Performers can also bring along a phone or iPod to hook up and sing to if they don’t play an instrument.
Next up to the stage… you!
115 W. Pine St, Lakeland
Open Mic Night
Tuesdays 6 pm – 9 pm