COVID ravaged the region’s open-mic scene. While some venues still haven’t joined the fray, many open-mic nights are back and rocking stages. The lowdown at Local Spins.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Local Spins is updating its Open-Mic Night Listing. View it here. If you’re a venue or host of an open-mic night that’s not listed – or have revisions to your event – please email firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com with the name of your venue, the address, the time and day of your open-mic night, the name of the host and a link to your website, signup or Facebook page. Scroll down for a photo gallery.
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West Michigan's music scene
The COVID-19 pandemic shut down more than just concerts and tours.
It also upended dozens of open-mic nights across West Michigan – and throughout the country – thus derailing opportunities for emerging songwriters and musicians to strut their stuff, test their original material and otherwise find an audience for their music.
Nearly three years after the coronavirus reared its ugly head, some bars and clubs still haven’t gotten back to hosting open-mic sessions, while others no longer feature live music at all.
On the flip side, go-to venues with a stellar reputation for open-mics such as Grand Rapids’ Founders Brewing Co. and Midtown (formerly Listening Room) and Holland’s Park Theatre are once again finding robust participation for their open-mic nights from performers and fans alike.
“It’s an amazing space to try out new material on an audience that may not be in your regular fan base, or even to build a fan base of your own,” said Jake Stilson, aka Big Jake of The Bootstrap Boys, who started hosting regular open-mics on Tuesdays at Founders earlier this year.
For years, until the pandemic shut things down, singer-songwriter Nicholas James Thomasma served as the host at Founders, which became a go-to venue for open-mics and a launching pad for the careers of many regional musicians.
Paul Winslow, entertainment coordinator for Founders, called the sessions “the perfect vessel for folks to cut their teeth playing in front of an actual crowd and find their voice.”
At Founders, he said, performers can take advantage of a top-tier sound system, audio engineer and lighting rig, not to mention “a fantastic host” in Stilson.
“His wealth of musical knowledge and talent is extraordinary,” Winslow said. “Beyond that, his never-stop-gigging mentality and kind demeanor welcome all musicians to the stage with encouragement and maybe a live collaboration if we’re lucky.
From his vantage point, Stilson views his role “as facilitating a safe space for artists to come out and share their ideas with the built-in crowd of a world-class brewery.”
Those crowds vary week to week, but Stilson said turnout has grown and become more consistent with full rosters of performers. “I see it as being a staple in the Grand Rapids live music scene,” he insisted.
Performers can sign up online here, or at 6 p.m. at Founders on Tuesdays. Music runs from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., with Stilson usually opening and closing the night with some songs.
Winslow noted that the open-mics are just part of Founders’ return to live music with about two Saturday concerts per month and more planned for 2023. One change from pre-COVID: The shows are now all-ages affairs.
‘SOMETHING VERY SPECIAL’ AT HOLLAND’S PARK THEATRE AND GR’S MIDTOWN
Another popular open-mic night returned this year to the lakeshore: Park Theatre in Holland hosts an open-mic for music, comedy and poetry at 8 p.m. Tuesdays, with doors opening at 7:30 p.m.
And it’s become a much-beloved weekly event, hosted by Jair, aka Jairimi Driesenga of the band Brother Adams.
“We truly have something very special and unique going on there, and I pour my heart into it,” said Driesenga. “Since I’ve been involved, we average something like 125 to 175 people every Tuesday.”
Not only that, but Park Theatre’s open-mic has partnered with Ottawa County Fair to bring sessions to the fair each year and started a quarterly “junior” open-mic event for performers under the age of 21. There’s also a monthly karaoke night.
“Park Theatre’s open-mic is undoubtedly an unprecedented weekly celebration of self-expression and community,” Driesenga insisted.
Performers can sign up for the Tuesday open-mics via Facebook online at facebook.com/parktheatreopenmic.
Another relatively new performance opportunity amid the open-mic scene takes place in Midtown at Studio Park in downtown Grand Rapids (formerly known as Listening Room). The venue started hosting occasional “Open Stage” nights in the acoustically pristine, 200-capacity room in October 2021.
With comfortable, upscale seating and top-notch sound, performers get a rare opportunity to play a stage that’s been hailed as a gem by national touring acts.
“It’s beautiful,” said West Michigan singer-songwriter Megan Stark, who performed songs from her album, “Hold On” at an Open Stage session earlier this month. “I love that it’s set up specifically for musicians and for appreciating local art.”
With the open-mic scene starting to rebound across West Michigan, Local Spins recently has updated its Open-Mic Nights Listing. But we know there are still some adjustments and additions that need to be made.
If you’re a venue or host of an open-mic night not listed here – or have revisions to a listed event – please email firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com with the name of your venue, the address, the time and day of your open-mic, the name of the host and a link to your website, signup or Facebook page.
PHOTO GALLERY: Open-Mics at Founders, Park Theatre and Midtown
Photos by Veronica Ann Dearborn, Heidi Driesenga, Katie Rosendale