Yesterday, around lunchtime, I got this mad idea that I ought to quit talking about “hypothetically” playing some “hypothetical” open mic nights and actually get off my duff and do it. So I called the Wild Buffalo and discovered, to my simultaneous horror and joy, that their open mic was that very evening. I immediately felt like throwing up.
But I took down the info and decided that I would be there at 7 p.m., well-tuned guitar in hand, for sign-up. I spent the rest of the afternoon agonizing over my three-song set list, humming through tricky spots in my songs, trying to commit my newest (and most favorite) lyrics to memory and also, occasionally, working. The nervousness came in waves.
Here, I will insert a flashback: in high school, I made weekly pilgramages to the now-defunct Cookie Cafe for their Wednesday night open mic with a few dedicated friends (of whom Mitch was one). We drank tea and tuned our guitars obsessively and hid behind our hair as we sang angsty power ballads about riotous teenage things. I always played too loud and sang too soft; I could never hit the high notes in public like I could in the quiet of my bedroom, and when I got nervous my throat went dry dry dry and quivered in what I hoped to pass as vibrato.
For the evolution of my thoughts on music, you might hop on over to an earlier entry, She returns to her guitar, and finds it likes her well enough, and then hop right back here, where I will leap forward several years to 7 p.m. last night, when I found myself timidly approaching the bar at the Wild Buffalo and accepting from the bartender a big red square of construction paper on which was printed the number 10.
10 meaning that I was the tenth person to arrive for sign-up, which meant that I would be left with either the very first spot or the very last.
And sure enough, those were my choices: dead first, or dead last.
I took first. And then I ordered a pint of Rogue ale and grabbed a table and began to tune my guitar.
By now, I was determined to have fun regardless of whether I bombed or not, and this worked much to my advantage when the announcer called his first act, “Thee-uh”, to the stage for set-up. In the ten minutes before he mispronounced my name over the PA, I made four trips to the ladies’ room, I thumbed through my notebook obsessively, double-checking lyrics, I tapped my toes and then, inexplicably, I calmed down. At which point Mitch leaned over to me and said, “Now I’m getting nervous.”
“Here,” I said, passing him my now half-empty pint. “Have some beer.”
Now, jump-cut to me standing in blue spotlight on a quite nice stage, politely interjecting through the mic that my name is actually “Thay-uh” and then (deep, unsteady breath) beginning to play.
I didn’t throw up, after all, and though my throat went instantly desert dry, I managed to sing nearly as loud as I do at home, partly because I could see Mitch sitting at the bar, watching and smiling, and I knew that he knew I could sing these songs, and somehow that worked to boost my confidence. In a nice reversal, my voice overpowered my pitifully amplified guitar. I felt like a rock star.
Really, I quite enjoyed myself, and when the announcer boomed omnisciently from the sound booth, “Let’s hear it for Thee-uh!” I shrugged, and bowed, and exited stage right. And so open mic night was officially kicked off. Here are some highlights:
- The second act turned out to be the guy who used to run the Cookie Cafe open mics (one of those odd Bellingham connections). He played an amazing rendition of “Rocky Raccoon” that I actually have stuck in my head right now.
- I got a free beer for playing. Hoorah!
- After the feature act (a phenomenal barbershop quartet named something like Double Deuce) sang “Fishers of Men,” a rather interesting fellow with black-framed glasses, mad white hair and a walking stick hijacked the floor in front of the stage and began prophecying in a very loud voice something to the effect that every baby born nine months from today would be Jesus. This was greeted by shifty eyes, drunken laughter and a red spotlight, dramatically trained on the guy as the quartet cleverly talked him down and kept the crowd laughing. The bass said casually, “Well, I can see we’d better lay off the religious songs…”
- An individual of dubious gender batted her (?) eyelashes at me and swatted my arm drunken- and/or playfully and told me I’d just have to stop staring at her, because I know how that makes her feel–at which point I believe I might have actually said something witty, because she giggled, swatted me again, and moved on, but I cannot remember what I said.
- Because it was the announcer’s birthday, he made the rounds with a tray of free cupcakes, which were delicious. Free cupcake, free beer. Good times.