The first installation that discussed open mics in The Lowell Spin covered some of Lowell’s most prominent hubs for live performance: UnchARTed, The Worthen House, and The Warp & Weft. My colleague, Alyssa Vautier, provided great reports from the hosts of these open mics along with thought-provoking insight as to why and how open mics benefit the communities they’re featured in. Admittedly, my report won’t be nearly as detailed as Ms. Vautier’s, but I do hope this piece will give you, my reader, sentiments and thoughts to reflect on, to have hope for, and to share.
The three aforementioned venues have housed some sick open mics. (Actually, one of my first times performing in Lowell since I moved here was at an open mic held by Cayla Johnson at the Worthen and, I kid you not, there were like 40 odd people just chillin’ there on an unassuming Wednesday night like…wut…is every gig this lit?) BUT! They aren’t the only places with packed open mics. Oh no, in fact if you’ve read up to this point and you haven’t blurted out “Yeah but what about The Hearing Room? What about Coffee & Cotton or Gallery Z?” then righteous; you’re right where I want you to be.
To begin with, yes, Coffee & Cotton, Gallery Z, and The Hearing Room all do open mics. Each spot has its very own unique vibe. Hidden away inside Mill No. 5, Coffee & Cotton provides a modern, oaken atmosphere rich with warmth and chic simplicity. Patrons instantly feel welcomed to a chance to slow down and catch their breath for a bit. Gallery Z serves as both a cafe and an art gallery with a bit more of a rustic aesthetic. The windows that look out to Market Street are conducive for passersby peeping in to catch a performance. And the wall that partitions the foyer from more dining space does help guests feel pleasantly lost in the works that surround them. And breathing amid decorative houseplants, cozy furniture, and walls lined with books from myriad genres, the Hearing Room offers an ambiance that welcomes guests to comfortably reflect on their own thoughts in between numbers.
Needless to say, if you’re a performer in search of another venue to try new material out at, or you’re an amicable adventurer hunting for a new rock to dwell under, poke your head in to any of these places. What’s more, each venue hosts a variety of events in addition to open mics. Be it a potluck, a brunch, food pairings, poetry nights, or game nights, there’s guaranteed to be something for you to enjoy!
I’ve been fortunate enough to visit each of these venues, though it hasn’t always been specifically during open mics. In fact, the only open mic I was available to attend at any of these places was a Tuesday night at the Hearing Room on Chelmsford Street. And though at first it seemed like an ordinary Tuesday night (which I really shouldn’t expected anything for based on my experience at the Worthen), a couple really marvelous things struck me.
Firstly, the pictures I spied online did not capture the real color of the room. No…literally, the room breathes flamboyance that seems to fade through a screen. I felt like I stepped into a living room that Willy Wonka decorated after eating blotter acid. But yes, figuratively, pictures also did not capture the denser spirit of the room; how it felt to retire to smiles and patience, away from the cold and the traffic.
The variety in genre of performances kept my attention, as well. One by one, bluegrass groups, singer-songwriters, comedians took the stage to perform. After a bit of digging, I learned that at one point the Hearing Room featured a modular synth theme for a show and wondered what else I was in for.
Perhaps the most significant piece of my experience, though, was the circle I found myself wrapped in made up of musicians from a huge array of ages. From folks that were on the cusp of their twenties to folks that had a healthy few decades on me, I can’t remember ever seeing such a gerontological phenomenon at any gig I’ve been to. It might be sensitive to discuss, but frankly when I go out to gigs I don’t expect to see folks that aren’t relatively close to my age. I was a sucker for believing, albeit subconsciously, that local music was an element reserved for youth.
One performer, let’s call her S, spoke with me after she slayed a Marvin Gaye cover on a mandolin. S pointed me down a number of different avenues of musicians she knew around the area; none of which I was familiar with, all of which she says were absolutely fantastic; some taught music, others hung onto it as a recreational passion. When I asked her how she found the time to be able to play out, she gave me something of an obvious answer that I should’ve jumped to: retirement. But hearing her say that sparked the existential gears in an extremely positive light for me.
Assuming we take good care of our bodies and our minds, there will be a time in our lives when work is no longer the center of each day; when we will have found the certainty and stability we needed to live life as it was meant to be lived: on our own terms, whatever they may be. Standing before me were folks that chose to keep music as an anchor, and to continue getting involved in hosting, supporting, and performing long after they had settled on a profession or passed an age that I’m sure many people might think is too old to be going out for music or nightlife. To my fellow millennials: not only do I find it remarkable and admirable that older folk still shred, I think it’s imperative for us to find a way to blend the demographics. As Vautier’s article reminds us, music is a community value and Lowell should never be Neverland in that regard. – Luke Pelletier