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Empty Nest: If it's Tuesday it's NoHo

UPI News Service, 11/11/2009 

(Editor's note: The nest isn't necessarily empty just because the kids leave -- after all, dad's still there, with time and opportunity for pursuits that have been on hold for, let's face it, a generation. This is the latest in a series of reflections.)

LOS ANGELES, Nov. 11 (UPI) -- Identifying open mic opportunities is just another of the many things made easier by using the Internet.

There are Web sites that catalog open mics by ZIP code and many sites are interactive so visitors can provide descriptions of how a particular open mic operates and how performers are treated. Users can search by nights of the week. That's how I found Hollenbeck's in North Hollywood.

I work nights and at the time my nights off were Tuesday and Wednesday. Hollenbeck's had a Tuesday open mic and was closer to my home than other venues that offered midweek open mics.

The atmosphere of the place itself was mostly warm and welcoming but, in addition to my own first-timer nerves, there seemed also to be an air of anxiety among many of the other performers. It turns out it's not just a cliche -- a lot of performers, even very good ones, are saddled with feelings of insecurity.

Open mics can be hit and miss when it comes to mutual respect among performers. You can hear people chatting while others are playing and it's not uncommon for people to go outside for a smoke -- or even leave the premises altogether and come back later if they know they're going on toward the end of the evening. But that's OK. It's not church or anything. And you get used to it.

After four weeks at Hollenbeck's something unexpected came up when my work schedule was changed. Now I would be off Friday and Saturday -- which is great in any case but was extra handy because I was probably getting too comfortable in North Hollywood and it seemed like a good idea to move on.

The UnUrban Coffee House in Santa Monica, Calif., held a Friday night open mic that seemed promising. For one thing, it's all about music -- no standup, no poetry -- and singers get two songs.

After I sang at UnUrban for the first time, the host, David Kowal, asked me for contact information, telling me he puts showcases together and books "featured performers" to do 30-minute sets on open mic nights.

I've had enough people in California ask for contact information only to learn they want to sell me something or enroll me in some self-help seminar or another, so I asked Kowal to tell me more about these showcases and feature slots and asked him point blank, "Does any money change hands?"

Happily, the answer was no and, relieved, I settled in for a nice weekly run at UnUrban, where the format allowed for greater experimentation and the level of songwriting, musicianship and professionalism was at times very impressive.

The majority of performers at UnUrban were pushing CDs of their music and promoting appearances at area clubs. On my first night, I lost count of the number of times performers plugged a CD or a MySpace page or a Web page. Anxiety gave way to a strong sense of inadequacy. I had no Web site. I had a CD but I hadn't had the wit to bring copies with me. When the time came for my spot, I tried to turn it into a joke.

"I don't have a Web site or a MySpace page and I don't have any CDs," I told the audience. "But I tell you what: If you like what you hear, you could call me and I'll come over to your house and play."

Good. Got a laugh. Now, the next time -- I admonished myself -- remember to bring copies of the CD to get the songs "out there," which is the point of the exercise. Also, I vowed to set up a MySpace page -- as soon as one of the kids shows me how.

Next: Doing the Santa Monica Schlep

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Copyright 2009 by United Press International


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