Open mic nights are a great way to try out new material, or to check out your local Folk scene. Besides, it's free entertainment, and if you don't like the guy who's singing now, a new one will be up in 10 minutes. I've been to way more than my share of open mic nights all over the country, so here are my recommendations.
Eddie's Attic holds a competitive open mic each Monday. If you're on tour, you should call a couple of weeks ahead and let them know you want to sign up for open mic. The winner gets to participate in a "shootout" which takes place every month. They'll record your set for $10. The competitive element means the players are generally fantastic. It's an outstanding show for spectators. Plus it's smoke-free, and no talking from the audience keeps everyone attentive, which is rare!
Sure, the Sidewalk Monday anti-hoot goes on forever, but its great attendance is proof it's the coolest thing happening in NYC. If you're a spectator, you're in for a treat! If you're a player, hang in there. It's worth it to stay even if you are number 45. Sign-up starts at 7:30. Sidewalk's anti-hoot remains one of the most important things to do in the East Village Anti-folk
The Bluebird isn't just one of Nashville's best Folk clubs for singer/songwriters, but it's also got the best open mic in town. Of course it's held on Monday nights. Sign up starts at 5:30 sharp and the show is run by Barbara Cloyd. The list is filled lottery-style. It's not as cutthroat as open mic at the Sidewalk, but make no mistake, Nashville songwriters are serious business. A great place for prospective players and Folk fans alike.
The longest running open mic in one of the country's most overlooked Folk towns. Open mic is preceeded by a songwriter's showcase featuring an artist hand-picked by my favorite open mic host, Mike Meldrum. Mike's been running this show for a long time, and he's got it down to a science. The open mic starts at 9, and the list is first come, first served. Performers range from old local Folk and blues guys to college kids and the occasional poet. All in all, one of the best around.
Monday night open mic at the Hotel Utah Saloon is one of the best traditions in San Francisco. The venue itself is spectacular - it's been around since 1908! But open mic night with host El Zakador is certainly not to be missed. San Francisco has high expectations from its folkies, and the Hotel Utah lives up to every one.
Club Passim is one of the top Folk clubs in the country, if not simply one of the most pleasant. The Boston area folk music scene, always full of life, pretty much centers here at this non-profit venue. Tuesday night open mics are free for members, $5 for everyone else. But they're so worth it. The musicians are top notch and the vibe is so, so nice.
Fiddler's Dream is my favorite church coffeeshop. The Thursday night open mic operates lottery style with the best of Phoenix and Tucscon's Folk players. Touring folks stop through here too, so there's usually a nice mix of talent. It's been a few years since I was there, but it was certainly memorable. It's a non-profit space, and you can choose between paying the $2 cover or bringing canned food to donate to charity.
It's not one of the most popular open mics in the country, but it's still one of my favorites. Wednesday night open mic is one of the only outlets for Seattle's underappreciated Folk scene, which, believe it or not, is thriving. The players that make it out for open mic at Hopvine include downhome Bluegrassers and frat boy rockers. A really bad player is extremely rare. It's always packed!