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19 July 2011

Denver Open Mic Guidelines: 4 Venues Profiled

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As a newly formed band, most of Eclectic Verve’s recent live performances have been in venues that offer an “Open Mic” night.  Whether termed Open Mic, Open Mike, Open Microphone or Open Stage, the concept is the same.  Free music!  The performer doesn’t have to pay to play and the audience doesn’t have to pay to listen. 

The Denver Metro area is rich with talented musicians and as a result there are a number of venues to support live music.  Open Mic formats vary from venue to venue.  A similarity across the Open Mics we’ve experienced is that all of the venues and the hosts have been very supportive and generous with their accolades of our music.  We are very grateful for the warm reception.

Open Mics – How do they work?

I like structure.  To be comfortable, I need to understand the parameters within which I’m expected to act.  I discovered I couldn’t really find the level of detail I was hoping to find on any of the websites, nor was I able to understand the specific formats by talking to someone at each venue prior to showing up to perform.  If you’re completely new to the Open Mic scene like I was, I recommend you do some reconnaissance before you desire to be on the stage.  Attend the venue of your choice, watch how others perform, speak to the ‘host’ for the venue, and just observe.  Since I have now completed this type of research for several venues in the area, I’d like to share what I’ve learned about the D Note, The Lakewood Grill, The Toad Tavern, and Ziggies.  For a more comprehensive list of Open Mics in the Denver metro area, I recommend these resources: Open Mic Denver website and Twitter and Open Mikes website. Some venues offer a structured schedule and others are more fluid in nature. Whether the format is structured or fluid, as a musician desiring to partake, it really helps to know the unwritten guidelines.

Most Open Mics cater to acoustic performers, but there are a few (e.g., The Toad Tavern, Ziggies) that are prepared to accommodate a full band with a drum kit setup and ready to use.  The stages vary in size and equipment complement.  Some stages are huge others are small.  Some venues are setup with monitors, others have speakers behind the performers to provide amplification for the entire venue.  Some Open Mics allow performers carte blanche – any music style, comedy, etc.  Other Open Mics prefer a certain type of performance (e.g., just jazz at the D Note on Wednesday nights, just blues on Sunday nights at Ziggie’s, etc.). 

Sign up in Advance

The format is generally a ‘show up / sign up’ scenario.  Musicians arrive at the venue and either check in with the host or sign their name to a list.  Some of the busier Open Mics will then have a lottery to determine the performance schedule.  Other venues will take performers on a ‘first come, first perform’ basis. A notable exception to the ‘show up / sign up’ scenario is The Toad Tavern’s Tuesday night Open Mic hosted by Kyle Zender.  Kyle schedules the performer list in advance via e-mail kylez@toadtavern.com from 7ish to last band.  Acoustic sets are generally given a 30 minute timeslot, whereas full bands are allotted approximately 60 minutes.  This includes setup, sound check, and stage exit.  Kyle will also audio and video record your performance if you wish for $10, which is a wonderful bargain. 

Sign up at the Door

The following ‘show up / sign up’ venues are also definitely worth your time to attend:  The Lakewood Grill on Sunday nights and the D Note and Ziggies on Monday nights.  Both the Lakewood Grill and the D Note  are hosted by the same musician – Jay Ryan, but each has its own unique format.  The Lakewood Grill is very casual.  Performers start checking in with Jay around 7:30 and he will draw up a schedule on the fly based upon when the person checked in.  Lengths of ‘air time’ are based on the number of performers waiting in the wings.  Jay generally gets the night going by performing some of his own music and then he turns the microphone over to the next performer with a warm welcome to the stage.

The D Note, also hosted by Jay Ryan, is run much differently.  There is a lottery at 6:30.  Arrive by 6:15, so you’re settled and ready to be called to the stage at 6:30 on the dot.  If you arrive at 6:40, be prepared to enjoy a night listening to others, as there most likely won’t be any slots left.  Jay runs this “circus” (it truly has a circus feel – very fun – you need to experience it!) in a fairly structured fashion.  Anyone who desires to perform is called to the stage at 6:30 p.m. for the lottery.  Each person draws a number from his hat.  Then, his secret ‘order of the night’ is revealed, to inform would-be performers what the number they’ve selected translates to.  If the ‘order of the night’ is ‘alphabetical’, for example, two is no longer 2nd, but rather last.  In turn, each performer selects their desired timeslot.  Each performer gets 20 minutes, inclusive of setup/departure.  So be quick to get on stage, sound check, and perform. 

Ziggies is very casual, similar to The Lakewood Grill.  Musician Terry Gulley hosts this Monday night Open Mic.  The sign-up sheet is by the door so musicians can sign in as they arrive.  Terry kicks off Ziggies’ Open Mic by performing a few of his own songs to warm up the crowd.  He then announces each group to the stage.  As with The Lakewood Grill, your length of performance will vary based upon how many people are in attendance. 

Whether the band is looking for a place to play or you are looking for a place to play your guitar and sing a few notes solo, I recommend you check out Open Mics in your area.

I hope this information is helpful!  I look forward to feedback on these venues or suggestions on other great venues we’ve not yet experienced.

7 Responses

      1. I found 2 potential leads for you. Here’s a link to the first one:
        http://openstagedenver.com/hiphop.html

        I can’t get the other link to show up in this comment — it’s on Facebook — Rex Lounge, an event from June 2011, 900 Pound Gorilla Hip Hop Cypher with Raashan Ahmad of Crown City Rockers. They claim to be the “only regular Hip Hop Cypher, live music, multiple DJ’s and emcee’s on the mic!”.

        Good luck!

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