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Taking center stage: Performers find community, courage at open mics

  • Open mics offer a stage and friendly audiences, like this one at th Black Sheep Cafe in Amherst.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Open mics offer a stage and friendly audiences, like this one at th Black Sheep Cafe in Amherst.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Pete Jody performs weekly at an open mic for musicians at the Black Sheep Cafe in Amherst.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Pete Jody performs weekly at an open mic for musicians at the Black Sheep Cafe in Amherst.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Pete Jody performs weekly at an open mic for musicians at the Black Sheep Cafe in Amherst.<br/><br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Pete Jody performs weekly at an open mic for musicians at the Black Sheep Cafe in Amherst.

    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • PHOTO COURTESY OF MATT SHIEBLER<br/>Musician Matt Shiebler says feels a sense of community with all the artists who perform at open mics at Hinge in Northampton.

    PHOTO COURTESY OF MATT SHIEBLER
    Musician Matt Shiebler says feels a sense of community with all the artists who perform at open mics at Hinge in Northampton. Purchase photo reprints »

  • PHOTO COURTESY OF MATT SHIEBLER<br/>Musician Matt Shiebler says he feels a sense of community with all the artists who perform at open mics at Hinge in Northampton.

    PHOTO COURTESY OF MATT SHIEBLER
    Musician Matt Shiebler says he feels a sense of community with all the artists who perform at open mics at Hinge in Northampton. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Open mics offer a stage and friendly audiences, like this one at th Black Sheep Cafe in Amherst.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Pete Jody performs weekly at an open mic for musicians at the Black Sheep Cafe in Amherst.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Pete Jody performs weekly at an open mic for musicians at the Black Sheep Cafe in Amherst.<br/><br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF MATT SHIEBLER<br/>Musician Matt Shiebler says feels a sense of community with all the artists who perform at open mics at Hinge in Northampton.
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF MATT SHIEBLER<br/>Musician Matt Shiebler says he feels a sense of community with all the artists who perform at open mics at Hinge in Northampton.

Even seasoned professionals will tell you: performing in front of a roomful of people can be nerve-racking. It can be even more daunting for those with less experience. But open mic events can ease any trepidation.

Open mics, which offer the floor to anyone who is inclined to perform, generally have a welcoming atmosphere, where artists can try out music, poetry or comedy in front of a friendly audience. With themes such as full band, folk and jazz jams, acoustic nights and poetry slams, the artists — all in the same boat — can fuel each other’s courage.

“There’s something inspiring about watching people around you, that you know, stand up and say something that means something to them,” said frequent open mic participant Pete Jody, 21, a guitarist, singer and songwriter. Since moving to Amherst from New York City in 2011, Jody has performed most Thursdays at open mic nights at The Black Sheep, a deli and bakery in Amherst. “It’s a really nice combination of community and music, which is appealing,” he said.

Jody says music is a big part of his life, and open mics became important to him after he left New York, where he’d been playing with a few bands. In the Valley, he says, there are plenty of opportunities to sing and play acoustic guitar, with multiple open mics scattered throughout the local area.

Jody, who composes lyrics for his songs, is a senior at Amherst College, where he studies writing.

“The idea of writing some stuff that I could play out myself was appealing,” Jody said in a recent interview. “They’re so low-key, especially this open mic, that I feel really comfortable trying out new material here — playing things that in other settings I might wait on.”

Artistic community

There are numerous open mics in the area, and while settings, and themes may vary, they all have something in common, says poet Jessica Sweeney of Hadley: artists find an outlet for expression and a venue to participate in an artistic community.

Sweeney, 24, began writing poetry about a year ago after going to an open mic event with friends.

“I had always written little things, but never tried writing a whole poem until one day, I went to an open mic, she said in a recent phone interview. “It inspired me to write more, and more came out.” She was also encouraged to read her own work at an open mic.

“The people onstage were putting all their heart and soul into what they were doing,” she said. “It got me thinking, “Why should I be scared?’ It inspired me to do the same because they weren’t afraid themselves.”

Now Sweeney hosts a monthly open mic for poets and musicians at Hinge, a restaurant and bar in Northampton. Her goal, she says, is to offer a mix of genres in a setting where artists can motivate each other.

“Providing a place for them — and hopefully inspire each other and the people that come to see them — has been really great,” Sweeney said, “whether that be picking up a pen, or a guitar, or a brush.”

Getting inspired

Musician Matt Shiebler, 23, who’s been performing at Hinge for a few months now, says he is inspired by the blending of poetry and music at the open mics there.

“It’s really cool to see that same spark come from a similar, but different place,” he said in a recent interview at his Hadley home. “The congregation is the most important part of that — everyone coming out to an event like that.”

That community has helped him grow as an artist, he says, and to be more confident, especially with his singing.

“I don’t think it’s because my voice got any better, I think it’s because I started caring less about what my voice sounded like,” he said. “When you have the type of abandon, it ends up sounding better because you’re more confident.”

In the future, he says he might try something new — playing the banjo or piano onstage, if he has a little time to practice beforehand.

“Doing things that make you nervous is always good, but doing things in front of people that make you nervous is even better,” he said. “I think that’s a good thing to try and conquer.”

Related

Finding open mics

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Some local listings include: Mondays from 7 to 11 p.m., open mic at Opa-Opa Steakhouse and Brewery, 169 College Highway, Southampton; Tuesdays from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m., open jam at Bishops Lounge, 41 Strong Avenue, Northampton; first Wednesday of the month from 8 to 9 p.m., open mic and jam at Hinge, 48 Main St., Northampton; Wednesdays at 7 …

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