Ever wondered what it would be like to perform on a stage in front of a live crowd, but not sure how to make it happen? Andy Warhol said, “In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.” And, from Wilkes-Barre’s River Street Jazz Café to Scranton’s Vintage Theatre, local Open Mic nights bring your future to the present. The Wilkes-Barre/ Scranton area is brimming with opportunities for musicians and performers of all ages and experiences to claim their 15 minutes of fame on stage.
Creating a community of musicians, Open Mics are a hub in which people can meet and network with other performers, set up future jam sessions, recruit for benefit shows or even book gigs at other venues. Above all, they allow performers to receive immediate feedback from their audience, whether criticism or praise. Walking off the stage, it is likely for one to be approached by another performer saying, “Your voice is so unique, you sound like this artist”, or “I like your style, have you ever heard of this artist? You should try some of his stuff”, or “Are you in a band? Want to join one?”
This dialogue is common at one of the most established Open Mic nights in the area, at the River Street Jazz Café, where sound technician Tom Moran has 11 years of experience hosting. Moran encourages full bands, solo performers, comedians, and spoken word artists to perform. The Jazz Café has a large stage and maintained lighting, which give the effect of playing in a real concert, and provides all kinds of equipment for performers such as microphones, guitar pick-ups and chords. There is plenty of space on the stage for you to bring your whole band and play a set. In fact, popular local bluegrass band, Cabinet, first started playing together at a Jazz Café Open Mic and has had success at other venues ever since.
For an Open Mic in a more relaxed setting, one might try the River Street Ale House, in Pittston. Paul Martin, Avoca native and recording artist, hosts the show there, as well as a small Open Mic night at Suzie’s in Minooka. Martin began playing covers for a small Ale House crowd on Thursday nights and then started sharing the microphone with a few friends. Soon after, he opened the floor to anyone who wanted to perform, and the attendance is growing. He hopes to inspire more first-time performers to feel comfortable playing there. Martin also encourages bands to sign up and try out their material in front of the audience.
College student Mitchell Smith brought his band, Days in Transit, to the Ale House Open Mic, where they had a chance to play in public for the first time.
“It’s fun to play at the River Street Ale House because it’s an intimate setting. As a newer band trying out original music, we are trying to progress musically before we commit to playing different venues,” he said. “It’s not only great for bands that are trying to expose themselves, but it is also great for fans that want to listen to original music in a relaxed setting.”
Another Open Mic performer, Betty Harlot, can be heard shouting “support local artists” from the Ale House microphone. A local artist herself, Harlot was 15 years old the first time she played an Open Mic at the old Café Rouge in Wilkes- Barre. She prefers the Ale House Open Mic for its enthusiastic atmosphere.
“When I was younger, any place I performed was at a bar and my friends had to sneak me in through the back door,” she said. “Now there are more places for young people to perform in the area where they are actually encouraged.”
If you’re hesitant about performing in front of people, just go to listen. It is a great opportunity to hear live music for free, and it is a way to support local artistry.
For a performing scene closer to the Scranton area, The Bog, located on Adams Avenue downtown, holds an Open Mic on Monday nights. It’s the kind of place you can expect to hear bluegrass or a jam band. While it is geared toward more experienced performers, it is the place to go to listen to the area’s talented musicians as they play around under no pressure. If you show up early, it’s also one of the area’s best trivia nights.
While most Open Mics in the area are restricted to those 21 and older, there are options for the younger crowd, too. The Vintage Theater in downtown Scranton holds an Open Mic night the last Thursday of every month and is “dedicated to the cultivation and showcase of both the visual and performing arts in the greater Scranton area,” according to its website. Set in a coffeehouse, with tables, couches, and a small stage, it is a great place for young artists and local bands to gain experience performing. A new addition to the monthly calendar is Wednesday Open Rhythm Night, or W.O.R.N., where all musicians of every level and experience are encouraged to come and collaborate instruments and ideas. This takes place every Wednesday.
Other Open Mics for the under-21 crowd include Anthology Bookstore in Scranton, where one can read original work among published authors, and Paper Kite Press Studio in Wilkes-Barre, bringing forward more spoken word and poetic performers. These nights are usually uncensored, but as they are first-come first-serve with limited slots, those hoping to perform are encouraged to sign up early. These venues also offer writing workshops, so if the talent that will bring you fame is in writing a short story or a poem, there are opportunities for you to get feedback here, too.
Take advantage of the opportunities in the area to experience your time on the stage. Call the venue ahead of time to get a feel for when people usually start signing up. Bring a few friends, as familiar faces in the audience will take the edge off your nerves. Get there to sign up early, so you’re in control of when you play in the line up. Whether you sing, play the guitar, write poetry, or tell jokes, don’t pass up a chance to contribute your talents to the growing community of creativity and the support of local artists. There is no deficit of cultural opportunities in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area. Don’t miss out on them. Your 15 minutes are waiting.