Wow. I want to recommend what is possibly the best new open mic experience in metro Detroit. I had the pleasure of playing my little 15 minutes at Dino’s Lounge on Woodward and 9 mile under the gaze of new emcee Jill Jack, a prominent Detroit musician who is hugely supportive of songwriters. And after playing for Jill, it’s gotten me all geeked to play again for both her AND Chris Bentley, the other emcee on the team, because it was just that awesome.
What I like about this open mic is that it’s STRUCTURED. There’s an emcee and a separate stage manager who runs the sound and does a tremendous job keeping the musicians cozy and welcomed. Then there’s what I call a “high mastermind,” an admin assistant who keeps track of the performer list and all communications. So there are clearly defined roles, and the people filling them are tops.
Second of all, you have to sign up in advance – there’s now a waiting list going 3 months into the future for Jill’s nights – and the admin structure around this is refreshingly tight. When you sign up, you’re encouraged to send in a bio so that you’re properly introduced, and no matter if you’re an experienced pro with a national following or a local player looking for a first stage appearance – Jill will make you feel welcomed and honored in front of the audience, like you truly belong there.
And it doesn’t matter if you screw up your song and have to start again; she will rouse up some applause in the audience to give the performer some love and support.
There’s an emphasis on original songs ONLY, with minimal instrumentation – no drum sets or crazy/elaborate setups – so the focus can remain on the songwriting itself and the night can flow smoothly from one performer to the next.
And Jill also does something that I’ve never seen an open mic host do before: she will shush the audience and tell them to respect the musicians by listening. Not easy in an uppity bar such as Dino’s, but the thing is, this open mic experience is really supposed to be different – this is a songwriter’s showcase, in the same tradition as the monthly event at The Ark in Ann Arbor, where you submit your name in a drawing for the chance to play on that legendary stage. Because it is so highly refined, the Dino’s open mic allows for tremendous variety while weeding out the people who just want to cover Leonard Cohen or Bill Withers all day.
And furthermore, there’s no place for those long, boring sets where you see a whole band set up to play and just pass the mic around from person to person – that’s not an open mic, that’s a band hijacking the stage, and it’s insulting to listen to while you’re waiting your turn.
Jill understands that it often takes a reduction in the degrees of freedom to really get the variety and diversity you want in an open mic experience. She wants to see increasing support for the songwriting community of Detroit, so that the city can eventually be on the same level as Nashville as a music center. I’d say we’re not too far away from that ideal if we see more highly refined events like this to really give songwriters the kind of chance they’re looking for.
Of course, it helps if your emcee is musically talented and already has a huge following and a vast sea of songwriting friends to invite to play, but it’s not about her – the Dino’s team does whatever they can to make it all about YOU, the songwriter, and Jill knows this.
And I tell you, the experience of actually playing there was like nothing in the world. I played in front of a room packed to the ceiling and everyone was listening. And I sold a CD and passed out business cards to people I’ve never met before.
THAT’S what an open mic is supposed to be like – a place to show an audience what you’re really made of, where the audience can actually see what you’re made of, and acknowledge it. I plan to play there again on May 7, with host Chris Bentley, and I’m really looking forward to it.