Open mics serve a dual function. Their primary goal is to provide a forum for artists - beginner and otherwise - to test their wares and boundaries in a controlled environment to a mostly game audience.
The other is in uniting that very audience in a communal sense; having them be a part of the process while having no real idea of what to expect next. They get a glimpse of the kitchen, so to speak, to see how their dinners are made without really knowing what’s on the menu.
For some acts, it takes a while for them to grow into their own voices. But to see them truly grow into their potential - especially from the ground up - can be exhilarating. Sometimes, it’s wonderful.
There are some steady open mics happening around town including the Cattle Call jams at O’Hennings the first or second Sunday of every month, the Bakersfield Jazz Workshop at Temblor Brewing Company on Tuesdays, and the monthly Project Oh! Magazine "Oh!pen mics" - including the next one happening on June 19.
Dagny’s Coffee Company has also been hosting its own all-ages Thursday night open mic night since February and it’s been - ahem - picking up steam both on and off the stage.
A lot of its success can be attributed to its sunny, humble and energetic host, Kelsey Sill, who keeps the fiery momentum up like a person who was destined to do this.
“My first open mic I hosted, I had seven people show up,” Sill said. “A mere six weeks later, I had 25 people total perform. That was just last week. It’s awesome!”
“I want to accomplish a space that people can rely on. I'm not going anywhere. This space means the world to me. I’m so grateful for Dagny's allowing me to use this beautiful space. Its a real exciting time, and I never would have imagined it even getting to this point. I'm so in love with the energy I feel every week. I hope to just grow it and watch it continue to take off.”
During the day, Sill, 28, is the Supported Employment Program Director at NAPD, and a wedding coordinator at Park Place Special Events out in Shafter. But even though she’s been singing most of her life - and karaoke-ing since she was 18 - she’s still a relative newcomer to performing, mainly active since last year. She took over the reins to Dagny’s open mic in April after the original hosts, Lauren and Kyle Appleton, moved on to devote more time to their own band, The Appletons.
“Coming into this,” Sill said, “I had zero expectations of anyone even showing up. Heck, just zero expectations, period. I am so new to this 'scene,' I half expected to be cast aside!
That being said, my biggest observation has truly been how welcoming and giving this community continues to be.”
The acts range from musicians to comedians, to spoken word, to poetry. It rarely gets more complex than a voice and acoustic guitar. A subdued volume threshold is key, so louder instruments like drum sets are right out. Leave the Marshall stack at home.
“My favorite perks are meeting so many insanely talented, creative, unique, kind people,” Sill said. “I am so freakin’ humbled every week by the fact that I get to be inspired and learn from everyone who shows up. Even if that person and I would never in a million years have spoken to each other, or connected in any other way. This special outlet kind of bonds us all and it lights my soul up, man.”
For the uninitiated but interested, the event goes from 6 to 9 p.m., but sign-ups start at 5:30 p.m., so get there early because the sign up sheet - not to mention the seating - tends to fill up fast. Musicians can play up to two songs; poets and comedians are given 5 to 10 minutes.
If you’re bringing your own guitar, bring your own instrument cables, guitar strap (if standing) and tuner. Try to tune before you go onstage; It helps cut down set-up time.
Also, crucially, Sill recommends, “be kind and, most importantly, be respectful.”
Opportunities like this all-ages open mic are vital for fostering younger talent and helping them work out their craft on stage.
And the most important and vital aspect of this open mic is in giving formative talent an outlet to freely express themselves while honing their craft while gaining the skills, experience and confidence to stretch out.
It’s about fostering new and young talent while also inspiring older artists to stretch out and explore their own artistry in ways they sometimes can’t with their usual gigs. When alchemy is achieved, so is that raw potential for wonder that I mentioned earlier.
“I couldn't do this open mic without the core group of committed people who show every week,” Sill said. “They donate time, bring equipment, laughter and their genuine gratitude. I am forever in awe of how much love has just been completely poured out for me and for this space by such genuine supportive people.”
“Their strength, courage, and sheer talent absolutely floors me.”
Dagny’s open mic, 6 - 9 p.m. (sign-up at 5:30 p.m.) Thursdays at Dagny’s Coffee Company, 1600 20th St.; free admission; all ages
In remembrance, Robert Lloyd “Duke” Spalding
At the time of this writing, I was alerted on social media to the sudden loss of local musician Robert Lloyd “Duke” Spalding. Not much is known about his passing except that it happened sometime last week, according to his sister, Lynne Routh.
“He was a loving brother and he will be missed a lot,” Routh said.
Chris Bennett, the lead pastor at Parkside Church, was the drummer for Spalding in his band Duke and the Unrehearsed for many years.
“It was a complete shock,” Bennett said. “I knew he was not feeling well, and when I visited him recently it was apparent he was pretty sick, but I had no idea it was anything that serious. I’m just really at a loss for words. As a pastor, I consider myself pretty much ‘unshockable,’ but this was a real shock and a real tragedy.”
I first met him Bob back at the turn of the century (wow, that’s weird to comprehend). He was managing this new band rehearsal studio off of White Lane that I frequented and rented a few times a week.
He was friendly, cordial, straightforward and very easy-going. He also usually had a guitar in his hands, casually practicing as he sat behind his desk. Whenever I saw him, it would be a big, “Hey, Cesareo!” and that mellow, sincere smile of his.
According to Routh, there are no services planned at the moment, and, chances are, it will be a smaller quiet affair; a memorial more in line in how Spalding would like to be remembered. Quiet, unassuming, but always flowing with music underneath.