On Saturday, Jan. 12, Open Mic Night took place in the Mead-Witter room at Warch Campus Center. The open mic, hosted by junior Daniel Green, was an after-hours event that attracted a sizeable audience. Green kicked things off himself at 10 p.m. with a short set of original music. After he performed a few songs with the accompaniment of recorded tracks, Green sat down at a piano to provide his own harmonies.
Green’s lyrics centered around themes of relationships and loss. His performance was very authentic; I could sense an earnest effort to convey raw emotion and meaning. The result was an aesthetic appeal that is also characteristic of bedroom pop and lo-fi in which sparse production reduces the distance between the listener and the artist’s own personality and intent.
Green’s opening act was a high note that reverberated through the remainder of Open Mic Night, carried along by his charisma as a host. Before handing over the mic to the next performer, he made a “shameless plug” for SOL Studios, the on-campus organization for music producers with which he is involved.
Next up was freshman Juan Ayala, who read a poem titled “Thoughts.” The poem was dense and dark. It seemed to evoke the experience of attempting to fall asleep while your mind is still very much awake, dragging you through the memories, images and ideas that lurk undigested in its depths. Ayala rattled off a litany of these “Thoughts,” which appeared to follow no logical progression, but instead represented various angles of a dream-like image engulfed in a nebulous cloud of fear, loneliness and despair. The poem was clearly very personal to Ayala—perhaps it was inspired by some particularly long, restless nights.
As Open Mic Night continued, there were a few other acts that stood out to me. One was freshman Marcus Anderson and his semi-improvised performance of Kenny Dorham’s jazz standard “Blue Bossa.” Showing off some jazz flute skills that would put Ron Burgundy to shame, Anderson played through the main melody of “Blue Bossa” a few times before mixing it up with scalar runs, a variety of harmonic accents and other improvised flair. He demonstrated a great deal of sensitivity, paying attention to stylistic nuances while maintaining a steady tempo—both things that are especially difficult to do when your brain is busy making up music on the spot.
Afterwards, senior Jacques Fehr rapped over several different tracks. He explained, “I got most of these beats off of YouTube like 45 minutes ago,” meaning that his raps were either extemporaneous or had been written just before the event. That’s very impressive, considering that his rhymes were clever and fairly dense. He riffed on themes of growing up, nostalgia, guilt and confusion, weaving these thematic threads together in different ways on each beat.
After the first few tracks it was evident that he had run out of prepared material. He still had more beats queued up, which resulted in an ad-libbed monologue about his childhood synagogue getting turned into a church, and his reluctance to return there afterwards. It was surreal and somewhat nonsensical, but it was somehow an effective sequitur to his previous rhymes and drew several laughs from the crowd. Fehr’s rapping skills were undeniably impressive; it takes confidence and poise to extemporize in front of a live audience.
In a sharp departure from Fehr’s rapping, sophomore Jacob Deck took the stage with a micro-harp. It may have been smaller than a full-size harp, but it was no measly lyre—it stood at least four feet tall. Deck played a relaxing, pastoral solo tune before asking the audience to join him in a sing-along. The tune was called “Waltzing with Bears” and was reminiscent of the campfire warmth of other folk classics. Initially they were reluctant, but soon enough most of the audience was singing the chorus with Deck. It was a very wholesome moment.
“Waltzing with Bears” is actually very catchy; I’ve caught myself humming the tune several times over the last few days. I regret if I missed any other memorable performances, but by this time it was already 11 p.m. and I had made other plans. I departed as the next student prepared to take the stage.
I really admire people who have the courage to perform at events like this. Like I’ve already mentioned, to get on stage you have to believe in yourself and accept the possibility that things will not go as you had hoped. Even at a low-stakes event like Open Mic Night, the fear of judgement or humiliation can be real. However, if you have talents and skills to offer up to the world—and everybody has something to offer—then to withhold them would be to deprive others of your awesomeness.
The performers at Open Mic Night not only entertained those in attendance, but they also demonstrated some of the diverse talents and personalities present within the Lawrence community. A person in the audience may have found someone else who has a similar hobby or have been inspired to take up rapping or jazz flute. A certain performance might even have encouraged them to take a risk and perform at the next open mic. I appreciated all of the talents on display at Open Mic Night, and I’ll certainly return for the next one. Hopefully I’ll get to see some of the same acts as well as some fresh faces.