“All that’s required is some talent and lots of courage”
They come with instruments clasped in one hand, and dog-eared binders of songs in the other, and not unlike the wandering minstrels of old, they navigate a course from pub to lounge, entertaining the weary travellers who find libation and comfort therein.
Unlike the performers of old, they are members of the audience themselves who have come for the opportunity to stand before strangers and friends and, for a brief moment, become what in their hearts they know they are – entertainers.
Airdrie currently has four weekly open mikes: Sorso Lounge, Legends Lounge at Smitty’s, Fitzsimmons Brewing Company, and Main Street Beer and BBQ. Each offers a space with a live microphone for musicians, poets or comedians. All that’s required is some talent and lots of courage, says Steve Jevne, a longtime host and performer at these events, and current host of the Sunday night open mike at Sorso.
“We usually have 10 performers on average. The room is pretty full, sometimes people are nervous, but it’s pretty friendly,” says Jevne, whose band, As High As We Go, occasionally plays at Sorso.
The format is simple, Jevne explains: come with an instrument, put your name on a rota, perform a few originals or covers, and have a beer. Some are confident regulars, while others may be anxious first-timers.
“These are not their day jobs,” he says. “It’s welcoming – anyone can come up. If you don’t play an instrument but want to sing, someone will always back you up. There’s quite a community that happens.”
Jevne believes Airdrie’s open mike popularity grew out of the long-running weekly event at Bambino’s Neighbourhood Pub. The pub featured a variety of local performers and drew large crowds, but, unfortunately, the pub is now closed, says Jevne. (At press time the pub is reopening as Wild Card Shack and plans to continue open mike on Mondays.)
“A lot of people came and met a lot of people, and now they’re friends,” he says.
Greg McRitchie, who with his wife Lori hosts the Thursday night open mike at the Legends Lounge in Smitty’s restaurant, agrees: “Most of us know each other and sing with each other. It’s just fun.”
“We’ve been married for 40 years and have been singing together for 40 years,” laughs Lori, who is also the executive director of Airdrie Food Bank. “[Open mikes] have been a gathering place for many people in our community.”
Brandon Lorenzo, an up-and-coming country artist whose debut video, Spread Some Good Time Around, is creating waves, hosts the Main Street open mike on Tuesday nights.
“What I like the most is you get to hear different people. You never know who’s going to walk in,” Lorenzo says. “There are the regulars, and then there are those who just show up, sometimes from Calgary.”
Al Lukiw is one of those regulars. A waterline inspector, he is a lifelong musician. When he and his wife moved to Airdrie she encouraged him to connect with local performers.
“I played just once and all these people said you gotta go here or go there, and all of a sudden I was jamming every week. It’s great.”
Frank Wiebe, who hosts the open mike at Fitzsimmons Brewery on Saturday afternoons, is a fan of such sessions. He plays piano with his band, which often backs up solo performers.
“There’s some people who have never been on stage, but when you get around a bunch of friends, and a groovy environment, you can relax and really enjoy it.”
It’s this sense of community and a friendly place to perform that Jevne says brings people to the stage.
“Music is one thing, but the friendships people make is what’s happening here.”
Where to find an open mike in Airdrie:
Sorso Lounge: Sundays, 6-9 p.m.
Legends Lounge: Thursdays, 8 p.m.
Fitzsimmons Brewing Company: Saturdays, 3-6 p.m.
Main Street Beer and BBQ: Tuesdays, 7:30 p.m.
Wild Card Shack: Mondays TBA
Photo Credit: iStock