Twice a quarter, musicians, writers, and the occasional stand-up comedian invade Hallowed Grounds. They take over the back half of the coffee shop and perform for the patrons free of charge. This haphazard artistic attack is Open Mic Night, sponsored by the Festival of the Arts (FOTA).
“Open Mic provides a forum for performance, a creative outlet for students,” second-year Molly FitzMaurize, Open Mic Night’s coordinator, said. Filling Hallowed Grounds on a Thursday night it makes art public and visible on campus. The open mic creates a comfortable, communal home for student expression so often brushed aside or buried in shyness on this campus.
Most performers are scheduled ahead of time, and a group of regulars has emerged. However, FOTA also allows last-minute additions, even if an audience member decides he wants to run back to his dorm, grab his guitar, and come back in time to play in the middle of the show.
“I thoroughly enjoyed the experience,” second-year Adam Rosenthal said. Rosenthal is a member of the a cappella group Run For Cover, which performed at the last Open Mic Night for the first time. “I just love performing, though. I'm a kosher ham,” he said. Run For Cover heard about Open Mic Night earlier in the week and, eager to perform, quickly put together a set list of “Carry On My Wayward Son”, “Yesterday”, and “For the Longest Time”. The group, now in its second year, typically performs twice a quarter, although this winter they’ve been busier than usual. Nevertheless, they were eager to take advantage of any opportunity to sing.
The Winter Arts Festival was the first time Run For Cover sang at Open Mic Night, but third-year Claudie Rubin has been performing at the open mic since she first arrived at U of C. “My mom is a professor here, and she forwarded a FOTA e-mail to me,” Rubin said. At first, Rubin sang with a friend. She started playing the guitar two years ago and now performs bluegrass, folk, blues, and country songs, including some original works.
“It's really just a way for me to get out there,” she said, “A lot of people I'm close to get to hear what I do.” Once she receives her diploma, Rubin plans to find a manager with her mother, who used to play with Fats Domino, and pursue a career as a musician. Rubin says she goes to Open Mic as much as possible “because it’s one of the only opportunities on campus to do music.”
In addition to providing students with a chance to perform, Open Mic Night exposes the audience to a variety of art forms. “My favorite part of the open mic is the element of surprise and uncertainty,” FitzMaurice said. “You never know who is going to show up or what they’re going to do after you give them the microphone. The surprise is also for unassuming coffee buyers who suddenly find themselves listening to an instrument they didn’t know existed or to a kid from their Sosc class reading a poem.”
Whether audience members come to support a friend or to buy a latte, the variety of Open Mic Night guarantees that they will hear something they like or have never heard before. Although there are some regulars, each Open Mic Night is a new experience for both the audience and the performers. Any students interested in watching need only go to Hallowed Grounds Thursday of eighth week for a few hours of anything and everything.