For some, it’s a pulse-pounding, gut-wrenching rite of passage. For others, it’s an opportunity to show off their song, poem or comedy writing passions to determine if audiences will enjoy the fruits of their creativity. Or maybe it’s just a test of nerve; to put yourself in a vulnerable position, in front of a microphone, pouring your heart and soul out in song or spoken word to a room full of strangers. Whatever the motivation, the open mic is the original “American Idol” forum, a live show judged by a (mostly) random audience designed to showcase new and emerging talent where dreams die hard. But every so often, as the saying goes, a star is born. And the stages at venues that host open mics develop a reputation as a breeding ground for future stars.
In Nashville, The Bluebird Café is the Holy Grail of open mics. This all-original material venue is the real test for Nashville songwriters and perhaps the most famous open mic stage in the nation. The Bluebird has hosted some of the most competitive clientele to be found in the music business. Fred Knobloch, Garth Brooks, John Prine and Vince Gill, to name a few, have all paid dues at the Bluebird. Some of the greatest country music songs to ever hit the airwaves were debuted there, and you never know who you will find mingling with the songwriters when you stop to grab a bite at the Bluebird.
In Decatur, Ga., Eddy’s Attic has gained much notoriety as a coveted venue for aspiring songwriters. They even step up the game a bit by offering $60 to the winner, but it’s the stage, not the cash that’s the draw. Eddy’s has seen such notables as John Mayer and Sugarland performing on its stage.
Back in rock ‘n’ roll’s 1970s heyday, the legendary Troubadour Nightclub in Los Angeles hosted a swarm of up-and-coming stars on its Monday night open mic festivities. Never knowing which record label representatives would be present, artists like Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor would play their hearts out. Bands like The Byrds and The Eagles were born of these gatherings, and the club would make history with the music played within its walls. The Troubadour is still there, still open, still waiting for its next music legend to launch their career from its famed stage.
Most open mic nights start out the same. You sign up, perform in the order in which you arrived, and try to make your sweaty hands cooperate as you finger the fretboard and sing through shaky vocal chords. Alcohol can help calm those nerves. But it can also make a bad performance a terrible performance if quaffed in great quantities. Few venues are fiercely competitive; most just serve as a medium for allowing local, aspiring artists to share their talent.
The Scenic City is not without more than a few notable open mic venues, most welcoming artists of all kinds. There may be a shortage of record label execs scouting the next big star at these venues, but there’s no shortage of fun. And after all, isn’t that what it’s all about?
Can you take the pressure? There’s only one way to find out—check out our list of clubs and venues hosting open mic nights, check your nerves at the door and take the test. There’s nothing to lose and much to gain. Here’s our (selective) tour through the better-known open mic venues in town. We’ve featured the clubs with consistent devotion to the forum, but open mic nights inevitably pop up at most nightspots, so keep your eyes peeled.