It takes guts to get up in front of a crowd and play music. Even if you’ve been doing it for decades and it “ain’t no thang,” it still takes a healthy dose of self-confidence to put yourself out there. Hey, I try to do it sometimes. I’m certainly not reporting where you might catch me warbling a couple bars of a Dylan tune while clumsily strumming a guitar, but it’s been known to happen. I might have to start wearing Groucho Marx glasses, so people don’t recognize me. The paparazzi are starting to become an issue. Yes, that was sarcasm. But I digress.
Anyway, that’s why I give mad props to those indefatigable musicians — and poets, comedians, storytellers, whatever — who show up at open mic nights and perform for strangers. I know how hard it is. And because musical community has to start somewhere — and what better place for it to start than a crowd full of people and a switched-on microphone? If you’re itching to get out and play, or just want to see who’s got talent in your neighborhood, check out any of the following open mic nights. That girl with the wig and cowboy hat? That’s not me. No sir.
ä Open mic night at Paddy Murphy’s in downtown Bangor has been rocking Tuesday nights since the spring, with packed crowds most evenings and a diverse array of performers. MC Myke Billings keeps the boat afloat, with most per-formers falling somewhere in between singer-songwriter, blues, folk and 20-somethings covering ’90s alt-rock hits. It’s a surprisingly open-minded crowd.
• Club Fuzion on Franklin Street in Bangor has a Tuesday open mic too, with Preston Jarvis playing host starting at 9:30 p.m. Fuzion skews more toward the harder-edged side of things, with a devoted group of local hip-hop heads regularly per-forming, along with metal and punk bands on some nights. You might even witness an impromptu funk jam from time to time.
• Woodman’s Bar and Grille on Main Street in Orono has a newly-inaugurated open mic night from 10 p.m. onward Wednesdays, once again hosted by the ubiquitous Myke Billings. In keeping with the whole Woodman’s vibe, it’s relaxed and unintimidating. Naturally, a lot of college students and faculty listen and perform there.
• For a non-bar setting, check out Waterfall Arts on High Street in Belfast. On the second and fourth Wednesday of each month the non-profit art gallery and education center hosts an open mic night, starting at 7 p.m. While there’s plenty of guitar-wielding troubadours, there are also plenty of folks who want to push boundaries, make a little noise and act a little weird. Anything could happen. You’re playing in an art gallery, after all. You want to encourage creativity, not stifle it. Waterfall Arts also hosts an open jazz jam on the third Wednesday of each month.
• The Lompoc Cafe on Rodick Street in Bar Harbor has hosted an open mic night on Thursdays for years, catering to both tourists and locals. Along with being one of the best places in eastern Maine to see live music — regional and national bands play every weekend during the summer and fall — it’s among the most chilled-out open mics around. Plus, there’s tasty martinis and a bocce court.
• Thursday nights at Parker’s Bar and Grille in Ellsworth is a fun open mic, hosted by members of local band Stiff Whisker and the Driftwood Kids. Music starts at 9 p.m. Bring your acoustic guitar, and before you know it, you’ll be embroiled in an epic jam with people you didn’t know 20 minutes ago.
• Of course, there’s always the Union Street Brick Church open mic, which has started at 6 p.m. on Thursdays in the big, pretty downtown Bangor church since time immemorial or the late ’90s. We can’t remember. It’s always been around. Hosted by Bernie “Flash” Kellish, the Brick features musicians, poets, dancers, actors and more, so those with talents beyond music have a place to strut their stuff.
• Finally, the DADGAD coffeehouse, set for every fourth Saturday of the month at the Keith Anderson Community Center on Bennoch Road in Orono, is a little more structured than a typical open mic, but still laid back. Larry and Leslie Latour and Steve Philbrick keep the show running smooth and sounding good, and there’s always desserts and coffee. Besides some excellent acoustic bluegrass and folk music, there’s dance, storytelling and the occasional strange art project from high school or college students. Fun starts at 6 p.m. and runs until 10:30-ish.