Lansing’s open mic community

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Aspiring local songwriter Matthew Shannon gave himself one rule when he started performing weekly at open mic night at Lansing’s Blue Owl:

“I had to have at least one new song to premier each time I played.  Since I started going there, I’ve written a total of 26 new songs.”

Local open mic performances are foundational to artists looking to perform in a laid back setting. Musicians play in front of relatively small crowds with minimal sound setup,  providing for a quieter, more intimate feeling.

Lansing and East Lansing have a range of  open mic events. Michigan State students can perform or attend the bi-weekly University Activity Board’s  open mic at the Union on campus.  The Avenue in Lansing does open mic on the third Thursday of every month. Blue Owl Coffee in REO Town has open mic every Monday night. Moriarty’s Pub in Lansing hosts one every Wednesday night.

Multitudes of talented local regulars perform at these venues.

Shannon, 32 of Grand Ledge, has been at it for over a decade.

“About 12 years ago, I used to perform at Magdalena‘s Teahouse regularly when it was still open,” Shannon said. “Once departing from my last band, Off the Ledge in June of 2017, I decided to give a solo career an honest try.”

Shannon performing. Photo by Christopher Boylan.

Shannon credits Blue Owl Coffee for starting him on a path of regular open mic performances.

“I began attending the Monday open mic night at The Blue Owl Café in REO Town, hosted by the wonderfully talented Tania Howard, on a semi-weekly basis,”  Shannon said.

Shannon has countless memories created during a 12-year open mic career. His favorite:

“I had written a new song for the Blue Owl which was meant to highlight a really nice conversation I had with a regular open mic night attendant the Friday night before,” he said. “I went to perform this new song for her the following Monday and sure enough, she wasn’t there.

“So while waiting for my turn to play, I had to power-write lyrics for a brand new song in less than an hour!  That was an exhilarating experience and definitely nerve wracking, but necessary to follow my own rule.”

To catch Shannon’s performance,  head to the Wednesday night open mic at Moriarty’s Pub hosted by local legend and fellow musician Jen Sygit, at 9 p.m. On Friday he is at Windwalker Underground Gallery in Charlotte, starting at 7 p.m.

Mike Bass, 34, of Lansing, uses open mic performances to perfect his music.

“My advice to any beginner open mic performer is something I discuss with musician friends all the time: Don’t wait for a song to be perfect,” Bass said.

Photo by SarahJean Sews, @sarahjeansews

Bass playing at Blue Owl Coffee’s open mic event. Photo by SarahJean Sews.

“Just come and perform it. Odds are you’re going to change some of the lyrics or music six months down the road, so performing it in front of a welcoming crowd will help you iron it out.”

Like Shannon, Bass is passionate about performing at Blue Owl Coffee.

“It’s hard to explain the level of community building that’s going on there for musicians/artists/creatives,” he said. “What I love about it is that it’s incredibly welcoming. The level of talent is amazing, and yet no one is competing with each other.”  

Lansing’s range of open mic experiences have established an open, supportive and creative field for local musicians.

“We’re all trying to lift each other up,” Bass said “I’ve met some of my closest musician friends there. It’s also very songwriter focused, so you’ll see a lot of people testing out new material there.”

His fondest memory as an open mic performer:

“The first time I went to the open mic at Blue Owl, I couldn’t get over the caliber of the musicians. It was like, even if we had been the only people in the room, we were all satisfied just performing for each other. It was a great feeling.”

To catch Bass in his element, go to Blue Owl Coffee on Monday nights.

Mimi Fisher, 28, hosts open mic at The Avenue on the third Thursday of every month. A Lansing native, Fisher gets to witness community members pursuing their creative outlets.

“It’s inspiring to see people who work and/or are students by day, then turn into these super talented performers at night,” Fisher said.

“Open mic is a platform that gives locals a chance to showcase their talents, whether they have been performing for years,  or doing something new they want to try out, ” Fisher said.

Artists Brandon Michael McCoy and V.Soul are some of Fisher’s favorite open mic performers.

“A few of my favorites include my first time performing stand-up comedy (before I started hosting,)” Fisher said. “Also, once a Euro-pop violinist came to the Avenue’s open mic and performed. That was sweet.”

Fisher’s perspective as a host of open mics gives him an inside look at curating performances.

“Any advice I would give is just be aware of what you want to perform, the venue you’re performing at and the audience you’re performing for,” Fisher said. “Some environments are better for poetry, comedy, etc. and others, for music.”

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