Variety, Comradery, and Musical Magic Fuel a Thriving Open Mic Scene
by Ken Stroebel/Photos by Laura Stroebel
The two women belting out the spine-tingling harmonies on Stephen Stills’ “Love the One You’re With” have never sung together before. And the guy with the 12-string who rocked the house earlier just happens to be one of the founding members of Blue Oyster Cult. That shy teenager with the Fender Strat who played those amazing originals? That was his first time performing in front of audience!
Welcome to a typical Tuesday night at the La Vita Restaurant in East Haddam. In other words, welcome to Open Mic Night. As always, the sign-up list is long, the vibe is energetic, and the moments of musical magic are plentiful. But this kind of scene is hardly unique to La Vita.
If you’re a singer or musician—experienced or novice—odds are you’re already aware of, and grateful for, the vibrant open mic scene that has emerged across Connecticut in recent years. From the southeastern shoreline to the “Quiet Corner” and all points west, pubs, coffeehouses, and eateries of all types are dedicating one specific night each week to celebrate musical diversity, spontaneity, and comradery. At the best open mics, those three elements work together to create a uniquely inviting and invigorating experience—not only for performers, but for listeners as well.
“The balance between familiar faces and new folks popping in is wonderful,” said Eric Larson of Noank, a regular at the Phoenix Open Mic, held Wednesdays at the Octane Café in New London. “There is so much musical talent around, and an open mic venue is a great place to hear it.”
Credit for the success of every well-established open mic invariably goes to the dedicated organizers who show up each week to set up the sound equipment, serve as hosts, and keep things running smoothly. Actually, their duties begin before that, with promotional efforts in the local press and on social media.
Gary Torello of Haddam has been running the show (with a small team of helpers) at La Vita since Open Mic Night started there two years ago. He said he believes the key to success and longevity for any open mic lies in working to make sure all three key contributors to the event are well-served; those being the players, the audience, and the venue.
“Each of those plays an important role in making it all come together,” said Torello, himself a musician who kicks off the evening with a performance of his own each week. “At the end of the day, my biggest driving force is to try to make all the players feel welcome and appreciated—not judged—and to make everyone there feel at home.”
Vince Tuckwood has been a host and organizer of New London’s Phoenix (formerly Common Ground) Open Mic since it started five years ago. “We have always been as much about building a musical community as providing a musical outlet,” said Tuckwood, who also performs each week and is front man for the band Monkey68. “As a result, we have what I consider to be one of the most welcoming, supportive, and friendly open mics around.”
If you’re a singer or musician – experienced or just starting out – or if you’re just looking for a fun night out, you can find details about open mic events in your area by visiting openmikes.org/calendar/CT, which keeps an up-to-date listing of open mics throughout the state.