Open mic jams observations

String Tree

Doctor of Teleocity
Joined
Dec 8, 2010
Posts
18,131
Location
Up North
So, some of you might remember that a while back i posted how i was invited to join the house band for open mic nite….we play a basic set to get it going then anybody is welcome to go solo or with us backing them….even small bands are welcome. What i have observed is…….what are some of these people thinking, wanting us to back them and they bring a song with all kinds of changes stops etc…….the reason i was asked to join the house band was because when i went there to jam….i brought a few 3 chord 12 bar songs in a couple different keys And an i turned to the band and said 12 bar boogie in E…..i started the rhythm after one progression they had it and away we went….turned to the drummer on the last phrase and locked eyes and the band stopped on the downbeat on 1……i dont mean to disparage these guys n gals, it can be a freakout if your not used to the stage…..i get that…been there early on……my advice to those of you that are starting out and want to try an open mic…take the absolute easiest 3 chord country, blues or whatever you do, learn them well, and if a house band is available ask them to back you….show them the song on paper…..then YOU go to the mic start the progression the band will find you…if you have to go thru the progression 3-5 times….so what….it’s your show….you start singing when you are ready…..you wont believe the fun you can have with 3 chords and an attitude.😎
True that!!!
 

KeithDavies 100

Tele-Meister
Joined
May 19, 2021
Posts
367
Age
59
Location
Cambridge, UK
Haven't been to a jam night for years, and miss them. I moved away for a while to somewhere they didn't exist! Back in the day, though, there was a blues jam session here that would move every few weeks to a new pub. Keeping track of it was a nightmare, and several times I turned up to an empty pub to be told it had moved on, and no, they didn't know where to!

Format was a bit like someone described above. People would be called to form a band for three songs. Generally, a drummer, bass player and two guitarists. Less numerous - the occasional harp or sax player. Hopefully one of you could sing.

After I'd been going a while there were musicians I recognised, but often I'd be on stage with 4 strangers. There would be a quick discussion along the lines of "what songs do you know?" I was easy - give me a key (or even don't!) and I'm happy. But then we would play three songs. I loved it. Sure, some performances, and groupings, were better than others, but I found it so exhilarating. When my name was called, I didn't know who I was about to play with, or what we were about to play, but then you spend you next twenty minutes having a ball!

Sometimes you'd be on with someone inexperienced, in which case you offer guidance and encouragement, and tell them well done, whether they were good or not.

Sometimes you're on with someone better than you, and you watch and learn.

And occasionally, if the song's slightly unusual - I'm ashamed to say, in my case, Hey Joe one evening - someone shouts the chords out to you from the other side of the stage as you go along. You can freak out, or you can grin and accept the challenge and ride it.

They're some of my most memorable playing experiences. Absolutely loved it!
 

joe_cpwe

Tele-Afflicted
Joined
Nov 27, 2017
Posts
1,175
Age
52
Location
WI, USA
I've always played in rock bands...never been the open jam/open mic guy. My cousin has been playing in bands for 45 years and runs an open jam near me so I showed up a couple weeks ago and went back once since.

Both times it's mostly been the 'assemble a band method' from the people there. There is a house band, there's a guy who does his own thing, but otherwise it's sort of wide-open. Seems most ppl know each other, they're regulars.

As for the iPad, tablet thing...for people that have been in bands for decades and can sing, I think a tablet could be a real life saver. Being able to call up lyrics from a song they don't normal sing but everyone else can play great is a good thing.
Good example, Gimme Three Steps by Skynard. Apparently not normal selection for an open jam but I knew it, the bass player knew it and had lyrics on his tablet and the drummer did his thing. Good to go. An open jam seems like perfect fit for some lyrical/chart help where the goal is to get through songs and stage presence is less important.

Anyway, both weeks, my cousin had me play 12-15 songs, along with all sorts of configurations of ppl. In some ways it was fun, there was some good players, some not so great. I'll definitely drop in once in a while to play and also hang out with him.

My next three weeks are completely shot because I said Yes to fill in with a country band my friend drums in. I don't know any country, basically, so I'm crash-coursing a three set show. Seems like easy playing, I just don't listen to that music so getting each tune in my head will be the hard part. They rehearse same night as the jam so I'm not at the jam...but am playing country. I need to find a real band again...:lol:
 

teletail

Friend of Leo's
Joined
Aug 25, 2019
Posts
3,560
Age
72
Location
West By God Virginia
@telel6s, the issue with having a pro-level house band is money. No club owner, ever, would cough up the dough to pay a real band what they usually make. IIRC, I got $50 or so, to haul in my amps and Telecaster, set up the PA, organize everything, play on stage when needed, break down the equipment, and haul my stuff back home. We did it 'cause it was fun.
I wish I could like this more than once. I had a friend that ran an open mic for years. He did it because he got to play a short set at the beginning, a short set at the end and sat in whenever there was no drummer available. He wasn't making any money and it was a week night so he was always beat the next day at his real job.

If you don't like the way an open mic is run, either do what I do, which is avoid them, or start your own with your own rules.
 

cminor7b5

Tele-Meister
Joined
Jul 21, 2007
Posts
184
Location
toronto
Haven't been to a jam night for years, and miss them. I moved away for a while to somewhere they didn't exist! Back in the day, though, there was a blues jam session here that would move every few weeks to a new pub. Keeping track of it was a nightmare, and several times I turned up to an empty pub to be told it had moved on, and no, they didn't know where to!

Format was a bit like someone described above. People would be called to form a band for three songs. Generally, a drummer, bass player and two guitarists. Less numerous - the occasional harp or sax player. Hopefully one of you could sing.

After I'd been going a while there were musicians I recognised, but often I'd be on stage with 4 strangers. There would be a quick discussion along the lines of "what songs do you know?" I was easy - give me a key (or even don't!) and I'm happy. But then we would play three songs. I loved it. Sure, some performances, and groupings, were better than others, but I found it so exhilarating. When my name was called, I didn't know who I was about to play with, or what we were about to play, but then you spend you next twenty minutes having a ball!

Sometimes you'd be on with someone inexperienced, in which case you offer guidance and encouragement, and tell them well done, whether they were good or not.

Sometimes you're on with someone better than you, and you watch and learn.

And occasionally, if the song's slightly unusual - I'm ashamed to say, in my case, Hey Joe one evening - someone shouts the chords out to you from the other side of the stage as you go along. You can freak out, or you can grin and accept the challenge and ride it.

They're some of my most memorable playing experiences. Absolutely loved it!
There would be a quick discussion along the lines of "what songs do you know?" I was easy - give me a key (or even don't!) and I'm happy. But then we would play three songs. I loved it. Sure, some performances, and groupings, were better than others, but I found it so exhilarating. When my name was called, I didn't know who I was about to play with, or what we were about to play, but then you spend you next twenty minutes having a ball!
Sometimes you'd be on with someone inexperienced, in which case you offer guidance and encouragement, and tell them well done, whether they were good or not.
Sometimes you're on with someone better than you, and you watch and learn.
And occasionally, if the song's slightly unusual - I'm ashamed to say, in my case, Hey Joe one evening - someone shouts the chords out to you from the other side of the stage as you go along. You can freak out, or you can grin and accept the challenge and ride it.
They're some of my most memorable playing experiences. Absolutely loved it!

--------------------------------


Your response has got to be one of the most relaxed, mature, grounded, giving, mentoring... approaches to participating in a local jam, that i've ever read on TDPRI! In years! Congrats on your fun, friendly and supportive approach! If you approach life the way you approach jams, I bet you're a pretty happy person! Kudos!

I hosted a Django Reinhardt jam for years and it was an all-welcome approach. The stage would get packed. You were expected to solo on songs you requested and to have the good sense to sit out if you don't have a decent solo for that song. No sign-up. When I nod you solo. It was great. The great players kept the crowd's interest and the less experienced people would improve exponentially so that they were capable soloists within weeks. The audience liked to watch the progress.
 

P-Nutz

Friend of Leo's
Silver Supporter
Joined
Dec 24, 2004
Posts
2,561
Location
Middle America
I have been playing since I was six, and in bands since I was a teen. I have been in both of my current bands 15 and 21 years. I have never played in an open mic because all of the unspoken (and spoken) rules scare the chit outta me!
 

ce24

Poster Extraordinaire
Joined
Jan 26, 2008
Posts
7,504
Location
Idahoastan
I suppose I should add that i have nothing to do with how this jam is run...I show up with guitar in hand and when it looks like the backing band isn't needed I go home. Generally that means 45 minutes to an hour.....perfect to satisfy a stage Jones! 🙂
 

ce24

Poster Extraordinaire
Joined
Jan 26, 2008
Posts
7,504
Location
Idahoastan
I can't understand why Mustang Sally gets mentioned so much. Do people really want to play that so often? (I can totally see how it's annoying.)

There is one jam/open mic night near me. At some point I'm going to get there... it's so hard to imagine people wanting to play Mustang Sally.
Lol...I hear ya but....audience people like mustang Sally...
 

Happy Enchilada

Friend of Leo's
Gold Supporter
Joined
Mar 25, 2021
Posts
3,056
Location
God's Country
So I am going to play devil's advocate here, just to pick a side. I do agree with some of what you have written. But for this post I am just going in the other direction.

If your house band is offering to back up participants in an open mic, I think you darn well be ready and able to play more than just easy 3 chord country, blues, whatever. I would hope that such a band can swing from some 5-chord Green Day to knowing that there is a key change in Bobby McGee to doing a reasonable version of Stormy Monday. And if a guest performer has been thoughtful enough to print out some basic chords, then the band should be thoughtful enough to use them. And if a singer does Sympathy for the Devil in B instead of E, then the band should be able to roll with that. (songs listed above used as examples; the genre of the songs may differ depending if this is an anything goes open mic or more specific to blues, folk, country, etc.)

Of course there are going to be songs that are too complex to pick up off the cuff and that is completely understandable especially if that song is an original or from a genre that you're not used to doing. And there will be performers who by their style you'll never really catch on what they are trying to do. But you are getting paid (I assume) to provide two services. The first service is to the bar to help them sell beer and food. The second service is to be a backing band for other musicians who may not normally get the chance to perform with bands. Just because you were an experienced enough musician as a guest to lead a group of strangers through 12-bar boogies in E doesn't mean that other people are. Isn't that what open mics are about? I think there could be a real thin line between helping a musician (of whatever level) by suggesting they show up with easier songs that you can all play better and coming across as pretentious ****** because that musician isn't good enough to play with your band backing them up. I'm sure your heart is in the right place, but it sounds a bit like you are trying to make things easier for yourself vs making things fun for the guest.

You should definitely use your platform as hosts to talk to people before they get on stage, or politely educate them afterwards (don't be condescending as*****s about it). Some people will learn from that and become better musicians because of it. Others just don't care or don't have the time between family & jobs & life to bother and just want to do their thing at an open mic once in a while.

I've played at a couple of open mics where there is some semblance of a house band. Usually the collaborations are cool, occasionally they are fantastic, and sometimes they can be a train wreck. But everybody has fun. At another one I go to the "house band" is a changing cast of characters except for the host who is there every week. But they are all talented and generous enough to play with all levels and types of musicians. Sure they make mistakes when the guest does something they weren't expecting, but that's part of the fun for everyone.

I also knew a guy who ran a little open mic at a very small brewery. He was nice enough as a host. But when it came to a jam thing at the end of the night, he'd pull out some progression full of funky jazz chords (he's a really good player on his own) that left even half-way talented players (me 😆) at a loss and bored and the uke player just put her instrument away. Another host would sometimes ask guests to play with him....and not mention that he was tuned a half step down. That same uke player was completely lost. (I see someone up above here in this thread made the same comment about alternate tunings.) My point on this is that while solo hosts, they were choosing to act the same as your band, but completely forgot that their job was to make the guests comfortable and happy.


I just want to reiterate here that I do understand where the OP is coming from and do agree with much of the original post. But reading through all of the responses I thought that playing devil's advocate and giving a different point of few could be useful.
Gosh, I wish someone with your insight was running this thing.
Unfortunately, it was a case of "Yer number's up. Git yer rig and hook up and start playin'."
Kinda like a shotgun start ... or a shotgun wedding. 👨‍🦰👨‍⚖️👰‍♀️
Good thing most of us who signed up had done something like this before.
There's a book written by a smokejumper pilot called "Fly The Biggest Piece Back."
That's pretty much where this was at.
To be fair, it was the first one they've held since That Which We Dare Not Speak Of hit town, so in many ways it was the first rodeo for some folks up there and behind the scenes as well.
I just gotta remember to get there EARLY because the group I was with did, and it went OK.
Life is messy. 😜
 

Happy Enchilada

Friend of Leo's
Gold Supporter
Joined
Mar 25, 2021
Posts
3,056
Location
God's Country
Lol...I hear ya but....audience people like mustang Sally...
Boomers like Mustangs. Too much. Go to a "Show & Shine" and you'll see immediately.
If I had the moola for a "classic car," I'd get another '66 Olds Starfire and restomod it.
It'd be the only one at all the shows, and that's fine with me.
Mustang Sally indeed. And her idiot boyfriend Camaro Chad. :cool:
 

telel6s

Tele-Afflicted
Joined
Jun 25, 2003
Posts
1,888
Location
Northern Virginia
@telel6s, the issue with having a pro-level house band is money. No club owner, ever, would cough up the dough to pay a real band what they usually make. IIRC, I got $50 or so, to haul in my amps and Telecaster, set up the PA, organize everything, play on stage when needed, break down the equipment, and haul my stuff back home. We did it 'cause it was fun.
Sorry to disagree, but it doesn't take anyplace near pro-level to be willing and open and talented enough to play along with people who maybe are just starting out or not used to playing with a band or bring in a song with (OMG!) five or even six chord changes (and a bridge, too? What are they thinking!?). In the two examples I mentioned above it's only the host who is getting paid; the other players may get a beer or two but are really just there for the enjoyment of it.

And while off-topic, it sucks that you were only making $50. Damn music business.

I disagree....😎....it's a jam.... Not a show....KISS method applies here.
The original post was about an open mic. Unless there is some sort of rules set out, then the song choice should be open to the guest performer. (I know of a folk club open mic where some genres of music would be frowned upon because, well, it's a FOLK club.)

Jams are a different thing and I agree with you depending on who you are playing with. Pre-C there was a blues jam I'd go to once in a while where all the musicians were switching in and out at different times through the night. You never knew who you would be playing with and the bass player and drummer on your first song might not be the same as your last song. So KISS applied there usually unless you chatted up a few players who were good with doing something a little more complex. It's a cool vibe in its own right, but different in my opinion than an open mic.
 

rand z

Friend of Leo's
Joined
Feb 19, 2004
Posts
4,323
Location
trumansburg, ny
I hosted an open mic night for 2 years.

It was fun and challenging.

I kind of looked at it as a PA rental (which I supplied).

That was 10 years ago and I think I'm past that period in my life.

imo.
 

Flat6Driver

Friend of Leo's
Joined
Jan 14, 2013
Posts
4,884
Age
48
Location
DC Burbs
And then there's the guy who shows up with bagpipes or a didgeridoo, wants to sit in with the band, AND wants a solo spot.
I was at a blues jam in an out of the way place along the Appachian Trail. This hiker.looking dude walked in high as a kite with a didgeridoo and expected to sit in. The hosts showed him the parking lot. Apparently he showed up the prior month too.
 

SRHmusic

Tele-Afflicted
Joined
Oct 19, 2020
Posts
1,711
Location
North Carolina, USA
Local jams can be a good way to get into playing with others. I went to one for a few years, and would keep a list of new tunes to work on for the next one. Then the next step is to find, work on and bring new tunes to the jam. That's a good feeling to pull that off. (So, yeah- If we're tired of the same old songs, then bring new ones!)

I can't understand why Mustang Sally gets mentioned so much. Do people really want to play that so often? (I can totally see how it's annoying.)

There is one jam/open mic night near me. At some point I'm going to get there... it's so hard to imagine people wanting to play Mustang Sally.
I found that song can actually be pretty cool if a couple players can nail the groove, and then it's fun to play some of the horn parts on guitar (little slidey doublestops). But, every tune should have a once per night limit, eh?

It's fun to modulate when a harmonica player is sitting in.
Cruel! :D (Of course the experienced ones have a case of them at hand to choose from.)
 




Top