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Open Mic at the Downtown Crossing
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 It’s risky, but if you pull it off it can be one of the most fulfilling artistic experiences you’ll ever have. Lucky for us, in Sandpoint we’ve got a bona fide, grade “A” open mic that does work, every Wednesday night at the Downtown Crossing on First Avenue.

On Stage

The whole idea of an open mic night is risky. The concept is that anyone – and I do mean anyone – is welcome to share anything from a poem to a drum solo with the audience. The only prerequisite is that you be able to get your name written on the performance list; simply a matter of talking to the master of ceremonies.

  It’s risky, but if you pull it off it can be one of the most fulfilling artistic experiences you’ll ever have. Lucky for us, in Sandpoint we’ve got a bona fide, grade “A” open mic that does work, every Wednesday night at the Downtown Crossing on First Avenue.

  Like any good open mic, it’s an artistic buffet. No one wants to sit all night and hear the same type of poetry or the same type of music; you’ve got to have diversity. But, like any buffet, you can come out feeling like: A.) you’ve eaten too much, B.) you’ve eaten something that didn’t agree with you or C.) you want more of a particular dish.

  I’ve heard vocal soloists with and without accompaniment, singer  songwriter style performances, soothing poetry, abrasive spoken-word, prose, bass guitar solos, electric guitar solos, well-rehearsed collaborations, spur-of-the-moment covers, somebody’s kids banging on the drum set, songs so long that I left out of boredom, songs so good that I was sad the artist wasn’t playing to a sold-out stadium and songs so bad that for the next week I told everyone I talked to just how bad they were.

  When you’ve got that kind of variety, you’re guaranteed that people will stick around; just waiting for what comes next.

  Downtown Crossing’s Open Mic
Night has plenty of top-notch acts, and they keep me – and dozens of others – coming back week after week.

  One of my favorites is singer songwriter Josh Hedlund, who, under the cryptic “band” name Adam Needs More, plays the acoustic guitar, tuned down to give the whole thing a mellower-than normal timbre. He plays with a glorious simplicity that immediately catches your ear. When he sings, the magic really starts: his voice is throaty and round with a unique sound. It’s slightly reminiscent Owen Ashworth of Casio tone For the Painfully Alone, though Casio tone lacks Hedlund’s acoustical warmth.

  He’s got a MySpace account (www.myspace.com/adamneedsmore) where you can hear a few of his tunes, but Josh admits to being frustrated with their recording quality. When I asked about future recording plans, he said he had to make a decision earlier this year about whether to buy a
P.A. or recording time; he opted for the P.A., but plans to be ready to go into the studio late summer or early fall and focus on capturing the essence of his live music.

 

  You can catch Josh pretty regularly at the Pend d’Oreille Winery on Cedar Street and the Downtown Crossing’s Open Mic Night each Wednesday around 9 p.m. Now’s the time to catch up with him, before he gets really, really popular.

  Another Open Mic Night “find” is Brian Hibbard. Born in New York and hailing from Pennsylvania by way of Boston, Brian and his wife, Loni, moved here a couple years ago to open the Downtown Crossing. Still twenty-some things themselves and art lovers both, a big part of their strategy was to make live music an every-night institution.

  They’ve accomplished that, building a clientele of musicians and music-lovers with bona fide live acts like Sandpoint’s Inbred Goat Ropers and Couer d’Alene’s Melefluent. At the center of the jams (both the Open Mic Night and Open Music Laboratory on Thursday nights), Brian holds the anchor on keyboard, piano or drums.

With a Master’s Degree in percussion, Brian’s one of the most technically skilled musicians in town; and, as anyone who’s played with him can attest, his talent and amiable personality make for a fantastic playing and listening experience.

  More recently, Brian has been
playing with a new band called Tennis (with Craig Baldwin on bass, Jeremy Kleinsmith on drums), and their originals really cook. Another open mic staple – which means that when they’re announced as the next act, the
crowd buzzes with anticipation – Tennis can rock anything from Young MC’s “Bust a Move” to Radiohead’s “My Iron Lung”.

Downtown Crossing’s Open Mic

Tennis in rare form at the DTC

  Tennis manages to have a great time playing fun music without getting caught up into the virtuosic vortex that has claimed so many great musicians.

  I’ve seen them take the stage at 12:30 a.m. (the fifth or sixth band to play that night) and watch an exhausted crowd find its second wind to dance through the whole set.

  Look for these guys, they’re sure to be popping up all over town. Right now,
catch them on Wednesday and Thursday nights at The Downtown Crossing.

Jenna Bowers sharing her flavor of poetry.

Josh Hedlund shares a selection

  This isn’t to say that all Open Mic Night acts are musically-oriented; artists like Jenna Bowers lead the vanguard of local performance poetry.

  With sensual slam-style poetry that ranges in subject matter from sex to travel to personal fulfillment, Jenna commands the crowd’s total attention whenever she’s on stage. The organizer of both Open Mic Night-inspired “Behind the Mic” variety shows at the Panida (held in June and December of 2005), Jenna is actually a relative newcomer to public performance. After taking part in The Follies less than three years ago, she got the bug and started looking for more opportunities to share her art. The very first Open Mic Night was her first public performance.

They’ve accomplished that, building a clientele of musicians and music-lovers with bona fide live acts like Sandpoint’s Inbred Goat Ropers and Couer d’Alene’s Melefluent. At the center of the jams (both the Open Mic Night and Open Music Laboratory on Thursday nights), Brian holds the anchor on keyboard, piano or drums.

JULES! performing spoken word at the DTC

  She found artistic company and inspiration with other slam-poetry style performers like Jules Nathan, Emily Baker and Erin Brannigan – nearly all of whom remain consistent performers at Open Mic Night. Look for her on Wednesday nights and keep your eye on the Panida schedule for a possible three-peat of Behind the Mic.

  Do yourself a favor and go out for dinner or drinks at the Downtown Crossing on Wednesday night; you’ll find plenty of great artists (and plenty who are developing), but in my experience, a good open mic is greater than the sum of its parts.

  It’s not just great art, it’s great people bringing what they have and sharing it with the group; it’s a sense of acceptance for every performer, regardless of ability or experience; it’s having a drink with friends; it’s a sense of community that develops when people come together to share a part of themselves.

  That’s what I call an evening well spent.

Do yourself a favor and go out for dinner or drinks at the Downtown Crossing on Wednesday night; you’ll find plenty of great artists (and plenty who are developing), but in my experience, a good open mic is greater than the sum of its parts.
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