Sunday, June 30, 2013

**Open Mics of Yore**


     New dad and longtime Albany Poets leader, "El Presidente" Thom Job, recently asked a few of us old timers on the Hudson Valley poetry scene for our lists of five open mics from the past that are no longer with us, but that we miss. Here's what I came up with:

Number One has to be the QE2 [in Albany], and the late, great Tom Natell, darting back and forth between the mic and the list, cramming in announcements about other events between readers. He kept everything going at a breakneck pace, yet the readers were honored and supported. I dare say it's almost the perfect format for a reading. I caught it at the tail end of its long run, and often joke that the $7K I spent on grad school would have been better spent on Rolling Rocks at the Q on open mic nights...

Number Two would have to be the Tinker Street Cafe' in Woodstock, hosted for years by Dean Shambach. What a scene!! Poets on the makeshift stage pontificating before a "velvet Elvis" towel thumbtacked to the wall, non-poets yelling expletive-heavy reviews from the bar.... It was an amazing experience, and I always give myself credit for having read there despite my youth and shyness (at the time!)...

Number Three is Bob Wright's version of the Woodstock Poetry Society, a monthly open mic then held in the community center. Bob ruled with an iron fist, but the room was always packed, everyone got their five minutes of Woodstock fame, and no one commandeered the mic for their own selfish purposes!

Uneven but always an adventure, Philip Levine's Monday night series at the Colony Cafe' was for years a dependable place to hobnob with fellow Ulster County poets and other sordid types. Philip is indulgent to a fault, and anyone with $3 to hand his wonderful mother Betty at the door could get up and do their thing-- truly the spirit of Woodstock incarnate!

Unaccustomed as I am to blowing my own horn, I have to admit to sometimes missing my own annual open mic in Kingston, the Sylvia Plath Bake-Off. Held at various locations throughout the city, including the Unitarian church and the defunct Flying Saucer uptown, I liked it best when fifty-plus poets, singers, dancers and performers crammed into the AIR Studio in midtown. Jim Marzano was our gracious host. During the AIR years, the Bake-Off expanded to included an actual baked goods competition as well as an open mic! I will forever have raisin bread nooses and marzipan embryos dancing, dancing in my brain>

OK, so the bit about blowing my own horn is a lot of crap, but besides that.... Can any of you add to this list? Question my choices? Leave me a comment and let me know. I'd love to hear more...

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