Thursday, January 17th, 2019

Open Mic Night at Empire

Posted on March 07, 2016 in Arts & Culture
By USM Free Press

By Matthew Craig

Last Sunday Empire held their weekly open mic event known as The Couch. From six to eight, musicians are encouraged to play and later on they hold a comedy segment. The Couch provides aspiring artists with a great opportunity to get on stage and test their material in front of an audience primarily consisting of their musical peers. Since Empire might be considered a ‘semi-pro’ venue, the sound system is quite good. Everything is set up professionally, with little effort required from a performer to get what I would consider a stellar sound by open mic standards. I’ve been around to a few open mics in the Portland area and, in my experience, the clarity is unmatched. As with any open mic, there is a broad range of both talent, skill and style in the performances.

I spoke with a couple of performers there, and they had some interesting things to say. First, I met Dan Knudsen, who seems to be a staple at the free events around Portland, and he has been playing and writing for around ten years or so. Inspired by John Denver, Bruce Springsteen, and John Mellencamp, he writes solo guitar music intended for both children and adults. His music is generally lighthearted. One song I particularly enjoyed of his was titled Outer Space, in which he mashes up themes from popular science fiction. He has recorded several albums of his work and also sells merchandise including t-shirts and mugs.

Next, I had a chance to talk to a duo, Ryan and Amanda. They’ve been playing together for only a couple of months and play covers and classic songs.  They performed Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over The Sea, a go-to piece for nascent singer-songwriters. I was impressed by their performance of the folk song Wild Mountain Thyme, which showcased Amanda’s vocal talent and multi-instrumentalism. Ryan held down the harmony with his guitar. In addition to vocals, Amanda plays the clarinet and saxophone. Ryan plays guitar, bass, drums and sings. They are both students of USM, and study Computer Science.

Open mics in Portland are kind of a big deal. There’s no other place in Maine with the variety and number of open mic events that Portland boasts. For musicians who don’t choose to make a career of musical performance, open mic opportunities can be integral, as they provide a structured environment in which to play and refine their techniques. As stated above, Empire is a particularly nice place to perform, but what The Couch lacks currently is musical performers. There simply aren’t enough people attending to fill up all of the slots available. I encourage all the non-occupational musicians in the Portland community to give it a shot.


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