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Amateur Hour 

Open mic nights abound in the Q.C.

Arguably one of the most famous clubs in the good U.S. of A. is Nashville's Bluebird Café. Famous because they seem to show unwavering support of original live music and are deeply committed to providing a conductive environment for songwriters. In fact, I believe their motto is "Shhh"; as in shut up and listen to the music!

Many serious and aspiring songwriters desire to play this club in particular. Fortunately, if you are worth your salt, gigging at the Bluebird is fairly obtainable. But like a lot of things in life, you've gotta start at the bottom. At the Bluebird this means you show up on a Monday night for its open mic. As the story goes, Garth Brooks played the open mic and the club's Sunday Songwriters' Show before he was discovered.

If you're a songwriter in Charlotte who's itching to get on a stage, and you don't want to make the six-hour drive to Tennessee, you're in luck because there are plenty of options that are similarly structured to the Bluebird's right here in the Queen City. Talk to some of the hosts from these events and the number one goal seems to be the same: to provide a venue for artists to do their thing in front of an audience of their peers.

After taking a rather lengthy break from playing music, something he began doing at age 12, singer/songwriter Dale Hillyard hit the open mic circuit in Charlotte about three years ago. A few shows into it and he became a bit frustrated at the lack of organization at the events. So, he started hosting his own open mic at Puckett's Farm Equipment in North Charlotte every Thursday.

As Hillyard points out, with open mic you never really know what you're going to get. "The people I've had really run the whole gamut," he says. "I've seen some as young as 12 years old and as old as 85. We've even seen some members from the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra."

John Tosco, host of the monthly Tosco House Party Open Mic at The Evening Muse, started his event as an opportunity for performers to audition for the Tosco Music Party, an acoustic showcase that features local and regional artists. "Most of the performers are not ready for a professional gig, but this is a great opportunity for stage experience," he says.

"We get some professional musicians who want to try out new material, but mostly the performers are amateurs," he adds. Hillyard says he sees his share of first-timers, too. Fortunately, the audience usually comes with an open mind ... not to mention a lot are family or friends of the artists performing.

"Chances are that 90 percent of the audience is made up of people just like you, and it's usually a very forgiving crowd," says songwriter Bruce Johnson. Johnson, a coordinator with the local chapter of the Nashville Songwriters Association International, says open mics provided him with his first exposure to singing his own songs, by himself (not accompanied by a band), in public.

There are also a variety of avenues available for songwriters who roll to a different beat than those vying to break into the business via Nashville. NoDa's Wine Up hosts a "Soultry Tuesday" Open Mic each Tuesday and an Open Mic Poetry Slam on Thursdays.

Wine Up's Kelly Quinn says the Poetry Slam has built a loyal audience after two years.

Most Open Mics follow a similar format with sign-ups taking place about an hour before the performances. It varies from show to show as to the time allotted onstage with most performing between two and four songs.

Here's a look at some of the open mic nights in and around town:

The Evening Muse -- "Find Your Muse"

Every Monday

More info: 704-376-3737;

The Jazz Café -- Poetry Open Mic Mondays hosted by JC

Every Monday

More info: 980-297-7180

Wine Up -- "Soultry Tuesday"

Every Tuesday

More info: 704-372-2633;

Graduate East; hosted by Basikly

Every Wednesday

More info: 704-532-2562

Smokey Joe's Cafe; Open Jam with the Brangle Brothers

Every Wednesday

More info: 704-338-9380

Puckett's Farm Equipment; hosted by Dale Hillyard

Every Thursday

More info: 704-597-8230;

Tropical Escape, Rock Hill; hosted by Jason and Rob

Every Thursday

More info: 803-366-3888

The Comet Grill; hosted by Ramblin' Bill McDonald

Biweekly; every second and fourth Wednesday

More info: 704-371-4300

The Evening Muse -- Tosco House Party

Monthly; First Wednesday of each month

More info: 704-376-3737;

The Double Door Inn; Sittin' In Series

Every Wednesday

More info: 704-376-1446;

The Gin Mill; Open Jam with Grey Brewster & Jason Atkins

Every Thursday

More info: 704-373-0782;

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