Any given week, dozens of local bedroom and professional musicians play open mics throughout the Triangle. Ask anybody who's ever been to one, and they'll say—from audience to atmosphere—these gigs can be wildly inconsistent. At least they're predictably free. We asked several local open mic experts to name their Triangle favorites:
Some of the more intent listeners join at Durham's BROAD STREET CAFE on Wednesdays at 7 p.m. for a dense program that typically includes 20-25 musicians, poets, comedians and singers. During 6-10 minute slots, they test their latest material. "Consistently, Broad Street has a great energy and great crowd," says Broad Street operations manager Cameron Aldridge, who hosted open mics in New York and New Jersey before moving south. "It's got a good diversity of music and comedians, but it's very structured. You never really know what to expect."
For those who desire a more laid-back atmosphere, Aldridge also hosts an open mic at Chapel Hill's THE LIBRARY on Mondays at 10 p.m. The set list is less stringent, with more room for his personal preferences. Up-and-coming Triangle acts play four-to-five-song sets for beer and to test for future bookings. Owners draw in larger drinking crowds during the week, bands gain experience and (hopefully) the beginnings of a fan base, and crowds get free entertainment. "A win-win for everybody," says Aldridge.
Across Franklin Street on Tuesdays at 10 p.m., Alex Wilkins, who fronts the band Tripp, hosts JACK SPRAT's open mic night as "a chance to connect the local music community." He recruits established musician friends and acquaintances as featured acts, sandwiching them between a performer list that's generally 15-20 people long and comprised of students and locals.
"Maybe it's a chance for them to try out a few songs in the most infantile form," Wilkins says, "or take songs that are real elaborate and strip them down." Jeff Crawford (Roman Candle, Max Indian, Sundowners) often attends or performs at the Jack Sprat open mic. He says the West Franklin Street wanderers that mosey through the doors have gathered into a faithful, built-in crowd over the past few months.
At BLUE MARTINI in Raleigh, songwriter Jason Adamo hosts "more of a free-form" open mic from 9 p.m.-midnight. He rules on a first-come, first-serve basis, with the occasional exception for a musician in the lineup looking to fill an empty night on the road. Performances are low-key and restricted to soloists or duos with guitars and keyboards, sometimes hand percussionists but absolutely no full drum kits. —Elizabeth Lilly