Open Mic Night: A Review by Kelly Donnelly

On September 17th of this year, I attended the Chestatee Review’s open mic night, both out of curiosity and to complete an assignment for my magazine production class. I had to work on the previous day, so I unfortunately could not attend the open mic night on the Gainesville campus. However, I had a meeting with a professor on the Dahlonega campus the following day, so I decided to attend the open mic night there. This was only my second visit to the Dahlonega campus, and I was not disappointed with their open mic night event.
The open mic night was held on the second floor of the Starbucks, which was located on the main road of the campus. I arrived a few minutes before six o’clock, and there were only about ten people in the room at that time. Some students sat in the far corner of the room, so I was unsure if they were there to watch the event or there to study with friends. People mostly situated themselves in a large table directly in front of the performance area, which was surrounded by white Christmas lights. Within the white lights, there were two amps and a microphone. I liked this setup because it helped distinguish the performance area from the rest of the room. The only drawback of this setup was that it was situated in a corner next to the stairwell leading downstairs.
Many people were walking upstairs to reach the porch of the Starbucks or to reach a side room on the second floor of the building. Many of these people were not participating in the open mic night, so the extra traffic was rather distracting, especially in some instances when people walked directly in front of the performance area instead of walking behind the audience to reach the porch. However, this was the only negative aspect of the setup. Besides occasional distractions, I enjoyed my time at the open mic night.
The open mic night began with a grad student named Jacob Elliot playing several songs on his acoustic guitar. He claimed that he was a computer science major who plays at Corkscrew Café, a local restaurant, on the weekends. His most notable song was called “Second Chance.” He also played several John Mayer covers. His performance was followed by several other musicians playing various acoustic works.
The second performer was a student named Mark Stokes, who played an Ellie Goulding cover, “Love Me Like You Do,” on his acoustic guitar. He performed other songs of his own which he called “match ups.” He claimed that he could not remember full songs, so he makes up the parts of the songs that he has forgotten. After he finished, another musician approached the stage and identified himself as Dylan, a freshman art major on the Dahlonega campus. He claimed that he enjoys playing blues, but he does not use vocals. He also stated that he likes to make up his songs as he plays, similar to the performer before him. All three guitarists were quite skilled, and their performances were enjoyable to watch. After half an hour of acoustic music, no one approached the stage for about ten minutes. Finally, one student grabbed the microphone and began reading poetry, and several others followed her lead.
The first poem was entitled “Boys Will Be Boys,” which was a poetry slam. The student’s performance was spontaneous, but she did an excellent job reading the poem considering that she did not practice beforehand. Another student entered the performance area to read Rudyard Kipling’s “If.” When she was finished, Professor Donna Gissel stood up for several minutes to read different works.
Professor Gissel read the quote of the day from, a website she frequents. She then read a Dorothy Parker poem called “Experience,” and quoted her, saying, “You can lead a whore to culture, but you can’t make her think.” Most of the audience appreciated the quote, remarking on its’ honesty and bluntness. Afterwards, she made an announcement promoting the Chestatee Review’s annual writing contest.
After Professor Gissel spoke, a student named Katie Koehler read a Sylvia Plath poem called “Mad Girl’s Love Song,” which I enjoyed. She then handed the microphone to another student, who read a poem in Spanish, followed by a translation in English. Her reading was interesting, and several people commented on how well she spoke Spanish. After her performance, the student who read the “Boys Will Be Boys” poem walked towards the stage to read a second poem. She claimed that she wrote the poem in her gender studies class; I enjoyed her reading because she was the only person who read something that she had personally written. When she was finished, another student read “Sea Fever” by John Masefield. After nearly an hour’s worth of poetry readings, the open mic night was concluded by an Alice In Chains cover of the song, “Nutshell,” followed by two other acoustic songs by Jacob Elliot. I enjoyed how the open mic night incorporated both music and poetry; this prevented the audience from seeing and hearing too much of one thing.
Due to students both playing music and reading poetry, the open mic night was versatile in its performances, which kept the audience’s interest. Even though there were distractions caused by people constantly entering and exiting the room, the majority of those watching the event remained focused on the performances. By seven o’clock, there were at least twenty-five people watching the performances, and most of them stayed until the end of the event. I enjoyed my time at the event because for two hours, I was able to focus strictly on music and literature. During the first half hour of the open mic night, I was able to relax and reflect as I listened to acoustic music. Once the poetry segment began, I focused on the performances, some works of which I had never heard before. I also enjoyed visiting a new place that I had never been to; this changed the pace of my typical school and work week.
I regret that I was unable to attend the open mic night event on the Gainesville campus due to my work schedule; however, I have plans to attend the spring event due to my work schedule being changed to effectively fit my school schedule. I have social and speech anxiety, which has slightly interfered with my education, and I would like to read poems and other works in front of audiences, perhaps at the next open mic night event. Reading in front of audiences may help reduce my fear of speaking in public. The open mic night event that I attended has inspired me to prepare for such performances in the future.