Last Monday I made my way to Hotel Utah in San Francisco for the weekly open mic. The Utah is a beautiful, compact venue on 4th and Bryant. As you walk in, the bar sits to the left and you head down a few stairs on the right to get to the stage room. The ceiling is low on the bottom half, to make room for the balcony. The room could probably fit 75 people if there were no tables. The stage is about 10 or 15 feet wide, and at the center towards the ceiling is a topless mermaid sculpture/statue thingy that looks like it should be on the bow of a boat. It's dark, as most of the light points to the stage, and it's easy to slip in unnoticed. Being new to the scene and all, I'm not looking for any grand entrances, so I didn't mind the vibes.
Here's how the open mic works - you show up around 7:30, write your name on a piece of paper, stick it in a beer pitcher, and wait for the host to draw the names at 7:50. The host, Brendan (whose voice sounds strikingly similar to that of Tom Hanks) dramatically pulls out each name to create the lineup for the night, and each performer listens intently. As Brendan announced the bill, I secretly hoped I wouldn't be last.... or even towards the end... and that pitcher was pretty full. But the 10th slot came and went... then the 20th... honestly I lost count, but i think my official number was somewhere in the thirties or near forty.
Luckily, each performer is only allowed 6 minutes to perform a song, comedy routine, or other form of art, and things were moving pretty quickly at the start. At 10pm a featured performer goes on for half an hour. Eileen Torez performed a beautiful 30 minute set that evening. After that, Brendan announced the rest of the lineup. The policy is that everyone gets to play. I'm not even kidding, but it felt like he rattled off twenty more names before I heard mine. I considered ditching, but it just didn't feel right. I didn't want to be the guy who signed up for an open mic and then left because he wasn't patient enough to wait around for his turn, especially my first time around.
So at about midnight I heard my name. "Kevin, you're on double deck." Double deck means there are two performers ahead of you, and "backstage" means you're next, so get ready. Right before my set, Brendan hopped on the piano to play a rendition of Phil Collins' In the Air Tonight to remind people to move their cars before street cleaning. The San Fran police will get you for that. I'm not kidding, the ticket is like $70 bucks.
Anyway, I'll admit, I wasn't really in the zone to play. I had warmed up about five hours ago... but that was five hours ago. The lower half of my body was definitely numb at that point from sitting on a hard chair all evening. And as far as liquid courage, that PBR a few hours earlier wasn't doing anything for my nerves. I knew I only had 6 minutes to make it happen, so I walked on to the stage and just went for it. It went well.
The cool thing is that Hotel Utah records their performances and gives you a chance to share them. Here's a link to my profile on their website. I tried to make a sports joke in the beginning but no one cared... thankfully. These are my kind of people, and I won't be commenting on sports around here anymore. The recording isn't glamorous, but I want you to hear it. Imagine as you listen in: