Downtown café Kreuzberg, CA brought back open mic nights this past week, featuring original music from artists. “People write some amazing stuff, so it’s a good chance to get to play that,” open mic night host Mitchell Shira said.
In multitudes they throng to the café — the young and attractive, the hipster and musically-inclined, with nothing but guitars on their backs, harmonicas in their pockets and intense cravings for caffeine. Open mic night has returned to Kreuzberg, CA.
The definitive, spraying sound of beer taps occasionally pierce the constant conversational murmur. Lamps hang upside down from the ceiling, dimly illuminating crooked frames of photos lining the walls and crowds of mismatched tables and chairs gathered on the floor. Groups of customers lounge and relax after a long Wednesday, talking, drinking and playing chess, while baristas and waiters buzz about, pouring coffee and calling out dinner orders. A soft aroma of wine drifts about the room.
A bearded man in a plaid blazer, striped tie and glasses boards a small stage, holding a microphone. Customers angle their chairs toward the man as he introduces the night’s forthcoming festivities.
“As you can see,” open mic night host Mitchell Shira said to his audience, “We’ve gussied it up in here.”
Shira went on to welcome back open mic night after a months-long hiatus. He then introduced the night’s first performer, barista Tasha Powers, to the stage. Powers’ intense vocal set warmed up the audience with original, lyrically-driven songs, backed by Shira on guitar.
Local students Cole Rogers and Griff McConal followed as the second act, with Rogers on ukulele and McConal on guitar. Their set included Rogers’ original music with Rogers and McConal taking turns on vocals. Their music was rhythmic and down-to-earth, while Rogers’ ukulele lightened up its overall tone.
It was Rogers’ third open mic night at Kreuzberg, he said. He enjoys its younger audience, which his usual pub lacks.
“Too much ‘dad rock’ to handle,” he said.
Rogers finds Kreuzberg’s atmosphere refreshing in contrast, he said.
“It’s the most fun place in town to play music at,” he said.
Rogers, a Cuesta College sophomore, has been playing music with McConal, an Allan Hancock College freshman, since they became friends more than a year ago. Wednesday was their first time playing together at Kreuzberg.
McConal was content with their performance as a whole, he said.
Rogers’ and McConal’s set did not include any of McConal’s original songs. However, he has been trying his hand in songwriting over the past year, he said.
“I haven’t written anything yet that I’m happy enough with to sing,” McConal said.
The subsequent acts all brought their own unique, folksy flavors to open mic night over the next two hours. Most performers stuck with vocals and acoustic guitars. Some, however, experimented with harmonicas — one even played a kazoo. The event was a hit with the audience, and most observers stayed and watched until its end at 10 p.m.
Shira was happy with the audience turnout, he said, seeing approximately twice as many people as usual for a Wednesday night.
“I am stoked,” he said. “I had no idea what to expect. There could have been five people here and I probably would have been happy with it.”
Having held open mic nights in the past, the café stopped after it ran into legal issues regarding performers playing copyrighted material.
“We thought it was safer to close down the shows until we could sort it out and make sure people weren’t playing any copyrighted material,” he said. “Because that’s important, to respect artists’ rights.”
The café re-opened open mic nights on Wednesday to draw a livelier crowd, Shira said.
“Typically, we have a lot of students come in,” Shira said. “They sit and study. But it’s not really an active crowd. We love our students, and we respect that they’ve got to study. But we wanted a couple nights a week where people can come and have a community event.”
The open mic sign-up sheets now include a disclaimer saying musicians can only play original material, Shira said. As it turns out, the requirement has enriched the event by adding creativity to it.
“All the songs were original, and it sounded great,” he said. “People write some amazing stuff, so it’s a good chance to get to play that.”
Open mic nights will start at 8 p.m. every Wednesday. Sign-up sheets are open from 7:30 Monday morning until the event begins Wednesday night. Sign-ups are available either in person or over the phone.