I arrive early and grab a regal seat near the front... an old 1890s upholstered thing in throne red with a high back. The whole establishment is a Toronto-esque hodge-podge of antique chaises and sofas, with religious icons in alcoves and on walls, a tea bar on one side and a proper one (showing my bias) on the other. Pints of Amsterdam Blonde and Nickelbrook BufCafé are $5.75, so the bartender – complete with bowtie and waxed moustache (are all bartenders Hipsters now?) – pulls me a pint of the latter and I take a seat. The sound guy (who it turns out also books the night) worries busily over cables and speakers and stands, but still has time to graciously fetch me a music stand for my lyrics, even though I'm not on for at least 90 mins. It seems like a pretty serious setup, sound-wise, and as the evening gets underway I'm not disappointed by the sound, on-the-fly as it inevitably is what with 15-min time slots and different gear every set.
The crowd: selectively attentive fairly arty 20-somethings. I feel like people did in fact bring their own crowds, which is really nice for those performers, but some sets got chatted through more than others. Not loud, mostly, but a low buzz; a din.
What impressed me most about this particular open mic – and maybe it was just this night? – was that virtually everyone who took the stage sang originals. In 3 months of attending open mics I've only come across this once before, and that was at the Oddfellows Music Hall in Dundas with Danny Medakovic and Jay Burr. Also a fair proportion of songwriters @ the Corktown, but it's like 50%. Here performers get 3 tunes, no more, and so song selection is crucial: what is most important to this singer this set? What does he or she want to say that will be representative of them in such a short span?
It was a really impressive turnout talent-wise: lots of variety in genre and style, but all filtered through acoustic guitar and solo vox, such that there was nonetheless a thread of similarity, if only in the vulnerability of being laid so bare. I'd say maybe an overall grade of 7.7/10? That's great for an open mic! Kinda ranged between 6 and 9. (and that's super-subjective; so take it with a great big snobby salt lick of salt). Totally going back!
(oh and also, this from Portlandia: the Dream of the 1890s)
PS: they do have a music stand!