Opening up the mic to student music-makers

September 16, 2008 by  

Daryl Markiewicz strums his guitar and sings an acoustic melody. (Cori Alfreds photo)

Daryl Markiewicz strums his guitar and sings an acoustic melody. (Cori Alfreds photo)

Wednesday afternoon the Grass Roots Café on the Kwantlen Surrey Campus became a brief oasis of music, but if you blinked you would have almost missed it.

This is Open Mic Night – a weekly event still in its pilot stage after being launched at the end of July (see details in accompanying story below). Every Wednesday, anyone with a musical bent can stand up in front of the big-screen TV and let the speakers carry their sound to whoever happens to be listening at the time.

Erika Young, a second-year marketing student, has been a regular at Open Mic Night since July. She was the first to perform Wednesday, smiling nervously as the opening notes of Norah Jones’ “Don’t Know Why” played over the sound system. That nervousness disappeared when she started singing. Despite her strong performance, a small group talking on one side of the room and the hiss of the coffee machines threatened at times to drown her out. She ended with a 1950s jazz song by Etta James, and finished to little applause from the audience.

Darryl Markiewicz, still in a black tank top and olive khakis, having come from sculpting a guitar in ceramics class, quickly went through several unintroduced songs, accompanying himself on his blue guitar, and took a few moments at the end to banter with Kari Michaels, Surrey Council Support Specialist and the organizer of Open Mic Night.

The roughly half-hour event was most notable for how low-key, relaxed and informal it was. Sitting in the cluttered KSA office before Young arrived, surrounded by Welcome Week gift bags, Michaels revealed some of the challenges that would be familiar to anyone who’s ever tried to organize a student event. One example: the sound equipment had to be trucked in from Langley at the last minute.

“Right now it’s kind of in the baby stages and we’re just getting people out to play,” Michaels said. Nonetheless, she is encouraged by the “good response” to her Facebook group, and optimistic about its future, possibly expanding into a poetry night or philosophy café. 

By Cori Alfreds

Erika Young sings to a Norah Jones track at Kwantlen’s Open Mic Night at the Rainforest Café on the Surrey Campus. (Cori Alfreds photo)

Erika Young sings to a Norah Jones track at Kwantlen’s Open Mic Night at the Grass Roots Café on the Surrey Campus. (Cori Alfreds photo)

The chalkboard outside the Grass Roots Café reads “Open Mic Night, 4 p.m.” It’s 4:45 p.m. and the equipment is just being set up. Only a few seats are filled and most people are surfing the web or doing homework. So far only one person has asked about the event.

Nineteen-year-old Kari Michaels, co-coordinator of the event, apologizes for the delay and says they have been swamped with preparations for welcome week.

Michaels wants to get Open Mic Night established before she moves to Langara College to pursue a degree in Peace and Conflict. She hopes that future KSA members will keep it going and make it as popular as she would like it to be.

The event is only being held at the Surrey campus, where it started at the end of summer semester 2008. Michaels has created a Facebook group that now has 59 members. While many of the members are musicians who are interested in playing, not many of them have fully committed yet.

Michaels says that anyone who wants to play is welcome “but we give preference to Kwantlen students.” She says that right now, it’s an event for solo acts, as loud bands could annoy students.

She hopes to expand the event to two nights a week, and to other Kwantlen campuses. Michaels would like to see the Langley campus one day hold sessions on a weekly or monthly event, because that’s where the college’s music program is based. She doesn’t see it happening anytime soon, though, because there isn’t enough available space. 

Open mic nights, she says, are a great way to “use lounge space for regular activities to engage students and show them that it’s a good place to hang out.” The event also gives musicians the chance to network, talk music and even make plans for forming bands or duets.

With a pub night in the works for the Grass Roots Café, Michaels thinks open mic night has the potential to become a big event for Kwantlen students. A pub night could help generate fans for the musicians and bring out more musicians.

Once the show finally gets underway it’s worth the wait. The musicians are great, and although there is a small audience, it enjoys the performances. With a few more musicians and a bigger audience, Open Mic Night could become a Kwantlen tradition. 

Open Mic Nights are held every Wednesday.


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