Open-mic nights are held at several venues on Oahu, drawing a variety of Island musicians and artists to the stage
For some it’s a practice, for others it’s a mainstay and for many it’s a chance to express their artistic talents to audiences outside of their basements, garages or bedrooms.
Open mic nights are held virtually everywhere, extending the microphone to professional and amateur performers alike for audiences in bars, coffee shops and other public places.
“An open mic is a really cool scene,” says Jesse Savio, house bandleader and open mic night organizer at Anna Bannana’s.“It’s basically a lot of performers who get together and play for each other and each other’s friends.”
On Oahu, there are several venues that offer these opportunities to patrons willing to put themselves out there. Each place has its own rules, amenities and cover charges. But all bring together some of the greatest musicians you may not even know about.
“The function of an open mic is to bring people together and just make good music, but not in your typical performance atmosphere,” says Savio.“It’s a little more casual but still really powerful. (Another) function of an open mic is for people to get up and get going, and it’s also for people to learn - have their teeth on their stage a bit. It serves multiple purposes.”
But with the good, also come the bad.
“We have this one guy who comes in all the time and he’s like the William Hung of open mics,” says Savio. But he keeps coming back and is welcome to the venue, which is the whole point. The open mic plays an important role in our First Amendment rights, like in Chinatown’s Ong King Art Center.
“Open mics are a place where freedom of speech and freedom of expression are the common denominators for entertainment,” says Cristian “See” Ellauri, co-owner of the center. “It’s entertainment based on the individuals who are there participating. It’s not television, it’s not movies - it’s a two-way communication where performers who are there can talk to you, talk to the audience, and there’s always an opportunity for an audience member to contribute as well.”
Below is a small sampling of live venues that feature open mic nights at least once a week. Each has its own special qualities worth checking out for performers and spectators alike.
What Savio calls one of the longest-running open mic venues in Honolulu, Monday nights on Anna Bannana’s top floor begin with a three-song set by the house band, which consists of Savio on guitar, Tim Lee on bass and Matt Kato on drums.
They play everything in a rock or bluesy way, paving the way for 12 other performers who take over.
“I brought three poetry pieces tonight,” says Alister Cowley, a self-proclaimed artisan. “I have tons - slews of work - and tonight I’m focusing on getting published.
“I’m just trying to not be a stranger to the community,” he continues.“I just came tonight to just feel out the crowd. I’m hoping to bring a happy, cheerful spirit. I would hate to bum people out tonight.”
Aside from the PA system and sound engineer there to help make everyone sound great, the large stage and dimly lit bluesy atmosphere, the band that opens everything up is also there to back up performers of all skill levels.
“I started coming to Anna Bannana’s for open mics when I was about 18,” says 22-year-old Stephen Bralver, who frequents the venue.“I came down here and was blown away by the fact that they have a house band. So they gave me an electric guitar and said show us what you’ve got. Then I started coming here on a regular basis and it became something I really looked forward to.”
Bralver lists several reasons why his frequency is wavering due to a management change and an overall reboot to the open mic scene since Savio started running it. But Savio says things are starting to pick up again, and he hopes to pick up more talent as time goes on.
Anna Bannana’s is located at 2440 S. Beretania St. and open mic starts at 9 p.m. Cover charge is $2. For more information, call 946-5190.
Located in the Heart of Chinatown is Ong King Art Center, which is an art gallery, dance studio, music stage and beyond. Co-owners Jonathan Heraux and Ellauri encourage performance art of any kind to take the floor during their open mic night on Sundays.
“We actually call it ‘open stage’
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