Nov 042009

Two Fridays ago, Mike Roach took the stage, guitar in hand, in the Old Town coffee shop the Alley Cat for the weekly open mic night.

Despite just recently battling both the swine flu and mononucleosis, Roach joined his roommate and fellow band member Johnny Claiborne for their 20-minute set, sticking to their commitment of gaining exposure for their music.

The small room stood full with people reading or concentrating on homework, a mug keeping their textbooks company on the table. Regular coffee house chatter of people enjoying a night out with friends mixed with the opening chords from the guitar while a group of people huddled around a corner table playing a board game.

Claiborne clasped a tambourine and joked into his microphone, “Hello? Are we good?”

Both CSU sophomores, Roach and Claiborne make up the Cartographer Legend, a two-part ensemble that they hope will eventually gain enough success to perform and travel extensively.

“We’re just really into the music aspect of it, and if Johnny and I could get more well-known, that would great,” said Roach, nutrition major. “We want to jump right into concerts.”

Their strategy is simple: play enough gigs and open mic nights around town and hopefully eventually catch a break, though experiencing any success might be the easy part of this whole process.

The early bird gets the worm

Open mic nights at the Alley Cat begin every Friday night at about 9:30 p.m., with a sign-up sheet set out on the coffee counter at 8:30 p.m. There are only six 20-minute slots available.

Gabriel Balogh, an Alley Cat barista, said the spots are usually filled by 9 p.m., or sometimes even before.

Another local open mic night at Lucky Joe’s in Old Town Square is also highly competitive. To reserve a spot at the bar and grill, musicians call in to reserve their place.

Phone lines open at 11 a.m. on Sundays for their open mic, which kicks off at 9 p.m. later the same night. For a single night the fastest every spot has been filled has been just six minutes.

Avogadro’s Number in Old Town uses a lottery system to sign up musicians for their open mic night, which is 8 p.m. on Tuesdays. Effective almost a year ago, manager Lee Leyba draws the names of the performers who then pick their time slot in the order they are drawn.

“This (lottery system) seems a lot more fair,” Leyba said. “It used to be mob that attacked the sign-up sheet the second I put the paper down. The people who came early sometimes wouldn’t even get a spot, so I like the lottery better.”

A frequent performer at the Alley Cat and Avogadro’s Number, junior American studies major Elizabeth Cornish noted her frustrations with this type of performing.

“There’s always the issue of signing up early enough to get a good spot. If I can only get a late spot, my friends have to wait all night just to see me perform,” Cornish said. “Another problem is when there are people hanging around in the bar or café, and they’re not there to watch the music. That’s distracting.”

Building musical bridges

Aquiles Quiroga, an employee at the Alley Cat and the man in charge of the open mic night there, said he tries to reduce the amount of frustrations for the performers, instead opting for a more mellow approach.

“The point for those nights is the art and to have fun. I keep it organized, and I tell all the performers to keep it clean and not be offensive,” Quiroga said. “I still like to keep the line-up flexible, though. If someone wants to play one more song, I say ‘OK.’ I try to fit everyone in.”

Quiroga says he sees all types of performances including guitars, drums, karaoke, comedians, freestyle rappers, poetry and a cappella vocal sets.

The mellow atmosphere he tries to help create is one reason so many people go to his open mic night, and this relaxed vibe is very conducive for all the musicians to connect, he said.

In his time at Avo’s, Leyba said he’s seen numerous bands form by musicians who met through performing at his establishment.

Cornish, an exchange student for the University of Leicester in England, has been playing guitar and singing at open mic nights for about four years. She said open mic nights are a good way to get into a local music scene for a particular place, make contacts and meet other musicians.

Much like Roach and Claiborne, Cornish said she hopes to get proper gigs from contacts and relationships she gains through performing her original songs.

“I really like (open mic nights) because I can see everyone else perform. The people I have met through performing are awesome,” Roach said. “Music is definitely a bonder for people. I love the thrill of playing in front of people.”

Staff writer Anna Baldwin can be reached at

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