Open Mic Nights

Feb 042004
Authors: Josh Huseby

“Keep your overhead down. Avoid a major drug habit. Play (music)

everyday and take it in front of other people. They need to hear it

and you need them to hear it.”

-James Taylor

The Roots Of American Idol.

She stands alone on the oddly-shaped stage. With legs vibrating,

her fingers stumble over the guitar’s frets and the crowd can sense

her inexperience. The cords and notes of the first song sputter

together, releasing all initial tension.

With black Chuck Taylors firmly planted and black frame glasses

back in place, she begins again, this time with more confidence.

Each new note releases a tumbler, unlocking the punk-rocker caged


The lock is sprung and upon the stage stands a punk-rock siren

belting out lyrics and delivering chords to an unsuspecting


As the song ends, Dianne Sperstad sighs with relief and smiles

wide as the crowd applauds.

“It’s real laid back. No one is going to judge you,” Sperstad

said after her performance at Avo’s Open Mic. “They support you in

whatever you do.”

Open Mic audiences generally aren’t judgmental. They don’t need

to be because they aren’t there to judge they are there to

discover. To discover a talent they didn’t know a friend had. To

discover there is an alternative to American Idol and not every

musician is trying to be a pop star.

“You can do anything here,” said Suzanne Gillespie, host of

Avo’s Open Mic. “We had a guy with an Irish harp and tap dancers

one time.”

Most don’t care about what they are listening to but rather that

whatever it is, it’s good.

“It’s about players being able to play,” says Joe Vader, owner

of Lucky Joe’s and host of Fort Collins longest running Open


Open Mics are more than just a place to play music, they open

doors into Fort Collins’ growing music scene.

Every Sunday night local talent gathers at Lucky Joe’s to test

their skills before an audience. Van Morrison, Sublime and Tom

Petty covers mixed in with artist originals create a live mix


“I do most of my hiring on Open Mics anymore,” said Vader who

often finds weekday acts from Open Mic performers. “Mission 19

started here and now they’re one of Budweiser True Music’s top two


The Fort Collins-based act was recently named the runner-up in

the Rolling Stone/Budweiser True Music Live contest. And later that

month they were named the “Best Band of 2003” as a part of The

Collegian’s Best of CSU poll.

George’s August Brew also got their start playing Open Mic

nights, performing for the first time at Diamonds.

“Their first gig was as a Diamonds’ featured band on Open Mic

night,” said Tim Hunt the host of Diamonds Open Mic. “I give

(bands) an opportunity to see what they can do. If they’re decent

I’ll give them a shot on the weekend.”

For George’s August Brew their hard work, which started on a

small stage at a local bar, paid off when they won Scene Magazine’s

battle of the bands competition last year.

Hunt has used Diamonds’ Open Mic to feature a plethora of other

artists for over three years. Besides George’s August Brew, Fatty

Jenkins, Chistopher Jak and 69 Times Joy Jackson have all been

featured artists at Diamonds’ Open Mic.

And more than just the hosts are eying talent at Open Mics. John

Punessen is an independent concert promoter and is always on the

lookout for local talent to open for national acts that come

through the area.

“It’s a good way to see a lot of different acts in a short

amount of time,” he said.

Open Mics give experienced artists an opportunity to try new

material and new artists a chance test out the waters said


On The Verge of Greatness

The powerful voice coming from the small frame sitting center

stage has captivated those watching. What the audience doesn’t

notice is the way Kira Sands shakes uncontrollably from performance

anxiety after her set.

“The energy from the audience kept me going,” she said.

Many in the crowd are happy to supply that energy.

“Its great that people have the courage to share themselves on

stage,” said Scotty Salamoff, one of many who choose to support the


While Hunt has been playing the guitar for much of his life, the

Estes Park native has only been playing publicly for four


“It takes getting used to,” Hunt said. “It’s different than

playing in your living room.”

Avo’s is the first venue for many young musicians to break out

of their living rooms as it is the only Open Mic that allows

performers who are under 21.

Matt Tillson performed for the first time in front of a crowd at

Avo’s Open Mic.

“It felt good,” said Tillson, who recently graduated from high

school. “It’s exhilarating connecting with people.”

In fact, it is that exhilaration that both frightens Sands and

draws her to perform.

“I’m really shy,” she said. “I just decided, f**k it. There’s so

much good music. I wanted to be a part of it.”

Local music director of 88.9 KFRC, known as Taralee, fills the

small stage with her presence. She stands alone with her guitar and

pulls the audience to her.

“It’s a great way to learn how to perform,” Taralee said. “(A

way) to learn how to let mistakes happen.”

Taralee is an established regional artist and said she uses Open

Mics to scout talent for her show “Colorado Sound.”

For musicians like Jon “without the H” Snider, Open Mics provide

a good chance to make new contacts.

“That’s the beauty of Open Mics,” said Snider who just recently

moved to Fort Collins from Denver.

Jon wears a mop of black hair and sings in the off-key styling

of Elvis Costello.

“I came to Fort Collins to find a band,” he said. “There’s a

younger more open-minded crowd here.”

Open Mics certainly pave the way into the Fort Collins music

scene. They may not be sold out concert venues but as Jon “without

the H” said, “Even Captain Crunch was a private once.”


Open Mic Times and Dates and Locations

Diamond’s: Every Wednesday night, sign up begins at 8 p.m. with

the first performance at 9 p.m. Tim Hunt is the man to talk to at


Avagadro’s Number: Thursday nights, sign up begins at 8 p.m.

with many of the slots before 10 p.m. reserved for performers under


Lucky Joe’s: Sunday nights beginning at 9 p.m. Sign up by

telephone beginning at 11 a.m. “Call in after 11 and a bartender

will sign you up,” said Joe. Don’t wait too long because there are

times the slots are filled by 11:15.

Woody’s Pizza: Monday nights, sign up begins at 8 p.m. and Tim

starts the show at 9 p.m.

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