Courtesy of George Mermagen
Tim Wahl, Keith Baker (of Paulsen, Baker and Garvey), and Mark Arnold at a Livonia Inn jam session.
Open mics and jam sessions a-plenty
Those who enjoy live music but whose budget constraints limit spending for concerts and night club cover charges can still partake in their passion almost any night of the week, thanks to a phenomenon which has gripped our area in recent times: the open jam session, and its cousin, the open microphone session, or ‘open mic’ for short.
Venues hosting these musical sessions vary from cafés to churches to restaurants to taverns to museums. The caliber of talent likewise varies, from the rawest amateurs to seasoned professionals, and every level in between.
Admission is, as a rule, free. Participating musicians, also as a rule, adore an audience — the larger the better.
Some of the venues have a donation jar for performer tips, but at many places tips are neither expected or accepted. At taverns, cafes and restaurants, the audience can express its appreciation to the establishment with an order from the menu or bar.
Open mic performances are usually organized by a master of ceremonies who supplies the sound system, maintains an orderly flow of acts on the stage and may perform a song or two himself or herself.
Individual acts, whether solo or accompanied, are rehearsed and self contained. Musicians waiting their turn are expected to only listen, and, unless explicitly invited, should not attempt to accompany the stage act.
Jam sessions, in contrast, are typically more chaotic and spontaneous. Each attending musician will take his or her turn offering a song. He or she will lead the group singing and playing, while all the other musicians present are encouraged and expected, if they feel confident, to accompany on their particular instrument. Some jam sessions take place from a stage, but the predominant format is a small or large circle of musicians facing one another.
Musicians checking out a jam or open mic are advised to have two-to-six songs ready for performance. Covers or originals are equally welcome. Acoustic instruments are preferred for the great majority of sessions (although the Towpath Cafe jam has a ‘house band’ with amplified bass and drums for performers who would like the accompaniment). Most sessions do have a sound system for voice amplification, and microphone or plug-in amplification for acoustic instruments.
The premiere jam session in Livingston County is held at the Livonia Inn twice monthly on Tuesdays, coordinated by Tim Wahl, whose growing email list of invitees has the names of more than 60 potential participants. Any particular evening is attended by 15-to-20 musicians.
Instrumentation includes “lots of guitars” with occasional fiddles, dobros, mandolins, banjos, harmonicas, and even flute and sax. The session grew out of get-togethers at Tim’s Livonia Center home initiated by Barry Carestio, Bob Thompson, and Bill VanBuskirk.
“There is a lot of pent-up talent in this county,” Tim said. “It seems like every week we get somebody new.”
Steve West, the host of two local open mic sessions, is looking for “all ages and all talent levels.”
“It’s about giving someone a break,” Steve said, noting that talent falls into three broad categories: younger kids starting out, learning about playing in front of an audience and thus “paying their dues”; experienced but non-professional persons who simply enjoy playing and sharing their music; and the occasional professional, coming by to play for fun or perhaps to try out some new material.
As a professional who got his start playing at The Statesmen and other open mics, West is aware that the sessions and contacts offer a nurturing environment for budding players.
“For performers, it can be about listening to other bands and learning things,” West suggested, adding, “And it’s a place where the veteran might meet young performers, take them under his wing and offer advice.”
West described a band of high school kids who frequent Muddy Waters, and who won the college’s ‘Battle of the Bands’ competition, beating out a dozen older outfits.
On any given night, the audience takes their chances in terms of hearing quality music. West advises: “It’s a crap shoot. Out of ten acts, six might be pretty good; four may make you cringe — but that’s part of the experience.”
West tells musicians and audience, “Go and have a good time and don’t take it so seriously that you can’t laugh a little.”
“Lighten up and have some fun — And if you are having a good time, make a point to let the owners and managers of the hosting establishments know that you are.”
“We have the most enthusiastic, appreciative, and devoted audience of 30-to-40 people each month. They love our open mics!” reports Cathie Barry, who with husband Rick hosts monthly sessions at Theatre 101 in Mount Morris.
20 places to hear
free, live music
Following is a listing of current jam sessions and open mics in Livingston County and peripheral places:
• Lima, Celtic jam – American Hotel, first Sunday, 4-6 p.m. Oct.-May, 7304 E. Main St.
• Lima, open mic – The Pastaria Pub, every Monday, 7-10 p.m., 7281 West Main St., hosted by Steve West
• Geneseo, open mic – Muddy Waters Cafe, every Wednesday, 7-10 p.m., 53 Main St., hosted by Steve West
• Geneseo, gospel jam – Cafe Shiloh, last Saturday of the month, 7-10 p.m., 120 Main St., hosted by Judy Halling & Cher Appell
• Geneseo, open mic – The Statesmen, every Saturday, 9 pm-midnight, 86 Court St., hosted by Tim Bucci
• Geneseo, jam and open mic – Kelly’s Saloon, every Tuesday 9 pm-midnight, 71 Main St., Irish jam hosted by Jim Kimball alternates with open mic hosted by Tim Bucci
• Livonia, jam – Livonia Inn, second and fourth Tuesday, 7-10 p.m., 17 Commercial St., coordinated by Tim Wahl
• Mount Morris, open mic – Theatre 101, first Thursday 7-10 p.m. (sign-in starts 6:30), 101 Main St., hosted by Cathie & Rick Barry (Theatre 101 will also be hosting a special Bob Dylan Birthday Open Mic Thursday, May 24.)
• Websters Crossing, spaghetti jam - Websters Crossing United Methodist Church, fourth Thursday, 4:30-8 p.m., Route 15, hosted by Ralph Hamilton, preceded by spaghetti dinner
• Nunda, dulcimer jam – Nunda Historical Society Museum, second and fourth Mondays, 2:30-6 p.m., 24 Portage St., hosted by Tom Cook, (This is a meeting of the mountain dulcimer club, but non-dulcimer players are also welcome.)
• Bloomfield, open mic – United Methodist Church, second Wednesdays, 4-8:30 p.m., 3894 Allens Hill Rd (moves to Livonia United Methodist Church on Summers St. during the winter)
• Honeoye Falls, jam – The Rabbit Room, last Wednesday, 5:30-9 p.m., 61 N. Main St.
• Angelica, open mic – Black-Eyed Susan Acoustic Cafe, first Thursday, 7-10 p.m., 22 W. Main St., hosted by Bob & Gena Decker; proprietor is former Geneseoan Don Ash.
• West Clarksville, jam – Sloppy Joe’s Deli, every Tuesday morning, Route 305
• Bennington, bluegrass jam – Bennington Lanes, second Sunday, 2 pm-evening, 1374 Clinton St. Rd., Attica, sponsored by the WNY Bluegrass Association
• Rochester, open mic – The Flipside, every Thursday, 9 pm-midnight, 2001 East Main St., hosted by Steve Piper, often features top Rochester talent
• Rochester, open mic – Lovin’ Cup Bistro, every Tuesday, 8:30 pm-midnight, 300 South Point Dr., piano and sound engineer provided
• Rochester, open mic – Boulder Coffee, every Wednesday, 8-10:45 p.m., 100 Alexander Street, hosted by J.C. the soundman
• Rochester, open mic – Boulder Coffee, every Thursday, 7:30-10:45 p.m., 739 Park Ave.
• Fairport, open mic – Flipside, every Thursday, 7-9:30 p.m., 6 N. Main St., with optional house band and rotating hosts.