The Krakow Post: How long has the open mic existed?
Scotia Gilroy: The open mic has actually been happening non-stop, every single month, for about four years. I’ve only been hosting it for a year and a half. Before that it was run by the guy who started it, an American named David Thornbrugh. He was a poet who enjoyed reading his own writing and hearing others read, and decided to start up an open mic at Massolit Books on Felicjanek Street as a kind of forum for writers to meet each other and hear each other’s work. It was something he had been used to back home in the U.S., where open mics are quite popular. When he first started it, music was kind of an afterthought.
Musicians were welcome to come and play there, but it really was a poetry-dominated event. When David left Krakow in the summer of 2006 and announced that he would no longer be here to keep the open mic going, I decided to step forward as the next host, to keep the event alive. I had been a frequent participant and spectator at the open mic since the beginning, and enjoyed it so much that I hated to think it would have to end.
The thought of making it my own event was really exciting for me because there were a number of ways in which I felt it could be improved. The first change I made was a drastic one – I divided it into two separate events, one for music and a separate one for poetry. This seemed really important to me because at the ones I had attended it never really felt comfortable mixing poetry and music.
The musicians seemed to need a kind of wilder, more free environment where they could really let loose, whereas poetry readings required an extremely calm, quiet atmosphere. It always felt strange to mix the two. So I took over the music open mic and made it every first Sunday of the month, while someone else, a poet named Roy Maltby (also Canadian, by coincidence) started up his own edition of a poetry-only open mic, which is still taking place at Massolit every third Sunday of the month.
Q: You say that the open mic first started at Massolit. But now it takes place at Cafe Szafe. Why the change?
A: Massolit was a great place for it, because of the beautiful and cozy atmosphere there, but it had a few disadvantages for an open mic, the first being that it closes at eight p.m. The open mic always began at seven p.m., which meant that there was only an hour for it. Usually when people show up to an open mic wanting to perform, they’re a bit nervous, and nobody ever wants to start playing first. It takes a while for people to warm up enough to actually get up and play in front of everyone – usually the whole first hour! So at Massolit, just when things had gotten going, we had to leave because they were closing. If a lot of people had shown up to play we sometimes walked down the street together after Massolit had closed to Cafe Szafe, which is also on Felicjanek Street, just one block away from Massolit. There we could play until ten p.m. We would ask the bartender to turn the stereo off, and we could play all we wanted. There was beer there, too, which helped people loosen up! After this happened a fair number of times, someone finally suggested to me that we change the venue officially to Cafe Szafe. I talked to the owners of Szafe about it, and they really liked the idea. So, since the Spring of 2007 it’s been happening there. Massolit was a really nice place to play, but it had also started to feel a bit too small as more and more people were showing up each month. Cafe Szafe has a large room for us to use – and with an actual stage! They also have a full PA system with a mixer and speakers, which is great for singers – I always set the microphones up for them to use if they want to. The PA system also means that electric instruments are welcome – electric guitars, bass, keyboards. Even electronic instruments, like sequencers. I’ve had all kinds of instruments show up – even people with laptops!
Q: Could you describe the kinds of music that you can hear at the open mic, and what kinds of instruments people usually play?
A: Everything under the sun! The main thing I love about hosting the open mic is that I never know what to expect! It’s always a surprise.
The most common performers, like at most open mics, are singers with guitars. But there are tons of other types of performers that show up, with a whole array of instruments, everything from mandolins, harmonicas, melodicas, saxophones, electric guitars, xylophones…… There are often interesting pairs and groups that show up, people who have been playing music together and come to the open mic to perform what they’ve been working on.
Recently there has been a young electric bass and bongo drum duo, a cellist with effects pedals, and a guitarist accompanied by a guy who used a chair as a percussion instrument! The best of all, though, in my opinion, was a duo from England that showed up at the last one, on Jan. 6- who played ukulele and musical saw! It was amazing.
Q: Who usually comes to the open mic?
A: The whole point of the open mic is that it’s completely open to everybody. The people who show up range from self-taught, amateur musicians who want to try playing for people for the very first time, to advanced, professional musicians who are well accustomed to performing but who enjoy coming to the open mic for the musical atmosphere and to meet other musicians. What’s great about it is that the audience is always attentive, respectful and encouraging to everyone, no matter what their level is. So far the open mic has been quite dominated by foreigners. I’m always trying to get the word out to Polish musicians in Krakow about it, to try to have more of a Polish/expat balance. But I think an “open mic” is a concept that Polish people aren’t as familiar with as North Americans and English people. Open mics are extremely common in English-speaking countries – every city has many of them at bars and cafes, and there are always student-oriented ones at universities. When I mention “open mic” to foreigners they immediately know what I’m talking about, whereas when I tell Polish people about it I usually have to explain what it is. Lately, though, I’ve been happy to see more Polish people turning up. I think it’s a result of the Polish-language advertising I’ve been doing for it, as well as word of mouth.
The open mic takes place every first Sunday of the month, from 19:00 to 22:00 at Cafe Szafe, ul. Felicjanek 10, Krakow. The next open mic is on Sunday, February 3, 2008
For more information about the music open mic contact: firstname.lastname@example.org