Trying to make oneself known as a new musician is a difficult task. Shows are hard enough to arrange for established musicians and nearly impossible for the unknown. Eventually, if a new performer runs out of other options, he may find himself relegated to the purgatory that is the open mic circuit.
To be perfectly cynical for a moment, it seems that open mic nights are often used as vehicles for venues to make money without investing much time or interest in local music. The basic formula is: Get a lot of performers to come in and play for free in the hopes that each performer will bring family and friends, who will buy food and drinks and then leave when their loved one is finished, emptying the seats for the next performer’s family and friends.
Of course, there are exceptions. Some venues make music their No. 1 priority and money is only a concern in terms of keeping the operation afloat. Billy Bartley had a vision of an open mic night created with the performers in mind. He teamed up with the people at Uncle Pleasant’s after finding they shared his vision.
“The Uncle Pleasant’s owners, Janet Ehlig and Steve Davis, are really committed to the scene,” he said. “They pay for a sound person to be there, record the performances and have blocked out Wednesdays through the end of the year for the ‘8 Until Late,’ minus a few dates for some big bands coming through town.”
He added, “They do hope to sell a little beer in the process.”
“8 Until Late” is the name of Bartley’s open mic night for the simple reason that the show, which frequently goes until 4 a.m., has a pretty relaxed time frame. Performers are given 30 minutes for setup and performance and are free to use it in just about any way they’d like. Bartley was quick to add that the 30-minute time window is flexible in the case of full bands, out-of-town performers, indie films and so on. This is clearly not a your-time-is-up-get-off-the-stage kind of environment.
Additionally, performers are encouraged to bring a blank CD-R because, as previously mentioned, the sound system is rigged in such a way that performances can be recorded and burned to disc immediately, and as Bartley points out, they’re “perfect to make demos, get gigs, copyright materials or just hear how your sound is progressing.”
Viewers are welcome to stop in any time and stay as long as they’d like. Potential performers are encouraged to get in contact with Bartley, either at one of the shows, or via the “8 Until Late” Myspace page, www.myspace.com/8until_late.
I’ve been listening to Syd Barrett’s The Madcap Laughs a lot lately. For the unfamiliar, it’s a solo record Barrett made after his brief time with Pink Floyd. The music is transcendent in its child-like outlook on the world. See, when the Beatles tried to make simple, childish songs (“Yellow Submarine,” “Goodnight”), they came out simple and childish, but Barrett’s simple and childish songs are otherworldly.
Hearing Julien Aklei for the first time, I’m reminded of Barrett’s painfully beautiful music. They seem to be kindred spirits in their unique way of viewing the world. Aklei has somehow managed to write her songs from a place outside of this world that drags down the human spirit. Her new record, Pink Star of the Beautiful Ohio, is like a series of dreams. The kind of dreams where nothing necessarily makes sense, but it’s wonderful: all cotton candy clouds and sliding down rainbows. The worst part is waking up.
I don’t mean to say that Aklei is naively positive. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: Her songs are filled with conflict. It’s just that the conflict has nothing to do with work, deadlines and traffic jams and everything to do with the troubles found in the darker end of the fairy tale and nursery rhyme spectrum. There is an endless stream of broken hearts, ghosts and vengeful gods to contend with.
Again, that’s not to imply that Aklei sings songs for children. Many of her songs, though not graphic, are quite sexual in nature, and frequently involve soldiers, for some reason.
It’s pretty hard to pin Aklei down, and I don’t think that’s an accident or a bad thing. Her music is simply some of the most beautiful I have heard. Hear it for yourself at www.julienaklei.com, where she has several full albums available for download.
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