An open mic is the perfect place for people of all walks of life to come together and share an experience. An older gentleman playing flute? Check. A high-schooler sharing a rap? Check. Some slam poetry from the local college kid? Check. A place where you can grab some food and drinks, do your homework, socialize and perform? Quadruple check. I checked out some local New Hampshire open mics and hope to offer some insight into what I found!
The Freedom Cafe — Durham
The Freedom Cafe open mic is a destination spot for UNH students due to its perfectly placed location right on the edge of campus. The cafe is volunteer-run, with lots of friendly UNH student faces working day in and day out for a good cause – the cause to end human trafficking. Bryan Bessette of the Freedom Cafe explains that the “Perform for Freedom” open mic exists in order to provide a safe and supportive space for people to share their art. He hopes that throughout their time at Freedom Cafe, performers and attendees alike will gain knowledge about the complexities of human trafficking and learn how they can support reputable organizations to ultimately become a conscious consumer.
As for the atmosphere? It’s cozy. It feels like sitting in your living room. With couches, small tables and fold up chairs all smushed into one room, it becomes an undeniably snug experience as people file in to enjoy the open mic. As a regular at the Freedom Cafe myself, it has become clear that there are other regular performers and attendees. The students sing along to the original songs of Kevin O’Brien, who also works as a sound tech. There is usually an opening slot, meaning at the start of the open mic (which is 7:00 p.m.), someone plays their own music exclusively for about 45 minutes. Following that, each performer is allowed to play for 10 minutes or about two songs. All the while, the cafe is up and running and people are able to grab a cup of tea, coffee, some chocolate or even a milk shake – all ethically sourced! Sometimes the student workers will sneak out from behind the counter and share their own poetry or songs. Overall, it’s a fun night. Plus, it’s so easy for students to pop into that you just might as well! Check it out every Wednesday night at 7:00.
MUSO — Durham
The Memorial Union Student Organization (MUSO) open mic is typically a monthly event that occurs on Tuesday nights in the Memorial Union Building (MUB) Entertainment Center. MUSO is a club that hosts concerts, guest speakers and a variety of different events. The Entertainment Center, which is tucked away in the basement of the MUB, is a spot that many students claim to have never known existed. The open mics generally serve to be a more low-key environment, with lots of MUSO members hopping on stage to share their own talents. However, the cool thing about MUSO open mics is their usual inclusion of poetry. Sometimes, a rapper or two even wanders in. Once, a guy walked into the room, jumped right onto stage, rapped and then walked off and right out the door. It can get pretty exciting. Plus, there’s always lots of free donuts and coffee, which is unbeatable.
Alliance — Durham
Alliance is an LBGTQIA+ student organization at UNH that welcomes people of all orientations and identities. Alliance works to create a community in which one can freely learn, vent, heal, relax and have fun. In the past, Alliance has held an open mic in respect for “The Day of Silence,” which is a day that represents many different interpretations that include drawing attention to the silencing of queer and trans identities and experiences, the silence of solidarity with those who are unable to live as their true selves and the silence that commemorates the lives lost to homicide and suicide within the LGBTQIA+ community and all its intersections. The open mic provided an opportunity to break the silence and allow students to share their true story. The great thing about Alliance open mics is that they provide a safe space for students to share with peers inviting everyone to take their talents to the stage, whether it be stories, poetry, singing or interpretative dancing.
Book and Bar — Portsmouth
Book and Bar is one of my favorite places. Right in the heart of Portsmouth, Book and Bar is a fusion book store, cafe and live music venue. It is aesthetically beautiful, with lights strung across the ceiling that warm the entire room more than any fluorescents could. There are aisles and aisles of books and it’s tempting to avert your attention from the open mic performer to browse for a new book. It’s almost impossible to walk out empty-handed. Not only are there multitudes of books, but there is also an extensive menu full of sandwiches, interesting drinks and spinach artichoke dip. I consulted my friends in the band The Missouri Pacific, William Snow Downing and Lubomir Rzepka, who told me that when they performed at the Book and Bar open mic there was a backing band who played for every performer.
“Something very special about the Book and Bar open mic, which was only there a couple times, was that they had like a backing band for everybody,” Downing said. “Pretty sure it was a guy from Dogs (That Know They’re Dogs). You’d give them a few notes beforehand and then they’d just totally improvise along with you, which was actually pretty cool. Especially for what we were doing.”
Flight Coffee — Dover
Flight is a very upscale coffee shop in downtown Dover. With brick inside walls and a bunch of nooks to sit and relax, Flight is a go-to spot for many Dover residents. The coffee is their specialty, and waiting in line I hear people joke about how long it’s going to take. Yet, the lines remain. It’s worth it. In addition to coffee, there’s a bunch of New York-style bagels, sandwiches, salads, soups, pastries and baked goods to pick up. The cafe remains open on some Fridays to host open mic nights, which invite musicians, poets, bands or anyone to perform anything they like. With the events being all-ages with no cover charge, there is a variety in the age of attendees. Often, there’s a lot of kids! Which is cool, because it’s not too common to find variety in ages at college campus open mics. Flight is a cool place to check out, and most likely worth the inevitable wait in line you’ll endure.
The Grind – Durham
The Grind is an open mic hosted by the Campus Actives Board (CAB) that happens every first Friday of the month. CAB is a student organization that plans campus-wide events for students, and the Grind open mic is specifically created for UNH students to share their talents. The Grind is always full of talent, whether it be air guitar or some slam poetry. Also, there’s always teas and snacks and each table is strewn with copious amounts of candy (which is my favorite part). This year, The Grind, which is usually held in the Entertainment Center of the MUB, hosted a “Grande Grind,” which was held in the Strafford Room. The Grind is a great, free way to put yourself out there and enjoy some entertainment right on campus.
Because I am confined to my surrounding area and as far as the free UNH bus or Amtrak will travel, I consulted Tom Carlson, local musician and open mic aficionado. I asked Tom to describe some of the best open mics in New Hampshire.
Riverwalk Open Mic
Tom told me about an open mic located at Riverwalk Cafe and Music Bar in Nashua, New Hampshire. Simultaneously a coffee shop, roaster, cocktail bar and craft music venue, Tom told me that it used to be a really good spot when it was a small building, but since then it has grown while still maintaining its coolness.
“It’s got a large stage with a really good sound system, and very upscale restaurant kinda vibes,” Tom said. “Expensive teas. Fancy coffee. When it’s a nice day, people hang outside and listen to their friends. It’s a really nice vibe.”
Crazily enough, Riverwalk was named number 36 on Yelp’s “Top 50 Music Venues In The US” – making it a New Hampshire must-see.
This spot may be the absolute coolest. Tom told me about Hippy Hollow, a volunteer-led organization that celebrates the creation of music and all forms of expressive art in Greenville, New Hampshire. The people at Hippy Hollow record, promote and support local and artists free of charge.
“They use area microphones and set up a stage in the woods,” Tom said. “On summer nights they record the sounds of the trees and the bats and the wind and you perform with all the sounds. The only difficult thing is, if you’re bringing any equipment, it’s a mile down a trail into the woods, so there’s a wheelbarrow that you take and put your stuff in. You’re there for a while if you go.”
Hippy Hollow seriously is an interesting local alternative to the cut-and-dry open mic events that I’m used to attending.
One Final Note
According to an anonymous source, there was only one open mic – ever – at Breaking New Grounds. It was a couple years ago. Apparently, it was incredibly low-key and some members of the community and campus attended. Seems neat; perhaps they should reintroduce an open mic.
Until then, we’ve got a lot of others to check out locally. Good luck exploring!