Highland Park - You can’t just stop having open mics in L.A. They're a place to meet up with colleagues in between gigs. Or after gigs. Or when you have no gigs at all.
And so it is that every Monday night. Trip Kennedy sits down in his Highland Park home and hosts a Zoom conference call with his musical open mic, the Show-Off Show.
“Remember to unmute yourselves so you can applaud your friends,” he tells the audience members waiting to hear the first singer, “because everyone knows what it’s like to sing a big number, and … nothing.”
This used to be a regular, in-person open mic. He started the show in November 2019 at the Canyon at the Rose in Old Town Pasadena. It took him eight months to get started up at that venue. But a little more than five months after he finally got it going, the show was canceled on March 12 because of COVID-19.
The next week, Kennedy was learning how to run a show on Zoom. Then he began teaching it to everyone else.
“I had to get on the phone, sometimes for hours, to explain to them how to use Zoom,” he said.
He thought the arrangement would only last for three months. But they’ve now been doing the show online longer than they ever did in in person, Kennedy said.
Other open mics seems to have been growing in the same organic fashion.
Teri Bond, one of the regular performers at the Show-Off Shows, says she also sings at Open Mic Tuesdays with Keri Kelsey (which has been based out of the Gardenia in West Hollywood for more than 20 years, and still may provide live accompanists) and Croon in the Afternoon with Marina Pacowski on Fridays, which had been running at the Lyric Hyperion Theater and Cafe in Silver Lake.
“When a new attendee approaches the mic, we never know what will happen. There's a fun feeling of suspense,” Bond said. “Usually, the newcomer turns out to be a phenomenal performer who leaves us speechless. The beauty is that all are welcome, no matter how much experience you've had on stage.“
But shows online work different than on stage, of course. After awhile, regulars at the Show-Off Show started thinking of things they could do on Zoom that they couldn’t do anywhere else, Kennedy said.
Spoken word pieces, for example, were easier to hear. And people seemed more willing to try new things - to play a ukulele, for instance, when they’d never played one on stage before. Plus, theme shows were simpler to organize - perhaps for Leonard Bernstein’s birthday, or songs from World War II, songs from the 1920s, disco - even a theme show of “Songs You Hate.”
Or, as was the case for a couple of recent Monday shows - “A Song for You.” At this point, a lot of the Show-Off Show’s regulars have gotten to know each other so well that they were paired off and tasked with giving each other suggestions for what to sing.
For Bond, that meant doing a sort of lounge-lizard version of Olivia Newton-John’s “Let's Get Physical.” For Kennedy, it meant putting on a sequined face mask and a beige Star Trek shirt (the uniform of the engineering section, by the way) and singing “Mr. Roboto” by Styx.
Some of the singers were obviously professional, and, in at least two cases, wrote their own songs. Kennedy himself did some work on Broadway for awhile, and still gets a small royalty check for the one line he utters on the cast album for “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” (“Bonjour!”)
But in every case, the singers took what they were assigned, what they chose or, in one or two cases, what they had written, and belted it out full force in their apartments - to the flat, adoring faces on their computer screens.
Pamela Clay knocked out “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Robert Stirbl played Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone.” Mayita Dinos sang a song she had written about having a meal with her mother on Sundays.
“What started as silly zoom meeting has interconnected a vibrant community,” Kennedy said.
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