A line to get in to the Rookery started 10 minutes before the doors opened. Once people could get inside at 6:30 p.m., seats were scarce within 15 minutes.
Over the past eight weeks, the Mountainside Open Mic has reliably filled the Seward Street cafe with musicians and music lovers on mid-week nights.
The final show of the series’ first season Thursday night was no exception.
“This is great,” said Carl Reese, who played guitar and sang original songs. “It’s comfortable and the people are listening, which is good.”
Instead of concluding with a full, featured set, the last show of the season yielded the mic to as many people as possible, and the band Papertrail played two songs to close things out. The open mic started at 7 p.m. and wrapped up after 9:30 p.m.
Many of the night’s performers had played a previous week’s open mic, or taken in a music from the other side of the microphone in past weeks.
The open mics were conceived as a gentle setting for artists and listeners of all ages, and performers said the evening shows have been a nursery for creativity in the community, and they’ve been glad to participate.
Daniel Firmin who started his two-song set with a cover of a song by Fairbanks artist Brandon Reid, said the atmosphere and timing of the Mountainside series is what kept him coming back.
“People are super respectful,” Firmin said.
Original songs, covers of Wilco and Don McLean and Christmas carols all drew solid rounds of applause. If someone restarted a song, that too received encouragement from the audience.
“It really gets people out of their shells to try performing music,” Firmin said.
Audience members said the open mic have filled a niche for them, too.
“I love it,” said Jesse Peterson, who had multiple pieces of artwork on display Thursday.
Over the past two months, while musicians played, audience members were invited to sketch, color, doodle or write with provided art supplies.
Marian Call, the singer-songwriter who started and organized the open mic series, half-joked crayons were one of the major contributors to the series’ $220 operating cost.
A singing penguin and a multi-colored portrait drawn by Peterson were part of the collection of art made during the open mics.
Douglas Badilla, who also played a couple of Elton John Covers, said he appreciates the opportunity for folks not actively playing music to be creative.
“The cool thing about being in the audience is they can draw,” Badilla said. “It’s great.”
The oddball gallery included everything from a note reading, “I love my gay dad,” to serious sketches. It covered every square inch of three card tables, and in some spots was multiple drawing’s deep.
“Don’t be afraid to lift them up, there’s some gems buried,” Call said.
Call said she’s happy with how the open mics have gone.
“I’m so proud of the community,” Call said. “I provided the infrastructure but everyone flowed in and adopted the culture of respect and being excited to listen to something new.”
Travis Smith, co-owner of the Rookery, said he’s been pleased with how series has gone. The shows have provided a stream of evening food and drink orders, and Smith has taken the chance to perform on guitar.
“It’s been amazing,” Smith said. “This is something we’ve talked about for many years. It’s something we’ve sort of tried before, but without the focus Marian has brought to it. We’re so happy to see so many people show up. There’s been so much positive energy. It’s got me up and performing in front of people for the first time in years.”
Evening music at the Rookery will continue, albeit not at a weekly pace.
On Dec. 21, singer-songwriter Tekla Waterfield will perform, and a few shows are already schedule for January.
“We’re going to keep the music going,” Smith said.
Call said a Season 2 of the mic series is likely, and potentially not far off.
“We want to ramp up to Folk Fest in a positive, supportive way,” Call said.
She added artists would need time ahead of the April festival to work out their sets.
Thursday, performers made it clear they have appreciated the positive place so far.
Judah Pelligra, who performed a pair of covers with his wife, Heidi, said he appreciated everyone who tried something new and the venue that allowed it.
“Where else do we get a space where we just celebrate bravery?” he said.
• Contact arts and culture reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org.