Today, Thursday, is the day I wake up with a big grin on my face, for I know in a matter of hours (I’m retired, so I get up late) I’ll be headed down to Bethania to make music the way it was meant to be made with a dozen or so of my closest friends.
Most of these friends were folks I didn’t know until June 6, 2014, the fateful day we launched Open Mic at Muddy Creek. And now, going on four years later, I count many among my closest friends in the world.
Shared experiences draw people closer, and we’ve had our share – and then some – of wonderful experiences since Bill Heath, the music mogul of Muddy Creek Cafe, agreed that we should give an Open Mic a go down in the historical Moravian settlement some dozen or so miles northwest of Winston.
You’re always among friends, we like to say, down at Muddy Creek Cafe, where everybody is somebody. And that’s the ambience we’re after from 6:15, when we congregate to draw for the picking order until we conclude the graveyard shift sometime usually between 9:30 and 10.
We’re talking old-folks’ hours, totally befitting a man of my advanced age.
A good number of the regulars are long-time fixtures of the Winston musical scene I’ve known since my mid-life’s crisis of the early 21st century.
After spending a good dozen years concentrating almost totally on my career and helping to raise Nate (born in 1986) and Rebecca (1990), I woke up one day at 50 years old realizing I needed something new to wake up to.
So instead of buying a flashy red convertible to tool around town in, or maybe buying a rug to wear on my balding head, I tossed Buckshot, my 1967 Gibson J-45 in the car and began scouting around Winston to find places I might play these old songs I had spent the previous 35 years of my life writing.
I fell into a totally happening little bar down on Burke Street called The Rubber Soul, which had a rocking Open Mic every Wednesday night. I started haunting the bar week after week to play, and thankfully, as bad as I was during those days, nobody ever ran me off.
The scene at the Rubber Soul finally died around 2005, though thankfully the three people shot in there the Monday Night the Charles Greene Band had the place packed and pulsating all survived.
To keep the good times rolling, I talked my good buddies Richard Emmett and Kimberly Lawson into letting me ramrod an Open Mic at the Garage. And what a great run we had there from July of 2007 until 2011 gave way to 2012. We always had plenty of musicians on hand ready to play, but when the number of patrons who’d show to watch us – and drink adult beverages – began to dwindle we all decided the scene had run his course.
But I was still writing songs, and I still needed a place to play them. To me, it’s hard to say I’ve actually written a song until I’ve show-tested it, and gone out and played it in front of people.
So it was a happy day when Bill Heath decided to see what we could get going down at Muddy Creek Cafe. And it’s been a happy day pretty much every Thursday since.
What I found in the downtime between the Garage and Muddy Creek Cafe is that if running an Open Mic were easy anybody could do it. I couldn’t find anybody who could do it the way it had been done at The Rubber Soul and the Garage, so I decided to do it myself.
One lesson I learned off the top is that you treat everyone the way they should be treated. Getting up in front of people is a harrowing experience, especially when you’re baring you soul by playing your own songs. So you strive to make everything as comfortable as possible for everybody that plays.
Again, you’re always among friends at Muddy Creek Cafe.
I also found that the three-song set is the way to go. It’s as perfect to an Open Mic show as the 90-foot base paths are to baseball. It just works.
We allot everyone 15 minutes, and as it turns out, some people run long but others run short. If we limited it to strictly 15 minutes, people would have to cut off a song before it was finished, and we wouldn’t want that.
We don’t care what kind of music you play or what instrument you play it on. It’s your 15-minute set, so fill it up anyway you want. If you want to pull out a cello and saw off some Rachmaninoff, we’re all ears.
We do, however, give extra credit for originals. You deserve a gold star for showing your soul.
Everybody who comes regularly is a part of the scene, whether they’re musicians or not. The experience at the Garage taught us that if nobody came to listen to us play, we wouldn’t be able to play for long.
But the biggest lesson I would give anyone thinking they might like to ramrod an Open Mic is to make sure you find you a trail boss you can work with.
I use the term ramrod because running an Open Mic through a night of music and mayhem is not unlike driving dogies to market. And if you’re, like me, old enough to remember the Classic TV Show Rawhide you can remember a young Clint Eastwood playing the role of a ramrod named Rowdy Yates. In this production, I’m Rowdy Yates.
But it’s Bill Heath who plays the role of Gil Favor, the trail boss ultimately responsible for getting those dogies into tin cans. Like Rowdy answered to Gil, I answer to Bill. It’s his establishment.
What I’ve come to learn is that if the ramrod and trail boss are simpatico, if they get along, then there’s no problem too big that can’t be solved. But if the ramrod and trail boss are at loggerheads, then there’s no problem too small to derail the whole scene.
Bill and I get along famously, so Open Mic at Muddy Creek Cafe keeps flourishing.
Bitter winter weather has kept us cooped up inside the cafe these past number of weeks, so I’m so happy to look outside at the spring sunshine and realize we’ll be tumbling out onto the deck for tonight’s show. It doesn’t really work inside, but we make it work because everybody looks after each other. But it’s outside, on the deck that Bill keeps upgrading and improving, where you’ll find the best of Open Mic at Muddy Creek Cafe.
If you play, come on down at play with us. Signups, like I said, are at 6:15. If you’re just a music lover, you’ll find plenty to love at Open Mic at Muddy Creek Cafe.