I've always conceived of rock music as ageless. It keeps you young. It keeps you moving. And age is something that is more determined by attitude rather than an actual number. The more you age, the more you stiffen. And I'm not talking absolutely about the body; the mind has to solidify first. I also conceive of all music as unifying. The true artist wants nothing more than to share his/her art with the world while embracing the art of other fellow artists, regardless of genre. Well, this is what I would like to believe. Perhaps I'm a bit of an idealist.
Enter the open mic at the Greenbean in Greenwood. The Greenbean is a non-profit coffee shop in my neighborhood. Its open mic occurs the 2nd and 4th Thursday of the month from 7-9. It is advertised online as an acoustic open mic. Fine. Holly and I play rock music, but we do acoustic sets, too. And open mics for us are great practice for playing live and, in our case of late, dealing with the unforeseen. (Though I had a feeling about it, but I'll get to that in a minute.) The open mic was run about a group of, I'm guessing, baby boomers. One of them was dressed in a teal and black striped shirt and had green hair, so I imagined these guys to be "young".
The first four acts consisted of the guys who were putting on the open mic or their friends. That's cool, I thought. They were silly hippie types. I gave them my attention and listened to their songs. Then it was time for me and Holly. We had three songs prepared to play, you know, the standard open mic set. We opened with 16, and I sang my heart out. But as you know, the song 16 is not a happy hippie song. It is about a woman regaining her strength and purpose after an abusive relationship. We finished the song, and though everyone clapped, I could feel tension rising in the room. Not something I feel very often. Then we played Tables and Chairs, which is just a sad song about the realization of personal worthlessness. We finished the song and were getting ready for our final song when the guy running the open mic quickly stood up and told the audience to give it up for us.
WHAT? Wait a minute! We were in the middle of our set. I said, "I thought we had 3 songs." And then one of the friends came up and said we were done cause they were running out of time. And then, the MC told the audience that they had to move things along cause it was 10 minutes to 9 and that they close at nine, but by my cell phone's time, it was 8:06. I sat there in disbelief. Like it really wasn't happening. I didn't understand. Then all the guys running the open mic were up there clearing the way for us to leave.
We walked off to our table where my husband, Ron, was sitting.
We all sat there shaking our heads as the next act went on, which happened to be one of the guys that had been on right before us. He was playing AGAIN. Not only that, but his lyrics were insular: full of inside jokes for his friends-the very ones sitting there running the open mic. One of the open mic guys came up to us and in a condescendingly polite tone said, "Thanks for playing some rock n roll". This is about the time Ron said, "Open mic my ass! This is a closed mic. There is only room for these people and their friends." I looked at him, and asked, "You think we were run off?" Ron answered, "Absolutely you were run off. I sat here and watched the whole thing go down." At this time, the guy after us finished and then the guys running the open mic, who had already played earlier with some of the other guys, got up to sing some covers from the 60s.
I knew something felt weird earlier. We went into the coffee shop around 3pm to find out about the sign up time. We got some tea and sat down. After a few minutes, I considered backing out. I told Holly, "I hope they don't run us out of here." And then, I thought, no, we'll be fine.
And then, there we were at 8:30 pm, just finished playing some powerful songs. And we played really well. And no one wanted to talk to us afterward, which is usually the case. No one asked about the songs. No one asked about my voice. No one said anything except that one guy thanking for playing rock n roll. I looked up at the stage and some guy dressed in a graduation cap and gown was on stage talking about being the Professor Know it All. Holly found a back exit and we left. As I was leaving, a guy in the kitchen told me, "Great job tonight!" He really looked at me. It was sincere. This guy was also very young.
Now it is the morning after, and I'm still sitting here trying to wrap my head around all of it. I don't understand exclusion. I never have. I grew up around it down south. Everything is so segregated. And I didn't understand it there either. That's why I moved here to Seattle. There are many ageless folks here. It's easy to stay young here. I know plenty of musicians the same age as these guys, but who are way younger. You know? Of course, I know people in their 20s who have already stiffened in their thinking. Last night seemed so surreal. I didn't expect it. And I didn't want to accept it, because it doesn't fit my ideal of music. But these people are aged. They are stiffened. And they don't like anything different or new. That's why we were run off. We made them uncomfortable. And isn't that the heart of all exclusivity? Fear of the unknown?
I'm glad we played that open mic. Each situation just makes us stronger! I hope we jarred their minds loose.