Open mic nights rule the High Country club circuit
Its not a purely Summit County phenomenon, but its definitely a tradition right up there with aprs ski and even surpasses the popularity of karaoke. In the High Country, open mic nights rule the club circuit. At the Moose Jaw in Frisco, their open mic night has been a tradition for more than 12 years, running year-round on Thursday nights going from 10 p.m. until closing.While most of the performers are locals, tourists come in as well and are happy to play for a sympathetic even enthusiastic audience. Over the years, the open mic night has featured everything from horn, mandolin and guitar players and husband-and-wife duos to harmonica and washboard artists.According to Willie, famed Moose Jaw bartender, its not unheard of for an entire ensemble to show up. A couple of Thursdays ago, a six-piece band came in for their chance in the spotlight.We get good crowds, he said. People come in to hear their friends, so a lot of it is word-of-mouth.Over at The Sanctuary in La Cima Mall, co-owner Adam Rush has been running an open mic night for the last two months, on Fridays from 7 p.m. until closing. Rush said that performers typically go on for a half hour to 45 minutes, playing everything from hip-hop to electronic and avant-garde music. The mic is open for amateur DJs as well, who come in and spin their own selections. We get bassists and guitarists, and even some experimental electronic musicians working with computer music programs, he said. And most of them have been pretty good no ones been bad yet, he added.So far, the audiences have been made up primarily of the performers themselves, who encourage the others while waiting their turn. But Rush said that word is spreading, The Sanctuary is getting more people in every week for the free drinks, snacks and of course, the music.People like it, and well definitely keep doing it, he said. For Keith Synnestvedt, open mic night is part of his livelihood. For 23 years, the singer/guitarist/songwriter has pursued a career as a full-time musician, performing in clubs throughout the High Country. Five and a half years ago, Synnestvedt added the job of hosting open mic nights to his regular gig at Ullrs Sports Grille in Breckenridge. Until last November, when the microphone plug was pulled on the weekly event, Synnestvedt saw performers from all over the world try out their skills for the price of a free beer.Synnestvedt said that its not surprising that open mic nights are so popular in the High County, given the wealth of diversity and talent here and the commitment to a mountain resort lifestyle.Its too expensive and the environment is too rugged to stay up here by accident, he said. People who live here have to work hard to be here they really, really want to be here and youll hear that in the music. There are some phenomenally talented people here who are lift operators and line cooks and store clerks. According to Synnestvedt, after 9/11, paid entertainment throughout the High Country took an 80-85 percent drop due to the industry recession that followed compared to open mic venues, which took only a 40-50 percent drop. After 9/11, all the club owners expected things to go bad, so the first thing they cut out was the entertainment, he said. And in resorts, entertainment sits on the knife edge between being a luxury and a customer service. But if youre disrespecting the tourists by trying to save money, its a false economy.Around this time, Ullrs decided to put entertainment back in, and Synnestvedt became the house act. In addition to his own solo gig there, he worked out a weekly, no excuses open mic night, which became a local tradition. A bunch of people performing in Summit County now got their start at my open mics, he said. Ive done them elsewhere and the average percentage of good players is higher here than anywhere Ive ever played. Its because of that positive attitude because people love it here.Synnestvedt said he tried to make it as easy as possible for anyone to get up and perform, even offering his guitar to those caught off guard who werent expecting to sing for their supper that night.Synnestvedt said that, typically, open mic nights attract a handful of regular performers who bring in their own fan clubs, sing three or four songs, and then hang out for the rest of the night while the others perform. During ski season, tourists often come in to make up the audience, and end up by becoming the act as well.Some of his guest performers have included a guitarist and folk singer from Russia, members of a Nashville songwriters convention, and even a violinist from the National Repertory Orchestra, who jammed on The Devil Went Down To Georgia.As a musician who performs, in addition to his own songs, everything from Johnny Cash to Dire Straits, Synnestvedt appreciates the cross-generational culture of open mic nights, where the audience may be treated to a couple of Patsy Cline songs, followed by the music of Nirvana or Beyonce unplugged. You get the house drunks performing too, but the percentage is biased toward people with serious professional ability, Synnestvedt said. The tail end of the evening often ends up being a group cross-fire jam, with everyone playing licks.So, with the available paying gigs out there, why do good performers get up and perform for free?There are a lot of people who do music because they love it but they dont do it as a career, Synnestvedt said. Theyre not driven by trying to achieve a professional goal. Theyre doing it to share something with a group of friends its a living room concert with bar service. Its about hanging out with your bros after a good day of skiing.Today, Synnestvedt performs regularly at the Motherloded Tavern and the Valdoro Mountain Lodge in Breckenridge. He also continues to host open mic nights throughout the area a sideline which, for him, has become something of a mission.I started playing since I was 9 years old, and Im 53, he said. A lot of people helped me when I was starting out, so I just feel that its karma, passing the baton to the next generation.Check out the Summit Daily A&E calendar for open mic nights throughout the county and surrounding area.
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