Glories of the longest-running open mic night in Durango

by DGO Web Administrator

As long as people have been playing music, there’s been a space for letting people exhibit their “talent.” Those exhibitions can result in awe or hilarity. Said exhibitions are the gateway drug for the addiction of performance, the cure for stage fright and the thing to do on off-nights at a venue.

It’s open mic night.

Some performers may be great. Even more will suck. There are multiple levels of talent, with a vast array of musicians who could be playing the same old classic-rock puke followed by a working-class guy banging out a back pocket full of original songs. It’s all important to the creation of a scene, and anyone saying otherwise is and should stay on the sidelines.

Every city has one or two, perhaps multiple open mic nights; Durango’s had a few in various venues in my 20 years here, with the longest-running open mic night happening on Tuesdays at Moe’s for nine years and counting.

Moe’s isn’t all music. Sure you get your hip-hop, folk, bluegrass and rock acts, but there have also been comedians, spoken-word artists, emcees and the occasional magician. But at its core it’s a breeding ground for bands and a space for building musical community.

On any given Tuesday, Moe’s can host up to 15 acts. You’re given a 15-minute set and if you go over, well, maybe you’ll be asked back up later in the night to play with another musician. It’s a relatively loose, yet, well-organized event with a decent bunch of regulars playing into a basic sound system and simple backline. Local band Mountain Top Pocket Pickers formed from a series of sets at this open mic.

Musicians Mike Kunz and Dan Lowrey have been playing Moe’s off and on for a couple of years. For harmonica player Kunz, it’s about curing the stage-jitters.

“It takes everyone out of their shell,” said Kunz, minutes before playing last Tuesday. “You get out and try being on stage in front of your community.”

Singer-songwriter Lowrey has moved past the butterflies; as a music fan he recognizes this particular open mic as a place for talent.

“You don’t see a lot of beginners,” said Lowrey. “It’s rare that someone is playing a simple chord song; our talent level is high in this town.”

Lowrey’s correct. A resident expert on open mic night and someone whose talent exceeds most of the others at this or any open mic is local guitar player Darren Stroud. Stroud has a few records under his belt with his rock band PowerTribe, and has now toured internationally with the country band The High Rollers. With no money going to musicians, he breaks open mic night down to its most simple form: To play and meet other musicians.

“You get to meet people that you might not normally meet at shows,” said Stroud. “When I was new in town it helped me make contacts among musicians quickly. It’s very good for networking within the community.”

Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. [email protected].

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