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home : features : people, places & past May 24, 2016

7/19/2012 2:15:00 PM
How To: Part 2
Get ready for your first open mic
One of the great benefits of playing open mics in the Verde Valley is the opportunity to observe, up close, seasoned professionals such as Ron McLain and Gary Simpkins. Both McLain and Simpkins regularly play open mics in the Valley and they are masters of the craft.. VVN/Dan Engler
One of the great benefits of playing open mics in the Verde Valley is the opportunity to observe, up close, seasoned professionals such as Ron McLain and Gary Simpkins. Both McLain and Simpkins regularly play open mics in the Valley and they are masters of the craft.. VVN/Dan Engler
Gary Simpkins
Gary Simpkins

Dan Engler

You've bought that first guitar. You can play it ... really play it! You've learned some songs. You're not a bad singer.

Here's the first lesson you must learn. Asking your wife, husband or significant other to listen to you play yet-another brand new song "one more time" will run its course. After awhile, even your dog will high-tail it out of the room when he sees you pull out your guitar.

It's time to take the open mic plunge. Fortunately, here in the Verde Valley there are no shortages of open mics and jam sessions to help you hone your performance skills. In fact, if you want to be an open mic warrior, there is an opportunity for you to play every night of the week in Sedona and the Verde Valley (see list below).

What fits for you?

If you are the typical open mic novice, you'll likely shop around before actually getting up on stage. Take in a few, or several, open mics around the Valley and you'll quickly figure out the venue and atmosphere that fits your style.

Know your material

At most open mics, you will find a sign-up sheet. Introduce yourself to the host. Be frank and tell him you've never done this before. You can rest assured you will be well taken care of by the host with things like setting your instrument and vocal monitors. Typically, you will be allowed three or four songs. Select songs that you can sing and play frontwards, backwards and upside down. Select basic three-chord songs. As you mature and gain confidence in front of an audience, then you can show off with Anthony Mazella-like tapping techniques. Also, many open mics will provide you with a music stand. If you need that security blanket, fine. It's best, though, to have the song memorized and know it like the back of your hand. In the end, a music stand is an obstacle between you and the audience. You really don't need it.

Don't ignore your instrument

Before you play your first open mic, spend a little time going over your guitar. If it's been awhile, put some new strings on the instrument. Give them a hard stretch. Tighten the tuning keys. Put a new battery in your pre-amp. Make sure your instrument is flawless and ready to do its job. One more thing, tune it up before you play. The audience is there to hear you play and sing. They are not there to watch you tune your guitar.

Avoid the chit chat

There is a fine line between healthy audience banter between songs and over-extending your welcome by talking too much. Remember, the audience is there to hear you play and sing. Just like they are not there to watch you tune your guitar, they're also not interested is listening to you talk more than sing. I was at an open mic one time where a father-and-son duo were playing. After one song, the dad began telling the audience how long his 14-year-old son had been playing and how much he had progressed. Like any proud dad, he went on and on until one guy in the audience yelled out, "If you don't hurry up and play your next song, that kid's gonna be 15 and you'll have missed his birthday."

Don't get rattled

Bob Dylan put it best when he said, "There's no success like failure." The best lesson you will ever learn at an open mic is that when you fall flat on your face, it's not the end of the world. Rest assured, sooner or later you will fall flat on your face. Don't worry about it. It's happened to all of us. Just get back on that horse and ride it again. Keep playing. Keep singing.

Go to school

The great thing about open mics in Sedona and the Verde Valley is that you will get the chance to see it all. On any given night, you can expect to see someone scared to death playing before an audience for the first time. Or, you will see a seasoned top-end professional taking his turn at the microphone. Sit in the front row, pay close attention and take notes. There is nothing better than being four feet away from musicians like Gary Simpkins, Mike McReynolds, Alan James, Ron McLain, Ray Sealing and Cara Marie. They all play open mics regularly in the Valley and they are masters of the trade. Watch and learn.

Do it

OK, you've had your primer on playing your first open mic. It's time to take the plunge and do it. If you are committed to improving your craft and skill-set, there is no better place to do it than an open mic. You will meet the finest folks in the world and establish friendships that will be with you until you've played your last song.

Dan Engler played his first open mic in June 2008. He has since played at more than 500 open mics. He has fallen flat on his face more times than he can count.

Verde Valley Open Mic & Jam Sessions

• Sunday

The Arizona Old Time Fiddlers Verde Valley Chapter meets the first Sunday of each Month at the Senior Citizen Center on 6th Street from 1-4 p.m.  Acoustic musicians are encouraged to come and play and join if they aren't already members. Non-musicians and/or people that just enjoy old time fiddling and songs are also always welcome. Aug. 3-5, the Old Time Fiddlers will have their annual campout at Willard Springs south of Flagstaff in lieu of their regular jam session at the senior center.

Every Sunday at 8 p.m., the Chaparral Bar, 325 S. Main Street, Cottonwood hosts an open mic hosted by Steve Warren and the Chap Cats. A drum set, bass and amplifier and P.A. system are provided. Guitarists and other instrumentalists are encouraged to bring a small, room-sized rig.

The Martini Bar, 1350 W Hwy 89A in Sedona, offers an acoustic open mic runs from 8-11 p.m. every Sunday. Hosted by William Schwab and Lynzi Kat of the Black Forest Society. A mic and PA system are provided.  

• Monday

Gary Simpkins is hosting an open mic every Monday at Thanks A Latte Espresso Cafe, 348 S. Main St. in Camp Verde from 6-8:30 p.m. Call 567-6450.

The "Tommy Jam Band" hosts a jam session at the Olde Sedona Bar & Grill, 1405 W. S.R. 89ª in Sedona, Mondays, 9 p.m. to midnight. There will be a sign-up sheet starting at 8 p.m. The amount of time allotted for each musician or act will depend on the number of musicians signing up to play and quality of performance.

• Tuesday

Tasty Tuesday's jam sessions takes place every Tuesday night 5:30 to 8 at Java Love Cafe Coffee Roasters in Sedona at 2155 W SR 89A #118.  Hosted by James Turner, Tasty Tuesday's promises everyone "a taste of good music, and a taste of good food."

The Creekside Grill, just off I-17 in McGuireville, has a bluegrass-country-folk jam session every Tuesday from 6-9 p.m. Host is Mark Cohen, 567-2267

• Wednesday

Every Wednesday, 6-9 p.m., Salt Mine Cellars in Camp Verde, offers an open mic hosted by Gary Simpkins. For information, call 567-5265, or 567-3210.

Every Wednesday, 8 p.m., Full Moon Saloon, 7000 SR 179, VOC Tequa Plaza, Open Mic: 928-284-1872,

The Spirit Room in Jerome, 166 Main Street, hosts an open mic every Wednesday from 8-11 p.m.

Every Wednesday, 8 p.m., open mic at Rendezvous in Old Town, 777 N. Main Street.

• Thursday

Every Thursday, 7:30 p.m., Alan James hosts an open mic at Mooney's Irish Pub, Hillside Sedona, 671 Arizona 179

On the third Thursday of every month, Joe Neri & Blues Dawg host a monthly open blues jam at the 10-12 Lounge in Clarkdale, from 7-10 p.m. The jam is open to all musicians, blues or otherwise, electric and acoustic. If you sing and/or play guitar, harmonica, keyboard, horn, bass, drums or anything else, you are invited to come by and jam with Neri and his band. This is not an open mic, where you get up on stage and play a couple of songs and then get off. This is a true jam session, with music and musicians flowing with the mood, on stage and off, throughout the evening.

Strombolis, 315 S. Main St. Cottonwood, hosts an open mic and jam session every Thursday beginning at 7 p.m.

• Friday

The Vineyard Wine Bar at 1001 N. Main St. in Old Town Cottonwood hosts an open mic every Friday, 8 p.m.

Acoustic Open Mic every Friday 6-9, p.m., at The Village Rock Shop 6101 Hwy 179, Suite C, V.O.C. (Next door to the Blue Moon Cafe)

• Saturday

Open mic with Keith Martini, Saturdays, 8 p.m., Oak Creek Brewing Co. 2050 Yavapai Drive, Sedona. 928-204-1300,

Acoustic Open Mic every Saturday 6-9, p.m., at The Village Rock Shop 6101 Hwy 179, Suite C, V.O.C. (Next door to the Blue Moon Cafe)

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