By D. Sands
For a person whose canvas is the word, a solitary microphone can carry the same appeal that a blank sketchbook holds for a visual artist. It is a thing of infinite possibilities.
Open mics offer poets and spoken word artists an opportunity to tap into this creative energy and share it with an audience. Often held at coffee shops or bars, they are open gatherings where anyone who walks in the door can sign up on a list and become a performer.
In Detroit there is certainly no shortage of open mic venues. Chace “Mic Write” Morris is a veteran of Detroit’s slam team, a member of the rap group Cold Men Young and a writer-in-residence with the InsideOut Literary Arts Project, a program that encourages youth to get involved with poetry. Detroit’s scene is a lively one, he told Critical Moment.
“It’s pretty diverse. It’s pretty fluid with a lot of different voices, different styles, different aesthetics,” he said. “There’s a lot of open mics here, which from traveling, I realized is kind of rare. Everyday you can find one somewhere in the Metro Detroit area — and a lot of them are free.”
Although attendance varies, Morris said several of the more established open mics have devoted followings and regularly draw crowds. He’s partial to a popular Tuesday night gathering that takes place at downtown’s LIV Resto Lounge and is hosted by his girlfriend, Whitney Syphax Walker.
“It ventures from true spoken word, which has a rap feel to it, to more page [oriented] work,” he said. “It’s just kind of free-flowing. The energy is great with a lot of crowd interaction. It’s jam-packed.”
LIV Lounge is a favorite of local slam poets, according to Morris, as is the Tuesday event at They Say, a restaurant and bar located in the near the Detroit River. He describes the audience there as a responsive crowd, known for supporting artists.
Morris also gives props to a smaller Saturday event at the Urban Network, a community-centered bookstore and cyber-cafe in Detroit’s Northwest Goldberg neighborhood. It’s hosted by Justin Rogers (a.k.a. Jar the Poet) and Deonte Osayunde, and has been known to feature nationally-respected poets and slam acts.
Patience Young is a 23-year-old Detroit poet and ukelelist who has been attending open mics since 2005. She told Critical Moment one of her favorite places to read is the Bottom Line Coffee House, a spot in the Cass Corridor.
“I didn’t expect an open mic in Midtown to be so eclectic and so packed, in terms of its many different forms of performance art,” she said. “You have music, poetry, prose. You’ve got people free styling and throwing down the most crazy awesome things. This one is all over the map.”
She’s also a big fan of Spirit Spit at the Spirit of Hope church in Corktown and events at 1917 American Bistro in Northwest Detroit and Nandi’s Knowledge Cafe in Highland Park.
“It’s just one of the most welcoming, fun spaces I feel I’ve gone to for an open mic,” she said of Nandi’s. “This is in a separate room, and you’re just paying to see the poetry. It’s very intimate.”
Young said at times she has felt a little shy about stepping before a large audience and offers the following advice to those who might be nervous or new to the scene.
“The open mic is your soap box, and it’s a space created for you to share your thoughts and your feelings,” she said. “You shouldn’t feel afraid of it or intimidated by it. You should just dive right in!”
Detroit/Highland Park Open Mic Listings
2801 W. Vernor. Detroit
First and third Saturdays, 7 p.m.
Saturdays from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m.
$10 Cover, on temporary break
17340 Lahser, Detroit
1917 American Bistro
Wednesdays from 9 p.m. to 12 a.m.
19416 Livernois, Detroit
AJ’s Music Cafe
Thursdays at 8 p.m.
150 Victor, Highland Park
Bottom Line Coffee House
Alternating Fridays from 8 to 11 p.m.
4474 3rd St., Detroit
Broadside Press Poets Theater
Third Sundays from 3 to 6 p.m.
Grounds Coffee Haus
Student Union, University of Detroit-Mercy
4001 W. McNichols, Detroit
Cafe Con Leche
Fridays monthly from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Call for exact date
4200 W. Vernor, Detroit
Mondays at 8 p.m.
115045 Mack Ave, Detroit
LIV Resto Lounge
Tuesdays 9 p.m. to 2 a.m.
First and third Fridays from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.
4731 Grand River, Detroit
Motorcity Art Center
Every other Friday starting June 27, 2014
4468 3rd Street
Nandi’s Knowledge Cafe
Thursdays at 9 p.m., $5 cover
12511 Woodward, Highland Park
Woodward Line (non-open mic poetry)
Third Wednesdays from 7 to 9 p.m.
217 Farnsworth, Detroit
Spirit of Hope Church Spirit Spit
Second Sundays at 5 p.m.
1519 Martin Luther King Jr., Detroit
Thursdays from 9 p.m. to 12 a.m.
267 Joseph Campau, Detroit
Urban Network Cyber Cafe
Call to confirm
5740 Grand River, Detroit