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Thursday, Jan. 6, 2005 04:39 am

now playing 1-6-05

You've heard of them, haven't you, those "open mic" things that bars hold on off nights? Usually the management hires a popular host to pull in amateurs who play for free. You'll probably see acoustic guitars and cases piled around the stage. Most people either hate open mics or love them to death.

The open mic is a great way for a beginner to get through the chills of a first-time live performance. I've done it. It's a wonderful opportunity for a songwriter to try out a new tune. I do that, too. The best ones become gathering places for musicians and music lovers, and that, my friends, can be fun.

Springfield has had its share of open stages (or talent nights, as they used to be called). I ran one at Bruce's Tavern in the early '90s that a scotch-soaked friend christened the Hootenanny Love Train. Quite a bond formed among the regulars, so strong that we took turns holding "afterhoots" to continue the jamming until we could jam no more.

The number of open mics at any given time seems to run in cycles. Right now we're in a high spot, with nine listed in the Pub Crawl calendar, and that's not counting the Illinois Central Blues Club Blue Monday Jam or the once-a-month comedy open mic at the Funny Bone Comedy Club. Thursday has two: the longest-running in town, hosted by Jeff Berendt and Second Harvest at Andiamo!, and Jill Manning's listeners' night at Julie Kluge's Sun's Up Koffee Kafe. Eric Welch and crew hold court with a Monday open mic at Floyd's Thirst Parlor that's known as "Your MOM" They feature a guest each week for 30 minutes before opening up the stage to all comers. Tuesday explodes with Jay, Jeff, and Dave at Mojo's and the Open Mic Deluxe in Decatur. Then there are the newest entry, the 11 Secrets Open Mic, hosted by Martin Sphar and Suzi from Syncro Joe at the Firehouse; and Josh Reilly and Matt Meinhart's popular acoustic night at the Underground City Tavern. Wednesday, Café Kanichi-Wa clocks in with Voodoorastahootenannychantdown, probably the longest open-mic name in the history of the world. And I hold the Songwriter Circle on the couches upstairs at the Underground City Tavern.

For those who've got the urge to share their talents, we have plenty of places in which to play.

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