Tahoe-Truckee music: Open mic nights provide platform for all talents
March 7, 2016
TRUCKEE, Calif. — Michael Golden straps on an acoustic guitar, racks a harmonica holder over his neck, takes a swig of a water bottle, and steps to the microphone perched at the front of the Mellow Fellow bar in Truckee.
Fluidly strumming his guitar, Golden works into a set of Neil Young covers, matching Young's nasally singing voice and smooth harmonica piping.
The tone was officially — and literally — set for Tuesday's open mic night at the Mellow Fellow, which holds the event every Tuesday at 8 p.m.
A handful of songs later, Golden punctuates his set with a rendition of "Yesterday" by The Beatles.
After all, Mellow Fellow's open mic night on Tuesday had a theme: Beatles vs. Kinks. In other words, performers were encouraged — although not required — to try their hand at a song from either iconic UK rock band.
A weekly theme is just one of the ways host Ryan Taylor of Truckee tries to keep Mellow Fellow's open mic night fresh. Notably, Taylor plays keyboards for local funk outfit The Sextones and contributes to Truckee rock band Coburn Station, among other musical endeavors.
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"I'm always trying to come up with little gimmicks and stuff to make it more fun, doing the themes," said Taylor, who played a set of Kinks songs himself. "Last week we did 90s night, and that was a lot of fun, everybody was really into that one — we're going to have to do that again in the future."
Not that Mellow Fellow's weekly platform for performers is limited to music. Stand-up comedy. Poetry. Magic. Open mic nights can't get anymore open than Mellow Fellow's.
"I like to leave it open to whatever anybody wants to do," said Taylor, who provides the sound equipment for the event. "We have a lot of talented people who live here in town and people get pretty creative … A friend of mine used to come in and play the saw and tell Russian folk tales while he did it, so it's anything; it's just about being entertaining."
There is one exception, however.
"No 'Wagon Wheel'," added Taylor, referring to the ever-popular and covered country song. "It was a standard for a long time, and then there was a night where three people played it — like, in a row. And then ever since … no more, not allowed."
An outlet for local talent
For some, open mic nights are aspiring musicians' first toe-dip into the performance pool.
This is not the case for the aforementioned Golden, a seasoned musician who's played in all corners of the Tahoe-Truckee region for decades.
However, being on music's fertile ground — circling back to his roots — is where Golden, who's lived in Truckee for 30 years, now enjoys performing the most.
"This is really the only place I play anymore, it's a lot of fun," Golden said with a wide smile. "I'm only here to keep the art form going. I think it's important. If there were a dozen people like me in here every Tuesday, I wouldn't feel the obligation to come in here and play."
Aaron Oropeza, a Truckee native who also played at the Mellow Fellow on Tuesday, echoed Golden's sentiment.
"The most important reason open mic nights should happen is for people that don't actually get a place to sing," said Oropeza, who opened his set with a head-turning rendition of "Act Nice and Gentle" by The Kinks. "People that can't just get a gig somewhere; people that want to try their voice out in front of other people."
Oropeza speaks from his experience. He got his start as a singer-songwriter years back as an open mic night regular in town.
"That's where I first started singing," he said. "Any kid can show up here and sing, have a 10-minute set, and people support you."
That rings true especially at the Mellow Fellow, Oropeza said.
"It's really friendly," he continued. "It's not like a rough crowd, where it's like, 'Go home!' You have people support you, and people grow from that — nobody starts out great."
Added Taylor: "It's a good venue for people who've never performed in front of people or are trying to work up to doing it at a higher level."
A space for music fans
Along with being an outlet for guitar-wielding singers, open mic nights also give music fans a place to drink in some tunes brewed up by local talent.
Truckee resident Robyn Sadowksi, who on Tuesday was getting her first taste of the open mic night at the Mellow Fellow, was there to do just that.
"I skipped yoga to come," said Sadowski, laughing. "Open mic gets the local talent out and it gets their friends out and other local people out.
"I think it's important to establish a strong sense of community and community support, so that's one of the reasons why I came out."
more open mic nights
The Pastime Club in Truckee holds an open mic night at 9:30 p.m. on Sundays, hosted by Stan Charles, frontman of the Truckee Tribe band.
Like Mellow Fellow, the Pastime Club's event is open to all forms of entertainment. Performers also get the benefit of playing on the venue's stage, clad with a PA system and lights.
"I enjoy it for the beginners who come up and play," Charles said. "People that just don't gig regularly, who want to play on an actual stage with lights and sound. I get a kick out of helping people that normally don't get up in front of people, helping them cross that line from playing at home."
Additionally, if there are a slew of performers, the night ends with a "full-on jam session" on the stage, Charles added.
Meanwhile, at Lake Tahoe, the Grid Bar & Grill in downtown Kings Beach holds an open mic night at 9:30 p.m. on Tuesdays.
All acts are welcome to the event, said host Bobby Kominsky, better known as "Bobby K."
"Our open mic gets a great response from the locals," said Kominsky. "There are a lot of very talented local musicians, which makes for a great time. It's an atmosphere of positive vibes in a cozy local bar."
The Grid provides a PA system, a house guitar and drums for anyone to use, Kominsky added.
In Incline Village, Alibi Ale Works on Enterprise Street holds an open mic night at 9 p.m. on Thursdays.
Bolstering the turnout for the event, the brewery's open mic night dovetails with its "college night."
"We get quite a few of the college kids coming in to play and they bring their friends," said Kristi Thompson, general manager. "It's turned into a big night. We've had a great response; it's really taken off."
Open to all types of performers, Alibi's open mic is hosted by Dave Kemery. The brewery provides a sound system, a house guitar and drum.
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