Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Diary of an *Open Mike Night* Tour -- Tyler Gomo

The first time Tyler Gomo took his one-man music project "Penny Racer" to the road he journaled these strange, eye (and ear) opening nights throughout Dutchess and Ulster County, NY. The experience would be unlike anything he had encountered in his life. This is his account of various evenings on his first Open Mike Night tour.

December 1st, 2008 “The Night Before The Tour”
It’s the night before my very first open mike tour and I’m stuck at my job, working a six-hour shift that takes me to the bitter end. Aren’t musicians supposed to practice their ass off before a tour? Instead I am scanning 12 packs of Scott toilet paper, and trying to convince customers that the coffee that they are clutching is not the one on sale, despite their insistence that the sales sticker says otherwise. I wonder if my heroes Pete Townshend and Bruce Springsteen had to deal with this kind of stuff.

But I am very excited. This, a stretch of open mike nights, is my first tour of sorts and most importantly, my first on my own. As the drummer for Black Mesa, a stoner-metal band, I’ve become accustomed to being in the background, just hitting the skins to the beat. Now it’s my time to shine; no distorted guitars, no weird lyrics about dinosaurs on Mars, no hiding in the background. I was ready to be melodic, acoustic, and a frontman. This tour would prove it.
Sadly, before I face the bright lights head on, I am a blue-vested slave to the fat of America.

December 2nd, 2008 “The Cubbyhole – Poughkeepsie, NY”
Sitting in the low light of The Cubbyhole, things are different. Having played there two times prior, the crowd is normally packed into the coffeehouse like the toilet paper on the shelves where I work. Instead, it’s a light population of college hipsters, washed up bar band types, and the occasional diamond-in-the-rust musician. Also, the mood is more tense; hosts Sadler and Jools (imagine a coffeehouse version of Captain and Tennille, but much better) are wearing faces of stress, which immediately catches my attention. Did I start my tour off on a rough night?

Signed up at slot number 7, I had the opportunity to listen to six acts before I hit the stage. The menu of musicians was eclectic as usual; resident maniac Eric D attempted his best Jimi Hendrix impression, Cubbyhole owner Lee Brown blew away minds with his cryptic poetry, and Herman the Walrus brought whimsy to the often dark coffeehouse environment. If there is any reason to go to the Cubbyhole on a Tuesday night, the diverse assembly of musicians should be motivating, along with the killer vanilla chai.

Finally, it was my turn. With my guitar tuned and lyrics memorized, I was ready to unleash my acoustic fury. The result? An awkward performance of the poppy original song “Alcoholic” not knowing there was a legit alcoholic in the crowd (he let me know post-song) going over the two-song limit by unleashing a third number (the U2-inspired “Tied to Your Cedar of Lebanon”) out of sheer enthusiasm, and, by far the worst, breaking the unsung rule of “Never promote another Open Mike Night at an Open Mike Night,” which I was informed of when I tried to promote my upcoming performances on stage.

Fortunately the open mike hosts and the more established musicians understood my mistake as not a jab at the Cubbyhole; but a genuine mistake. Jools, while smoking a cigarette outside, said it best: “You’re a rookie, Ty. You’ll figure this whole thing out sooner than later.”

December 9th, 2008 “Snug Harbor – New Paltz, NY”
Pure dive bar. That is the thought that came into my head when I walked into Snug Harbor for the very first time. From the bar counter that (according to the carvings scrawled on it) had seen better days, to the ridiculous Budweiser neon sign shaped like a Fender Stratocaster that hung over the stage, to the jukebox that had a decidedly riff-rock slant; me and my acoustic felt totally out of place.

But, out of determination, I stayed. “I need this experience,” I repeated to myself. After playing coffeehouses and a rock-bar, I ought to have my dive-bar moment. I just hoped that my acoustic could take a beer bottle to the gut, just in case of a Roadhouse moment.

The host of this event was considerably older than the college-aged people that had operated the open mike nights I had previously played; he might have been my dad’s age, for all I know. He kicked the night off with three straight covers, including a radically different take on Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog,” which really caught my attention. However, I noticed that this did not catch the attention of the people watching ESPN or playing pool. “Uh oh,” I thought to myself, “You’re playing dinner music tonight.”

Out of nowhere, I found myself being called up to the stage. It turned out the guy before me was the same creepy guy from last night’s Muddy Cup performance with the wireless microphone set-up, and was having issues trying to get it set up with the PA system. So instead of DIY karaoke, Snug Harbor was getting my tunes early, something I weighed more as a curse than a blessing. A small part of me felt like I could get the kids attention easier than the older host did; but my doubts were unusually strong.

All miked up I looked out into the crowd and saw my fate; six people watching ESPN at the bar, eight people convened at the pool table, and four un-amused faces sitting near the stage, eager to hear what I had to play. The first tune out of the gate would be the Sarah Palin-ridiculing “Caribou Barbie.” Two of the four audience members (and two of the most attractive girls I had seen in a long while) walked out. Did I just find my first batch of Republicans in the lefty town of New Paltz? For all I know, they could’ve been outside smoking, but I kept the Republican idea for shits and giggles.

Things would only get worse for my performance at Snug Harbor. During the quick-punk tune “Elvis Impersonator,” a shoving match began near the pool table, inciting jump-ins from all corners. At that moment, I debated the thought of stopping the song or staying strong. Suddenly, Roadhouse popped into my head (again) and I decided to make the late Jeff Healey proud: I kept playing. It’s funny to think about, a bunch of twentysomethings fighting to a quick song about an Elvis Presley impersonator. It probably would’ve made more sense if I was playing “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” or something outlaw-country. In addition, some drunk nearly stole my harmonica and harmonica holder.

If you add it all up, my very first Snug Harbor open mike had me facing an unenthusiastic crowd, a bar fight, a drunk with a penchant for harmonicas, and in the end my four-crowd fan base dwindling down to one lone person over the course of three songs. Never again, Snug’s.

December 15th, 2008 “The Muddy Cup – Kingston, NY”
I’ve been going to Kingston all my life. Problem is it was that ultra-commercial part of Kingston that had the big Wal-Mart, the mall, and the car dealerships. Tonight was the first night that I went, solo, into the heart of the city; a filthy, aged municipality that makes Poughkeepsie seem like Superman’s ultra-clean Metropolis by comparison. As I drove along Broadway, cop cars were blazing by at every corner and, for whatever reason, people were in a jay-walking state of mind. Being the insecure guy I am, I probably checked to see if my car doors were locked over 50 times while I was driving.

After some twists and turns, I finally found the Kingston Muddy Cup. Compared to the New Paltz Muddy Cup that I had played the week before, this one was hardly the picture of artistic expression and great coffee. It was inside a plaza building. An anomaly compared to the other Muddy Cups that appear to be built as street corner, free-minded coffeeshops. Perhaps Kingston streets are too dangerous for coffee and they had to pack it into a convenient plaza with apartments upstairs and a liquor store just inches away?

I walked up to the out-of-character Muddy Cup and a bum that had probably experienced the harshness of Kingston all too often approached me and my guitar asking for cigarettes. I don’t smoke, so I told him I had none. This response acted as a catalyst of sorts, as this ragged individual began to curse loudly, throw his arms about and start following me. Fortunately, I remembered how to speed walk from my high school PE days and I bolted into the safety of the Muddy Cup, where the cigarette-loving bum disappeared. What a way to start the evening.

Introduced to the host, a tall, deep voiced guy named “Righteous.” I was informed that this particular open mike had a very urban leaning. Instead of people with guitars and capos, I met kids with cd players and rhymes, eager to spit their style onto the microphone. It was, to say the least, an interesting environment, as kids with RocaWear hoodies started calling me “Johnny fuckin Cash” as I sipped my lemon tea. Quite a moment, and something I’ll certainly remember.

After Righteous recited his freestyles, I was next onboard. I looked out to the crowd, a light bunch of high school-aged kids, and saw their ears perk at the notion of an acoustic guy playing their open mike, usually the land of hip hop. Using that as my fuel, I let loose with a set that featured road-tested tracks “Alcoholic,” “Elvis Impersonator” (no fights started, thankfully)
and the set-closing folk tune “The Vanishing Act.” I’ll admit, after the bum-incident and finding out that this Muddy Cup had an urban touch, I kept things on autopilot, knowing that this was not my kind of crowd.

I was wrong though. After I thought my set was over the kids with cd players and rhymes started shouting “encore” and “one more song,” which left me absolutely stunned. Righteous just stood there and said “Do it, man.” My very first encore moment would happen in, of all places, this scary part of Kingston. To fulfill the demand, I thumbed my way through the Pete Townshend tune “Sheraton Gibson.”

“Surprising” is hardly the term I want to use to describe this performance and, dare I say it? The tour altogether.

Photo Credit: llimllib on Flickr

About The Author: Tyler Gomo is a 21 year old student/songwriter attending SUNY New Paltz (as a Journalism major) and residing in Hyde Park, NY. Tyler has been a writer for as long as he could wield a crayon and a songwriter since he could play the guitar.

Editors Note:
We hope Tyler remembers us when he goes platinum.