Think about a traditional open mic setting. The lighting is low, people gather around tables with cocktails in their hands, discussing the newest vinyl purchase they made. Some guy in skinny jeans and a small smile walks on stage, with a guitar in his hand. He begins singing and strumming his guitar, telling a story of a girl who’s done him wrong through his music. The air is buzzing with the raw talent, the kind of talent that makes everyone there see the potential. That potential is what keeps people coming back each week.
While these open mic events provide a perfect space for people to get on stage and improve their skills in front of a live audience, there is a huge lack of places like this for anyone under 21 in Anchorage. Without a space for young adults to play in front of a live audience for, they gain very little experience and often do not play their instrument outside the walls of their bedroom at home. This is the idea that drove Anchorage Music Co-Op and Middle Way Cafe to pair together and host an open mic event in Anchorage for anyone 21 and under.
These open mic events started in 2011 and occur on the last Friday of every month. Acts range from singers playing both covers and original songs, instrument players, dancers and slam poets. As long as you’re under 21, your talent is welcome, and there will always be an audience there to watch.
Laura Oden is one person who helped start Anchorage Music Co-Op, a company that is focused on creating a safe space for musicians in Alaska to play, despite the level they are at. She wanted to start the company for the youth in Anchorage and it since its origin has been very successful.
“I saw a gap in the community, and wanted to create a place for kids to play music in front of people, whether it’s their first time on stage or they are a recurring act. An audience always comes out, and they are always supportive,” Oden said.
Each open mic event has several hosts, one of them being Jamie Whiteman. She has been attending these open mic events since she was 19, starting out as a performer. She puts hard work and time into making these events happen to see progress and happiness in the kids that show up.
“There’s lots of regular performers. Kids that keep coming back, month after month. It’s really great to see growth from within the group,” Whiteman said.
Oden sided with Whiteman on this topic, also agreeing that the kids who attend this open mic event improve drastically as they keep coming back.
“I think we have an important impact on the community. In a few short years, I’ve seen dramatic changes in the confidence of these kids on stage. It has been remarkable to watch,” Oden said.
One performer who has become a well-known regular at the open mic events is Ava Earl. Ava is currently 13 years old and has been attending the open mics for nearly four years. She is from Girdwood, but makes the drive to Anchorage to be able to play for a live audience. Ava performs originals and covers of songs at the open mic events and has been taking guitar lessons since she was in second grade. Her mother, Shannon Earl, loves how dedicated and involved Ava has become through her music.
“It has been so amazing for Ava to get the opportunity that the underage open mic offers. The environment is completely friendly, everyone wants you there,” Earl said.
Since playing at the underage open mics, Ava has grown enough and gained enough skill that she was able to perform at one of Alaska’s biggest music festivals, Salmonfest this past year.
“There is no doubt that she wouldn’t have been able to have that opportunity without her continuous performances at the open mics,” Earl said.
Anchorage Music Co-Op and Middle Way Cafe have combined to create quite the opportunity for young aspiring performers. Because of the underage open mic events, people like Ava are able to go on even further, still at such a young age. This has created a very tight knit, but very welcoming community within Anchorage. One can only hope that the open mic events will continue to grow and aid in the birth of amazing and talented local musicians.