By MARTA HEPLER DRAHOS
TRAVERSE CITY —
What started out as a way for Marshall Music students to play in a low-key setting is turning into one of the area's favorite open mic nights for non-bar scene musicians.
"A lot of people under 21 wanted to play but they couldn't get into places. That's how it started," said Marshall Music manager Lydia Langdon, of the store's monthly open mic night for musicians of all ages and skill levels. "But it kind of took off. A lot of people don't feel comfortable playing in bars even if they can go in them. And a lot of people say that they come here first and then see if they're ready for the bars."
The event, geared for first-time performers, begins at 6 p.m. on the first Friday of every month. It's hosted by guitarist and longtime Marshall Music instructor Zeke Clemons, who also hosts Union Street Station's Tuesday open mic night.
"This is definitely the opposite," said Clemons, who warms up the crowd, keeps things moving and makes the performers feel comfortable, even accompanying them on occasion. "It's more family-oriented, and the nice thing is it's right after the store closes so there are no shoppers trying out instruments.
"The other nice thing about what we offer here is it's very short, less than two hours. We give everybody a good two songs, seven to 10 minutes, and that allows everyone to get a chance to play," he said.
Participants sign up when they arrive, and play in order on a small platform stage in the store showroom. Performers run the gamut from seniors like accordionist Pat VanDeventer, to teens like vocalist-guitarist Ellie McPherson, winner of second prize and the people's choice award in this year's UpNorthTV Teleganza Teen Talent Search competition, to tots like the 5-year-old boy who sang to his father's guitar accompaniment.
"The performers are always different. That's the surprising thing," Clemons said. "I've only had a few students do it. Most are people who are not affiliated with any instructors."
The store advertises the event on its marquee and flyers, and performers often bring their own audiences, Clemons said.
"We get (an audience) of around 20, so it's not overwhelming for the student or performer and it allows the parents or grandparents to record their child and put the recording on YouTube. That's why a lot of them come," he said. "It's really, really chill, it's no pressure. I haven't had anyone clam up yet and I'm always right there next to the stage."
VanDeventer, 68, has been a regular since the open mic night event started back in March.
"I saw their (open mic night) sign and thought, 'Oh, it's just for kids,'" said the Traverse City musician, who began playing the piano accordion at 6. "And yet I thought they need to get acquainted with this instrument. It's an opportunity to show off the accordion. When I was a little kid back in the '50s and '60s, the accordion was the big deal. Everyone played the accordion. We even had accordion bands in Traverse City.
"And it helps motivate me to get out and play more. If you just stay at home and practice and play yourself, it's no fun."
VanDeventer said her open mic night repertoire ranges from standards to classics, depending on her mood.
"That's the beautiful thing," Clemons said. "It's anything the performer wants to play. We've had everything from rap to polka to singer-songwriters. We've had someone do country and the next person does Aerosmith."
The next open mic night is Friday, Sept. 7, at the store on South Airport Road West.
"It's just something to make music part of people's lives a little more, which is very important to us," Langdon said. "If they don't have an instrument they can use one of ours. And it's fun for us. It's a way to be more involved in the community."