Tune in and jam out

Virtual open mic night brings Island musicians together on one screen.

Islanders come together to perform and watch each other perform for the Zoom open mic night. — Screenshot by Lucas Thors

Island musician Andy Herr is taking his open mic night that would normally be held at Island Music and going digital.

For three years, Herr, an Island Music employee and an instructor, would invite music makers of all ages and skill levels to perform at the shop for each other every other Tuesday, whether it be playing piano, dancing, or reading poetry.

And with businesses across the Island closing to adhere to distancing requirements, Herr said he needed to find a way to keep the fun going.

“Three weeks ago, I was supposed to celebrate three years of doing open mic night at the music shop,” Herr said. “Well, I didn’t want to just not have it.”

Herr was already looking at various ways to move his classes and private lessons onto a virtual platform, and figured he could use the same technology to keep his popular open mic sessions going.

He chose to host his open mic nights though Zoom, and invite anyone to sign up who wants to play or sing.

“People need this opportunity,” Herr said. “From an Island perspective, there are lots of people who come to open mic night who find that it’s their fit in the Vineyard community.”

He said the feeling of inclusiveness found in the music shop every other Tuesday is something that people cherish because it allows them to come together around something they enjoy.

“In this time when the most-used term in the lexicon is social distancing, the social aspect is so important, just from a performer’s perspective,” Herr said. 

And although it is much easier to connect effectively in person, Herr said the concept of playing in front of others, despite it being through a screen, is an “emotional two-way street.”

“Everyone is sharing their vulnerability, being supportive, and connecting with each other,” Herr said. 

With the continuation of open mic night, Herr said folks that normally look forward to showing their stuff on a live stage or watching their friends or families perform will still have that opportunity.

“These days, we don’t have much to look forward to in anticipation. We don’t have a schedule of things every week that make us happy,” Herr said. “If somebody has something to regularly look forward to, that is so special and something that will help people keep going during some of these really difficult days.”

Based on feedback from the community and the performers, Herr said the virtual open mic night is a smash hit.

Many members of the music community on Martha’s Vineyard are working to perfect the online sesh, such as Anthony Esposito, who is a sound technician along with Herr. 

The two sound whizzes have been working on helping performers put together their home studios, and have been fine-tuning their own setups as well.

“The Island musical community has really adapted and grown around the idea,” Herr said. For some performers, the leap to a virtual platform isn’t too great, but for some less tech-literate folks, it can prove challenging.

“We are basically just working to get everyone online and playing together,” Herr said.

In just the last two virtual open mics, Herr said there has been a medley of tunes, from covers to originals. Island musicians like Tristan Israel, David Wolff, and many others have already tuned in to play and hear others play. 

There were even a number of COVID-19 themed songs added in for a little bit of levity.

“Now that we are in this for the long haul, we are finding ways to continue on somehow, making music and doing what we enjoy,” Herr said. 

Visit the open mic night Facebook page to sign up for the next session. Open mics are held every Tuesday starting at 5 pm.