You don’t have to be a guitar hero to perform live in Alameda. Across the Island, there are opportunities for everyone to sing, read their poetry or play their instrument in front of an audience, no matter your talent level or age. Check out Alameda Magazine’s roundup of Alameda open mics and go release your inner guitar god!
Every Tuesday, the open mic music begins at McGrath’s sometime around 9 p.m., and continues until “I physically throw them out at 2,” says bartender Kimberly Flynn.
Led by G.G. Tanaka, a guitarist, singer and percussionist who Flynn says “knows everybody,” the music varies from week to week. On mellower nights, acoustic guitars are the instrument of choice, and a visitor will hear a variety of Americana, pop and blues with about 20 other people in the dim lights. Sometimes it’s more rocking, with drums and even the occasional accordion player. “It’s like a big family,” says Flynn. And it’s true; many of the musicians know each other. Several play in the same bands. Singer-songwriters Todd Shipley and Andy Mason are McGrath’s regulars, and Flynn says they and other regulars are always booked.
Don’t be intimidated by the intimate atmosphere, however. The bar has house instruments, including a piano, double bass, violin, congas and bongos, and someone will always be willing to lend a guitar to a newcomer.
McGrath’s, 1539 Lincoln Ave., (510) 522-6263, www.mcgrathspub.com.
Crosstown Coffeehouse and Community Center
For a more family-friendly open mic night, the Crosstown Coffeehouse and Community Center offers a chance for aspiring musicians of all ages to strut their stuff. On Thursday evenings from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., local musician Dave May emcees the show during the school year, and it’s less intense than McGrath’s. Debora Fae Mendoza periodically plays at both McGrath’s and Crosstown, and she has a 4-year-old daughter and an 11-year-old son. “[Crosstown is] a casual, nice place for families and for kids, compared to McGrath’s, which is a bar,” she says with a laugh.
Shohei Kobayashi, a senior at Alameda High School, had his CD release party at the coffee house last year, and emceed the open mic last summer. He likes the opportunity to play in front of an audience, even if it’s sometimes small. “It gives you the sense of performing for people,” he says.
Visitors won’t necessarily see many working musicians play Crosstown, but who knows? They might be seeing the rock stars of the next generation.
Crosstown Coffeehouse and Community Center, 1303 High St., (510) 864-8600, www.crosstowncoffee.org.
Alameda Island Poets
Over four decades ago in 1967, Alameda Poet Laureate Mary Rudge founded the Alameda Island Poets. Still the group’s leader, she hosts monthly open mic readings at the Alameda Free Library on the first Wednesday of each month from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Each meeting includes at least one featured poet, such as Benicia’s poet laureate and a creative writing professor from Sacramento.
Founding member Lou Baca says the poetry is “very professional.” The small crowd tends to be older, but a few Alameda high school poets can be found in attendance as well. Visitors chat in between readings, and particularly insightful or clever poems are met with applause and laughter. Expect a few standout poems each week, which range from slam poetry to jabs at the poetic canon like “Walt Whitman Orders a Cheeseburger.”
Alameda Island Poets, Alameda Free Library, 1550 Oak St., (510) 747-7777, www.ci.alameda.ca.us/library/.
Radio Free Frank Bette
The newest open mic on this list is led by Boundless Gratitude, aka Hassaun Ali Jones-Bey. He played guitar and sang periodically at Frank Bette Center for the Arts, until executive director, Debra Owen, thought it would be nice to coordinate a regular open mic event at the center.
With its unique setting—a converted home with pleasant artwork adorning all the walls—and its particularly small crowd, playing at Frank Bette feels more like playing with a few friends in your living room rather than a formal performance. The husband and wife songwriting duo Soul of Sparrow comes all the way from Richmond each month to play and listen. “We have really quality performers,” says Chie Treagus, who sings and plays keyboard with her husband, Steve.
Talented feature musicians, such as local singer-songwriter Nick Z, also play a few songs each month. As an added bonus for working adults, Radio Free Frank Bette happens on the second Saturday of each month from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., so it doesn’t interfere with the workweek.
Radio Free Frank Bette, 1601 Paru St., (510) 523-6957, www.frankbettecenter.org.
Women’s Only Works in Progress
Works in Progress began as the Sapphic Sisters Writers Workshop, which was held for eight years in Bay Area poet Linda Zeiser’s house. Just over four years ago, it moved to the Home of Truth Spiritual Center so Zeiser could attract a bigger audience and enjoy the more “sacred” space in the chapel.
A place for women to show off—and enjoy—poetry, music or dance in a safe environment, Works in Progress brings together a talented bunch of artists on the second Saturday of each month at 7:15 p.m. A potluck at 6:30 p.m. precedes the performances.
Attendees can expect everything from dancing in the pews to rousing blues music to passionate love poetry to stories of abuse or marriage problems (which is why men are not invited). “I’m loving it,” says guitarist and singer Sun Bell. “It reminds me of when I was 13 and my friends would sneak me out my window and take me to the beatnik clubs, where I’d sing while they played the drums.”
Works in Progress, Home of Truth Spiritual Center, 1300 Grand St., (510) 522-3366, www.thehomeoftruth.org.
—By Christopher Danzig
—Photography by Craig Merrill