BRATTLEBORO—This month, musician Kevin Parry celebrates 25 years hosting a weekly open mic event in Brattleboro. But, in claiming only a quarter century, Parry is being modest.
“In the mid-80s I was involved with an open mic in Keene,” and when Parry moved to Brattleboro he decided, “let’s do that here!"
“In 1991 I sat down with John and Gillie, owners of The Mole’s Eye, and Norman the bartender, and asked them if they could host,” Parry said.
They agreed, and gave Open Mic a three-month trial basis on Thursday nights at the bar-club-restaurant, then located in the subterranean level of Brattleboro’s Brooks House.
Parry admitted he was nervous starting the new open mic. “Will it work? Are there enough musicians in Brattleboro?” he wondered.
He quickly learned the answer. “Of course, yes. It took right off. Bang!” Parry said.
Those three months turned to 16 years at The Mole’s Eye.
At Open Mic, Parry provides a full sound system. Participants sign up in advance for 20-minute spots where they can play any type of music they like — with some limitations.
“Open Mic is a performance venue for live music. We discourage any type of pre-recorded music including background tracks or Karaoke. Open Mic is not a comedy club nor a poetry slam. Our audiences come ... to hear live music,” says the “Open Mic Information” section of Parry’s website, www.kevinparrymusic.com.
Finding a permanent venue
After The Mole’s Eye changed owners in 2007, Parry packed up the show and moved upstairs to Adagio, the restaurant then at the Brooks House’s street level.
Then, four years later, the Brooks House burned, leaving Open Mic without a home. Soon after, The Marina’s owners agreed to host the event, but not until they rebuilt after their own fire.
Open Mic has remained there ever since.
In addition to the thousands of acts that have played there, the event has helped to create new bands formed of musicians who met at Open Mic. Parry said the back stairs leading down to The Mole’s Eye were particularly fertile ground.
“Bands formed on those concrete steps when the musicians were out there smoking or tuning up,” he said.
Sugarhouse, which became the event’s house band, formed when Open Mic regulars, including Daniel Kasnitz, Cyndi Cain Fitzgerald, and Jaye and Eric Simms, joined Parry and played there and at other venues. Parry’s newer band, and Open Mic’s current house band, the Brattlyn Brothers — with Ken Storey and Joe Santry — also developed from connections Parry made at Open Mic.
Other popular local acts who played at Open Mic were Peter Miles, Bethanie Yeakle, and The Johnson Boys.
Parry mentioned a few other memorable performers.
“The Hoola Roola. He played guitar and harmonica while he hula-hooped,” he said.
“Then there was the singing dog,” Parry said. “A guy came with an accordion and his dog. The guy would play Bach on the accordion. The dog got on the guy’s accordion case and sang along,” he said. “But, some people said the dog howled."
Advice from the host
These are all part of an open mic’s charms.
“You can be a pro honing your skills, or you can get [on stage for] your first time ever,” Parry said. “My advice is, be relaxed, and play what you’ve rehearsed. The audience wants to hear what you have to say. Don’t get intimidated. Remember that you’re playing music and performing. Think about what you want to present to people."
Although Parry said the demographic shifted from a mostly younger crowd to a mostly older one, younger musicians are showing up again, despite devices that sometimes keep them from coming out.
“One of the worst things to happen [to Open Mic] was Guitar Hero,” the music video game released in 2005, Parry said. “A whole generation of musicians thought they knew how to play guitar, but they didn’t. They knew how to play Guitar Hero."
During the conversation with The Commons, Parry then pantomimed typing away, hunched over as if staring at a smartphone.
“A lot of younger people became really focused on their cellphones. If you do that, how do you learn to play an instrument?” he said.
But Parry said there’s a positive side of increased access to technology: “the Internet is full of musical instruction information. I’m meeting young people taking advantage of this and learning to play.” He noted, for instance, the proliferation of talented, local high-school girls forming rock bands.
’A melting pot of interesting personalities’
When asked why his open mic is so successful here, Parry had a quick answer: “Because Brattleboro is a melting pot of interesting personalities."
“I’m very happy with it, and I’m happy about Brattleboro,” he said.
“I’m so thankful I’ve been able to do this for 25 years,” said Parry, after providing an exhaustive list of acknowledgements. “First, I need to thank my wife, Calle Bailey, mostly because she has to listen to rehearsals and practices, and she’s the roadie, the photographer, and the audience, too.”
Other “thank yous” went to Dennis Smith and Kate Theriault, owner and manager, respectively, of The Marina, plus all the staff, managers, and owners of Adagio and The Mole’s Eye — especially Brenda Fortier and Norman Dugas, bartenders at the latter.
“Also, the bartenders at The Marina: Dennis Fagan, Radar, and Steve,” said Parry, who also thanked the musicians who play with him: Storey and Santry, George Adair, Lisa Brande, Richie Mayer, Scott Sizer, and Mark Trichka.
“I thank everyone who comes to open mic,” he added. “I’m happy some of the same people 15 years ago are still coming and having fun.”
As for the future of open mic, Parry had only one thing to say: “I can’t wait to celebrate the 50th anniversary.”