Miracles on the Open Stage

December 22, 2009
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Yesterday I posted this piece on Examiner.com about Jay Ryan’s Big-Top Open Stage, held each Monday night at the D-note here in Arvada. I won’t reiterate here–just go read it if you want–but I will say that one thing that impressed me in my conversation with Jay is his passion for making room, for giving artists a hand up.

For Jay, something compels him to put on a crazy coat and hat and make a huge deal about each person that gets on the open stage and tries to make a go of it; and that drive is his desire to see people make it. Jay sees it as a community–a place where musicians learn from one another and grow from interaction. And where he feels it’s appropriate, he offers advice and challenges some of his regulars to stretch themselves. He’s more than a ringmaster–he’s a cheerleader, and sometimes a coach.

This part of Jay’s passion resonates with me because I feel the same way. When I hear a band or an artist with promise and potential, it makes me want to give them a path, to advise, to counsel, to coach (as if I totally know what I’m doing). I just want to do what I can to help them make it; I start pulling for them. I heard a bit of this in the way Jay talked about the musicians that come to his open stage.

I think there’s a bit of a stigma about open stages where people who think they can sing get on the stage and annoy the people who just came in for pizza or a beer. Admittedly, an open stage isn’t the same as going to a ticketed concert, and the people who get up there have a wide range of skill (or lack of it). But I’ve been visiting the D-note open stage for awhile now, and I’ve found out a couple of things in the process:

  1. Sometimes the most important thing is not how good the person playing happens to be. Sometimes it’s just the joy of doing the music thing. As a musician myself, I get a lot of pleasure out of making music. When I see someone else sharing in that joy, it doesn’t really matter in that moment if they sing every note on pitch. I get a kick out of seeing the joy. And sometimes you see that element more on an open stage than in a professional event–because the people on the stage aren’t taking it for granted.
  2. The open stage isn’t just for amateurs. Sometimes a real diamond in the rough comes along, someone with a lot of potential–like Brookefield H., who’s been mentioned here before, and whom Jay mentioned by name as one of the most promising regulars currently visiting the stage. Sometimes you hear a real gem before anyone else gets to, and you get to watch them rise to the top. (Lots of musicians with record deals started on open stages.) And every once in awhile, a seasoned pro will make a surprise visit to an open stage, perhaps to test out some new material. Every night is different, and you just don’t know until you go.

So if you live in Denver and haven’t ever been to the D-note on Monday nights…it’s worth it to come out a couple of times and check it out, or go visit one of the other many open stages that happen in Denver each week. And if you live somewhere else, and you find a club that has an open stage…go there, at least once or twice. Go and listen, or get up there yourself. You might be surprised by the experience.

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