Open Mic Magic: Lessons from Wilmington
Jun 7, 2017 · 3 min read

By Delia Stanley, Co-Executive Director

About 2 years ago, I moved from Putnam County, NY to Wilmington, NC. The first thing I did to explore the music community was attend the open mics of the area. I was happy to find an extremely well supported open mic scene hosted and attended by both new musicians and well respected gigging musicians of Wilmington. Before long, I find myself among those hosts, exploring ways to make open mics beneficial for the musicians who attended them and the community that supported them. Here’s a few things I’ve learned from participating, hosting and watching other hosts in the area that have made the Wilmington open mic scene so successful:

1. It’s a non-competitive community

There are open mics almost every day of the week in Wilmington, and nearly all of them are well attended by a similar group of folks. While every open mic has it’s own culture, they are all welcoming of the folks who come to play. Musicians do not feel pressured to attend certain open mics and not others, or chose a host or venue they prefer- the open mic scene is more like a network of musicians who love to see each other perform and even help each other sign up when they are running late. Additionally, the hosts are not competitive either, frequently announcing other open mics particularly if a hosting musician comes to play. I host open mics on Thursday nights from 6–9:30, and there are two other open mics on the same night that run later than mine; I always tell the group of musicians that if they aren’t done rocking yet, to make their way over to the other open mics!

2. There are incentives for musicians

Open mics are fun and a great way to socialize in a low pressure atmosphere, but you’re still asking musicians to play for free. How do the Wilmington open mics get their folks coming back? At my open mic, it’s well known that the owner will book folks he likes. Showing up and playing a few tunes has resulted in many repeat gigs for several of the musicians who have joined us. Another friend of mine raffled a guitar off at the end of the year; only the musicians who attended the open mic were eligible for the contest. Similarly, another open mic in town is co-hosted by a well known local studio, and they raffle studio time. Each time you attend their open mic, your name is submitted to the raffle pool, and they draw a winner quarterly- the more you attend, the better your shot of winning some free studio hours!

3. Open mics support the local neighborhoods

One way open mics can support the local community is obvious: they draw both a playing and listening crowd into an area, both of which are frequently eating and drinking in the establishments where they are hosted. For the downtown open mics, this spills over to other local bars and hot spots when the open mic ends and friends find themselves continuing the fun. At my open mic, we’re experimenting with another idea to support Wilmington, something we call “Giveback” events. Each month, we partner with a local non-profit or organization to run a donation drive, food drive or raise awareness for their cause. So far we have raised funding and donations for our local domestic violence shelter, literacy council, children’s art and music education, parrot sanctuary and more. These efforts bring us closer to the relationship between music and activism in a very accessible way.

Do you attend or host an open mic that is doing something unique to support the local music community, neighborhood or benefit musicians? Tell us about it in the comments, on Facebook page at or on Twitter at @GoGirlsMusic!

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