The parking lot was full when I got to the coffee house last Friday, despite the fact that classes at the university didn’t start until Monday. Two laps around the tiny parking lot did not magically conjure up a parking space for me, and so I left the parking lot wondering “what now?” This was unprecedented; I’d never had to park anywhere else for open mic, and had no idea what my options were. Bentley’s House of Coffee & Tea is on campus, and like every campus on the face of the planet, public, non-permit parking is practically non-existent.
I turned down the alley hoping that perhaps there was parking I’d never imagined behind Bentley’s, and instead encountered one unfriendly sign after another: No Parking. No Parking without Permit. Violators will be towed with extreme prejudice. At the very least.
Having no other option at that point but to go home, I took a chance and parked behind the shop of the florist three doors down from the coffee house because we were friendly; she comes to open mic after she closes up sometimes. I hefted my guitar and heavy case and walked half a block back until I could find a way through to the front of the block at the 7-11, my plan being to sign up, drop my guitar off, and then run over to the florist’s shop and make sure it was okay that I parked there (and make sure she knew it was me). This I did, but was thwarted in the last bit of my plan, as she wasn’t there. So I prayed to the parking deities that I would not come out at 10 o’clock and find myself car-less.
The place was hopping and most of the tables were busy when I got in. People were chatty and loud, and I thought it was going to be a tough night for musicians. It is a coffee house first, a music venue second, and sometimes the “audience” isn’t really interested in what the folks with guitars are doing up front. Not to mention it was the first open mic of the season after a summer off. I’m always a little extra-nervous when we come back; when you don’t perform for a few months, rust builds up quickly. Previous Augusts have seen some pretty rough performances by yours truly that have left me licking my wounds for a couple weeks after.
The crowd didn’t settle down much once the music started. It was going to be one of those nights where you can barely hear yourself play. I was scheduled fourth so I picked at my sandwich around my guitar during the first 3 acts who were given attention by the other musicians in the audience and their own families, and that was about it. Everyone else continued to talk.
When my name was called, I stepped up to the mic, did a quick soundcheck, and introduced my first song, a version of Elvis’ “That’s Alright.” From the first long note of “Weeeeeelllllllll….” the room hushed, and the only voice I could hear was my own. For the next 15 minutes, that audience was mine.
I love when that happens. When you know you’ve got them…well, it doesn’t get much better than that.
And when you’re walking down a dark alley back to your illegally parked car, it’s that glowing memory that lights the way.