A young musician blew into town last week—very scrawny, easily blown. The proverbial guitar-slinger, with all his possessions in the instrument case. He’d been dropped near town center—whether by a freight train he’d hopped or a ride he’d hitched, we couldn’t ascertain. Unerringly, in the way true artists unerr, he lifted his nose to the wind and swiftly located the nearest Open Mic. It was Monday, and that meant the Finch, of course.
We were at our accustomed table, there to see the sweet Polly and her acoustic wonderments. The mystery interloper took a number and, sitting quietly though not sullenly an elbow’s breadth from our shoulderbag, waited his turn.
It’s hard to know how to behave when a new face finds the Open Mic. There are many new faces each week, of course, but nearly all aren’t new at all. They are types you can ignore: the fresh-faced college kids, the best-friend Goth girls who’ve been practicing in the basement, the bands from a few towns over using the spot as an audition. Such folks come with their stories already told, their social needs already provided for. But when you see someone truly venturing in from beyond, you take note. You feel that pang of maybe-we-should-say-something, make-them-feel-at-ease.
And so we did. Just a nod, a warm smile, a gentle nudge of the basket of peanuts. Buy you a beer? Not now? Hmmm. Unfamiliar with the local currency, yet seems nice enough in a distant sort of way. He has taken the guitar out and is gingerly tuning it during the lulls between sets. His companionship is thus taken care out; a man and his pet sounds. We are superfluous.
Comes the slot. The stranger rises, lifts the guitar to playing position as he rises, and starts strumming and singing while still at the table. He advances to the stage, having drawn attention from his first chords and words, already building on that, adding flourishes—an extra pluck here, a vocal trill there. It comes off amiable, never fancy or pompous. This is the chat he couldn’t have over beer.
I see some of the Open Mic’s old hands nod their heads—that stagy near-smile where their faces are saying “I’m proud of our little scene” while their minds are clearly thinking “I’m jealous.”
An Open Mic slot is 10 minutes, three songs if you’re lucky, and the young master of mystery in our midst doesn’t play a second longer than allowed, even though even the fiercest rule-keepers in the room would’ve let him. In that brief span he has brought forth a ballad, a sing-a-long and a multi-style epic poem which seems to be about himself and his journey. His mouth has sung, yet also popped and rapped and bantered with uniform skill. Whatever it takes to charm, this young man has at his disposal.
Then he’s done, and the ovation for him rings with joy and surprise and that aforementioned tainted pride. He has shown up, and he has shown us up. He is embraced, but who is he?
He is offered a free bowl of chili at the bar, and this time he accepts my offer of a drink—brandy, not beer. This becomes our special bond—the Finch staff keeps a bottle of brandy on hand largely for the benefit of yours (slurry) truly on jazz nights. We sip and chat, about virtually nothing. He won’t reveal exactly where he’s from and where he’s going, and we won’t press him. Somehow we miss his name, if he ever gave it. And then he’s gone—no one sees which street he went down. For all we know, he hitched a ride right there on the threshold of the Finch.
We love our little scene, you know that. Angels bless us from time to time to show us that we’ve built our temples properly, that we fit in the universe, that we haven’t shut ourselves off completely from further-reaching glories. To this angel: Godspeed.