The Community Center room at the Jackson Wellsprings on any given Wednesday night looks and sounds like a hybrid between school band practice and talent show rehearsal for adults.
Twenty-seven chairs sit in a circle in a dimly lit room with ornate carvings, a baby grand piano and a decidedly new age vibe. Shoes go off at the door as organizers sit waiting for those who will perform anything they want for open mic night. There are no requirements, sign up sheets or alcohol, but there is lots of encouragement, no matter your talent level.
"When people express themselves, they learn not to be afraid of intimacy and not to be afraid of other people," says organizer Nick Kruger, who began the venture 59 weeks ago with his partner, Alexis Hatfield. "It’s a deep medicine when they show up in front of other people and we celebrate them. People are surprised there’s no judgment in here.”
Rowan D’Agostino is a singer-songwriter and guitarist. Her smooth voice has warmth evoking a sense of the balladeer. “It helped me break out of stage fright," she says of open mic night. "It’s totally different than other open mics. This is more like a community.”
The event, which starts not-so-promptly at 8ish, has musicians, poets and stor tellers trickling in until the chairs and room fills up.
A man in his 60s wearing a cowboy hat sings of lost love, a traveling musician who entertained protestors at Standing Rock in North Dakota sings of being jailed for civil disobedience, and a young women with feathers in her hair belts out a song about being in tune with love and loss.
Sounds spill out into the campgrounds as piano, guitar, drums and words mix together, from singalongs to solos.
“It’s not like some other open mic where people are drinking beer and you’re trying to perform over the top of all that noise," says Kruger. "This is where you can be heard and grow and help others grow. We take people exactly as they come to us. We’re here on Wednesdays, asking, 'how do we find the miraculous?'”
The mix of those in attendance may in fact be the miracle. Corporate coaches in their 60s sit elbow-to-elbow with tattooed travelers and people on the homeless spectrum. The evening starts out nervous and becomes jovial.
“When I first came here I almost turned around and walked out the door," says D’Agostino. "But it’s a really encouraging atmosphere. I’m still new to music, so this is a perfect launching spot.”
Kruger says it’s worked that way for many artists coming through. “Sometimes they try new things here they haven’t tried before. Sometimes they expect a signup sheet so they can perform and leave. But without that formality, people wind up staying and really hearing each other.”
As of now, admission is free and there is not a tip jar or donation requested. There’s no age requirement and no experience needed. As long as people keep coming, they intend to keep offering the opportunity, says Kruger. “We invite all your angles of expression. Come on out and see yourselves. We’re here to listen and share.”
— Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.