Thursday, January 1, 2004
It's almost 11 p.m.
It's cold. It's snowing. And a man is walking down Fifth Street with a guitar and a banjo, headed toward Mahogany Ridge.
His name is Sam Klotz. "These open mics are a tonic to me," he said.
He said he started playing again in the spring. He wasn't making any promises about his talent; he just wanted to play.
Klotz started with a blues number and an Alabama boy in the front row started singing along.
"Now this is Alabama music," said Frankie Carpenetti, who was visiting from Birmingham for a week on the slopes.
Klotz played a few more songs, and at the end of each one, he laughed. He giggled.
"I love this," he said.
And so began the Monday night open mic at Mahogany Ridge Brewery and Grill.
It was dumping outside, and it was almost midnight. Still, the room was full, and host Eric Barry's sign-up list had about 15 names on it.
More than half of the crowd was there to hear a group of regular performers called Johnny Valentine and the Weeping Hearts.
Johnny Valentine and the Weeping Hearts, aka The Milk Carton Kids, nee Ranger Pete, have performed three of four Mondays since the open mic night's inception.
"We change our name every week just for fun," said rhythm egg-shaker Josh Kolasinski.
(Anyone who performs gets a free beer, thus the stage was weighted with backup rhythm eggs and wooden blocks.)
Johnny Valentine and the Weeping Hearts hope to form a band with a real name after "things settle down."
"We just moved to town at the beginning of the season," Mike McDonough said. "We're all friends from Northern Utah and Yellowstone who met up in the same place."
They took jobs on the mountain as ski tuners and lift operators so they could snowboard and play music in their free time.
Johnny Valentine and the Weeping Hearts ended their set with a too-honest Frank Sinatra-style song by Colby Nalder.
"I'm picturing you all naked," he sang with his eyes closed.
At the end of his Toastmasters lounge act, everyone cheered.
Adding incentive is Mahogany Ridge's full-time soundman, who makes sure the sound will be good -- even if you aren't.
On Monday night, Barry, who began open-mic night a month ago, had five microphones on stage, which he kept adjusting in the style of an audio perfectionist.
Years ago, he hosted a similar open mic at Murphy's Exchange (the bar that would later become The Cellar, then Wolf Den Tavern, now Sabre's Comedy Club). It was something he always wanted to do again.
"I heard there were a lot of musicians in town, and I wanted to give them a chance to perform," Barry said. "It's been great. The last two weeks, we've had 10 to 15 people sign up a night."
His plan is to get the evening established before adding a house band -- a drummer, guitar and bass player -- who will warm up the crowd and play backup for solo acts.
Most of the performers Monday night were guys with guitars, but Barry said the stage is open to anyone, not just musicians.
Barry is a veteran of the band Duckbutter, a piece of Steamboat music history. He knows how hard it is to get on stage for the first time.
"I want to encourage even complete beginners to get up there," he said. "This night is not just for professionals. It's for people who wouldn't necessarily be able to get a gig."
It's for people who want to get their feet wet on stage for the first time with the late-night bar crowd and for anyone who wants to shake an egg for a free beer.