I had forgotten how much fun Open Mic nights can be. My son has decided to give me the space to practice guitar during the last week so I thought I'd give it a whirl. Tonight we went to the Riverview Cafe to play, me the guitar and my son in the wonderful children's play area they have set up.

I have to admit most places don't have the familial atmosphere the Riverview has. Dunn Bros. Coffee on Grand has a great open mic night (and the best coffee in town) but not much of a social atmosphere unless you are a member of AA. The Riverview, especially tonight, was like one big happy family. There is a group of about 15 people you see at every open mic on that side of town and tonight was no different. They were out in force.

I haven't seen most of them for 3 years or so. It was somewhat of a shock to hear that John, a mainstay of the open mic scene, had died last year. I always enjoyed listening to his version of Ginseng Sullivan, even if his voice was shaky and his picking wasn't as sharp as it once was. Apparently no one knows how he died but they assume he fell and hit his head in his room at the shelter where he lived. They found him a couple days later. I didn't know his history but apparently he was an itinerant street musician for most of his life. Quite a character and I will miss his presence around the music circuit.

I got to play my new Gneadinger guitar for the first time in public. It performed admirably for it's first time and I don't think it will regret it's virginity one bit. I really should post some pictures of it sometime, it is a wonder. My friend Eddy Gneadinger made it and gave it to us as a wedding present. Suffice it to say that I could never afford a guitar of it's caliber what with it's solid rosewood back and sides, solid Alaskan spruce top, fingerboard and sound hole intricately inlayed with contrasting puzzle pieces and a bridge carved into the shape of a rainbow trout. The X-bracing, for those who care about guitar manufacture, was hand carved piece by piece to heighten the sound in a way that I am sure no other guitar on the face of the earth has ever been constructed. It sounds great, lots of bass response and very loud for a parlor style guitar.

I played Poughkeepsie by Over the Rhine and Sit Down Young Stranger by Gordon Lightfoot. I got a good amount of response when I introduced Sit Down Young Stranger, saying that as a child I never thought I'd need to play protest music. I guess I was naive. Anyway, I played my two songs while my son danced like a crazy ape around a music stand beside me. I did OK but missed a few chords as I am not used to singing amplified. As I was sitting down the host leaned into the mic and said, "You know, you are more than welcome to play another song." The audience clapped heartily and I felt obliged to play another. I have never seen an encore at a coffee house, let alone at an open mic. I felt pretty honored.

For my encore I played Steel Rail Blues, another Lightfoot cover and the only song I knew I could sing without practice. People kept coming up to me all night and telling me how much they liked my singing and that I needed to come back. Maybe it was the guitar, I dunno. Nothing really changed over the three years I've been away.

A great time was had by all and it was nice to feel like part of a community. Living in the midst of suburban retail hell makes for a fairly lonely existence sometimes. It's nice to know there is a place you can go where everybody knows your name.