Foundation For Open-Mic Scene Remains Strong
With humble beginnings at the now closed On the Rocks bar, Jody’s Living Room has cultivated the longest running and most successful open mic in Fayetteville.
Though its location has changed a few times, the loose collective has maintained regular hostings since the group’s inception in 2009 when employers at On the Rocks told Jody Parkerson she could have the job working Sunday nights if she could “build her own clientele.” It just so happened, at the same time, her close friend and neighbor Michael White (manager of Sound Warehouse) had been looking for a regular open mic night around town.
“I would show up with my guitar at places that had advertised an open mic, and they would say, ’Sorry, we don’t do that anymore,’” Michael said. “So then one night, I went over to On the Rocks to hang out with Jody, and this guy’s PA was still set up from the previous night. He was in there drinking, so I asked him if I could use it, and he said, ’Sure.’ In the beginning, things didn’t start off like a real open mic night; they started off more like, ’Hey, can I borrow your shit?’”
“For a while, it was only my close friends who were showing up, people who were always over at my house anyway,” Jody said. “There was a point when someone said ’Guys, we might as well just be hanging out in Jody’s living room.’ The name just kind of stuck; the next week, Michael printed off these flyers for the Jody’s Living Room open mic night, and then things started taking off.”
Jody’s Living Room was the first group in the Fayetteville area to commit to hosting an open mic night on a regular basis. The group now meets on Sunday nights at the Rowdy Beaver Den from 6 to 9 p.m. (although not in August) and on Wednesday nights at Maxine’s Tap Room from 8 to 11 p.m. The atmospheres of the venues are quite different. If the weather’s nice at the Rowdy Beaver, musicians set up to play outside on the porch. The breeze blows through the bar’s garage door panels, rows of multicolored paper lanterns hang overhead, and Generation Y’s best-dressed stumble through your peripheral vision on Dickson street. At the Rowdy Beaver, you might see Jody herself covering a Taylor Swift song about elevators, or maybe you’ll hear an elderly couple singing sweet duet songs from the late 1940s. The spectrum of musical genres at both venues is wide, and a given night’s musical inclination can be very wild-card.
Maxine’s Tap Room (founded in 1950 by the shrewd Marjorie Maxine Miller) was built pragmatically with just a single window and a single 50-foot long bar top. The venue is skinny, close and 21-plus. There you’re just as likely to hear a Tom Waits song or a cover of “Hotel Yorba” as you are to see a huddle of black Slayer cutoff T-shirts arcing around the microphone as their friend growls and shreds solo style.
“Usually what’ll happen is somebody will bring in their friends, and he’ll be leaning toward a particular genre, and they’ll all participate in that,” Michael explained. “We’ll have, say, a hip-hop night, and then there will be like one or two other guys in the crowd who will play something different. But it changes every night.”
At both Maxine’s Tap Room and the Rowdy Beaver, several local musicians have made connections resulting in the formation of new bands. Among the groups who have gotten their start at these open mic nights are the rockabilly group John Henry & the Earthshakers and the experimental acoustic trio A Complicated Creature.
“It’s really cool to see so many future bandmates connect here,” Jody said. “After the performances, some of them will just start jamming, and then things can get pretty interesting.”
“For me, the best thing about Jody’s is getting to see these aspiring musicians move on to bigger and better things,” said Tyler Clark, a regular host for Jody’s Living Room at the Rowdy Beaver. “A Complicated Creature is working on their second album now, and those guys all met through here. Another girl played for us one night, and she was incredibly nervous, saying she ’hadn’t played in front of anyone in forever,’ and now she’s in Nashville playing at all these singer/songwriter festivals. We also try, usually around Christmas, to give away a couple slots of recording time as well, and that kind of helps to push some of these aspiring musicians along.”
“I had a guy call me from California once after looking through our YouTube page,” Michael said. “He somehow found out about our group, looked through our videos and asked me to contact two of the girls to play a few shows. So I told them about it, and I think one of them ended up doing it and got paid. I was like, ’Hell yeah, 10 percent!’”
“One thing Michael and I were really adamant about was making this a supportive environment,” continued Jody. “Smoke & Barrel started an open mic night, and they would call these girls onstage to serve as judges, so then you feel mortified while you’re up there singing your heart out. Rule No. 1 at Jody’s Living Room is at the end of each song, you always have to clap.”
“And it’s funny, we’ve had the clapping rule for a while,” Michael continued, “but it’s like if you’re encouraging enough in the beginning, then at some point the night just takes off and people are really into it.”
The supportive applause rule exists alongside a small handful of other rules, some of which are enforced with a straight face, and some of which are not.
Rule No. 2 is “Don’t unplug.”
Rule No. 3 is “Never apologize.”
Rule No. 17 is “No Freebird,” but Rule No. 17 with Clause B is “No Freebird unless you play all the way through with the solo.”
Jody’s has also started hosting themed nights at Maxine’s Tap Room. One of the recent themes was Big Lebowski night. Prizes were awarded for dressing like a character from the movie (or for just wearing a robe), for playing a song from the soundtrack and for the winner of the Best Monologue/Dialogue From the Movie Competition. And of course, almost everyone in the bar had a White Russian in their hand. Even more recently, on June 20, was Toby Keith night. Prizes were awarded for wearing a cowboy hat, wearing cowboy boots or for reciting all of the lyrics to a patriotic Toby Keith song without busting out laughing. All prizes were, of course, Toby Keith-related (think Skoal, harmonicas, cowboy boots and condoms). And instead of the usual applause rule, the night called for a mandatory “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” chant from the audience after each performance.
That Maxine’s has no vested interest in food sales means that on a night like Toby Keith night, Michael might come in with a sack full of “all-American heart stoppers” from Wendy’s and start tossing them to whoever is nearby. On other nights, there might be free pizza or a fresh batch of cookies; on June 6, the group’s Facebook post was “Free chocolate chip cookies at Maxine’s tonight, and they’re negative 30 calories each. It’s a miracle of science!”
The Jody’s Living Room crew refuses to take itself too seriously, and that’s why the atmosphere is such a fun and enjoyable one.
“I guess there’s no way to really prove this, but I really think that it’s because of our success that so many other open mic communities opened up and have been doing so well,” Michael said. “Now there are open mics at Jammin’ Java, the UARK Bowl, The Rogue and Smoke & Barrel. I don’t know how many of them started because of us, but I really think that it’s because of our success that the open mic community has grown like it has. As Jody’s Living Room, that has always been our goal, to have an open mic community.”