There's a few ways to tell how good an open stage is going to be when you walk in. The most obvious, of course, is by the caliber of talent the night attracts, followed closely by how the number of people that have signed up to perform.
To that end, Maria Kohler (Mercuria, Science Partner, Harpoontang and formerly of Houses) kicked things off last night at the Meadowlark with a couple of songs that were just this side of sublime.
She was trailed by an estimable cast of noteworthy characters including, Halden Wofford, who dropped in to test out some brand new material on a fresh unsuspecting audience, as well as Eleanor's Ryan Brasher and Tyler Despres, the evening's co-host who offered up a few cuts from his band Science Partner, backed by Kohler and Jess DiNicola (John Common and Blinding Flashes of Light, Jen Korte and, hell, just about everybody else in town).
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Four performers in, and the caliber of talent prerequisite was filled -- and that was before we even spotted Jen Korte with her guitar warming up on the patio. And in terms of the latter requirement, there was no shortage of performers. We overheard somebody say that the first available slot to perform was sometime after midnight -- and that was about three hours or so later.
To say that the Meadowlark's open stage has grown considerably since launching nearly three years ago would be sort of disingenuous. When it first took flight, the night, hosted by Dave Kurtz of Bocumast Records and Astrophagus, was more of "a jazz jam morphed into experimental sessions with the occasional singer-songwriter showing up," as Jon Solomon, then a regular performer, once put it. Calvin Locklear and Joe Grobelny took it over and fashioned it into more of a traditional open mike night before handing the reigns to Kohler and Despres.
Under their watch, the night has grown into a prime destination for scouting new talent -- not unlike the Mercury Cafe, from which lauded songwriters such as Angie Stevens and Melissa Ivey emerged. While it might be a stretch to call this Denver's answer to LA's Hotel Cafe or Nashville's Bluebird Cafe, there's no shortage of talent to be found. Jonathan Bitz, talent buyer for the Meadowlark, in fact, says that he consistently plucks new acts from open stage every Tuesday night, acts like Churchill, who got its start playing at the 'Lark, and Lilly Scott, who, before appearing on this season of American Idol, cut her teeth playing tunes in this very basement.
All in all, like many a great mixtape, the performances we caught carried enough variety and were just long enough to make you yearn for more. As for the ones that weren't quite as, uh, compelling -- well, that's what smoke breaks were invented for.