There have been many twists and turns in the evolution of the Corner Beet’s open-mic night over the past six years — and on Thursday, April 8, host Gio Barabadze will run the Capitol Hill cafe’s first such event since the beginning of the pandemic.
The open mic will be capped at approximately eighteen singers, poets, instrumentalists and other performers to accommodate the 22-person capacity allowed inside the space; a speaker facing the sidewalk will allow people outside to enjoy the sounds.
This isn’t the first time the Corner Beet open mic will host a small group. What started as a somewhat haphazard song share in the back of the vegetarian cafe in 2015 has since grown and shrunk and grown again, always building and supporting the Denver music community.
Regulars are excited about the returning event, Barabadze says; someone even shared the Facebook event before he himself had the chance to invite guests. One man wrote in the comment section: “Is this real life? Is this actually happening?” Another joked that she was going to camp outside the cafe to get a spot on the list. Barabadze knows there’s a possibility that not everyone is going to be able to perform, and he'll have to see how many come out in order to decide what shape the event will take going forward.
At a typical open mic, artists pick a time to perform on a sign-up sheet that sets the pace for the night. Most evenings, musicians are allowed to play two songs or read spoken-word poetry for a ten-minute period. The stage provides a platform for beginners, old-timers, hobbyists and professionals to practice new tunes or share well-practiced favorites.
Barabadze, who’s studying jazz at Metropolitan State University, first attended the Corner Beet's open mic in late 2015 after meeting the landlord while working a job at Waffle Brothers. He says she asked him about his take on life, and he answered by picking up a guitar hanging on the wall and playing a tune. She then told him he should check out the open mic.
He did, but he says it was a mess. The host was late. There was no list. They couldn’t set up the PA system. “We just went around in a circle sharing songs,” Barabadze says. But there was something about the place that resonated with him, so he continued to return. A few months later he started hosting.
During the first six months that Barabadze ran it, the open mic stayed intimate; there were never more than ten attendees. But word spread, and more artists began to show up. In 2017, the venue had to put a cap on the list at 27, Barabadze explains, because otherwise the event would run past midnight. The night became so popular that the sign-up list would fill within minutes and the floor would sometimes be standing room only.
“I’ve seen a lot of friendships form between open-mic goers, romantic and friendly,” he continues. “Not everybody stays a regular, but we’re all connected on social media, and it still seems like those people are thriving in the arts community.”
Barabadze points to bands like Kiltro, which has grown over the years.
“I’m a huge fan of [Kiltro’s] work,” Barabadze says. “The first time they played was at the Corner Beet...and that’s where [the lead singer] met a lot of friends that eventually became the backbone of their fan base.”
The open mic has also helped Barabadze connect with the Denver music community. Through the network, he’s learned about other venues, open mics and musicians, and in early 2020, he was able to crowdfund $6,000 to help with the costs of recording his own solo album.
But despite all the success, the Corner Beet open mic has ebbed and flowed with popularity. During late 2019, a number of factors contributed to smaller attendance, including the death of a well-loved community member and the Corner Beet’s decision to stop selling kava, a key menu item. So Barabadze changed the event from a weekly to a monthly gig. Although the limited time slot did bring more people for a few months, COVID soon shut it down.
The April 8 open mic will be a test run to see what works and what doesn’t. Aside from social distancing, attendees will be encouraged to bring their own microphones, and house equipment will be sanitized between sets. And if the interest is bigger than the room, the Corner Beet team may move the event to the parking lot in the coming months to fill the summer nights with sound.
The open mic will run from 6 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, April 8, at the Corner Beet, 1401 Ogden Street. Find out more on Facebook.