In contrast to the laid-back, isolated atmosphere of the UW-Milwaukee 8th Note Coffeehouse, no one would have expected Jazz Guitar major Josh Trimble to command the attention of everyone present when he took the makeshift stage amongst the dark curtains and bulletin boards.
Trimble, a first-year student, performed a set of three songs, two covers and an original piece, for an audience composed of focused students and tabletop gamers. After his performance, the entire room stood still to listen and cheer. One of the 8th Note baristas approached him, asked him where he has been all this time, and offered a hug.
Trimble said that he had been playing from an early age. He happened upon an advertisement for an event called “Open Mic Wednesdays” hosted every Wednesday at the UWM 8th Note, located on the ground floor of the student union.
“I saw the flier when I was getting a burrito with my friend and decided to come check it out,” said Trimble. “I come here sometimes with my friends. I like the people, the setup, and of course the prices. It’s really laid back, like a good, little safe hole on campus.”
With its welcoming service and dark and nerdy attitude, the 8th Note quickly become the ideal spot on campus for hosting an open mic style event. This would give students and performers a like safe space and the chance to dust off the old guitar or read the poem that aced last semester’s creative writing class final portfolio.
“It’s a place for other people who don’t necessarily have a place anywhere else,” said Kaytee Fournier, the 8th Note’s Vice President. “It’s open for anyone really to come in but it’s also turned into a sort of nerd hub.”
Steve Hameister, the Coffee Shop coordinator for the Campus Activities Board, had set out to make a space for anyone to grab the mic and hit the track.
“There wasn’t any sort of open mic at this campus and, this way, you or anyone can actually get on stage and show what you’ve got,” said Hameister.
According to Hameister, venues such as The Fireside Theatre host events similar in style to Open Mic Wednesdays but with the ability to do so on a much larger scale. This makes it difficult for students who are in the first verse of their performance career or psyched about their latest poem to have a chance to share and get audience feedback.
“The 8th Note is this weird, little corner where it’s almost as fun to sit in and listen to people versus anything else,” said Hameister.
To a lot of students, with its dimly lit space and every brick of wall covered in paintings of pop culture references like Pokémon or prized personal pieces, the 8th Note has become a second home along with being the local coffee stop. According to its Facebook page, the roots of the coffee house date back to the 1960’s. Hameister said he likes to come in, get his coffee and study along with the crowd noise.
Austin Borgardt, a senior in economics and the coffee house’s baseball enthusiast, has been a volunteer barista at the 8th Note since last spring. He started visiting the 8th Note with his friends for coffee.
“To me, the 8th Note can help to provide an improvement in students’ overall success, a social environment, and obviously, some drinks as well,” said Borgardt.
The 8th Note had been holding Open Mic Wednesdays for almost two years now, starting them back up regularly this fall.
“The 8th Note hosts space for a lot of student orgs on campus like Smash Club, for example,” said Borgardt. “This semester, we decided to reboot Open Mic Wednesdays and plan on holding them pretty regularly.”
To ensure everyone who would like to perform gets the chance, Open Mic is a sign up as you like. The volunteers leave out a sign-up sheet at the barista bar about an hour before the first act, according to Fournier.
“We mostly get a lot of music performances, like pop singing or guitar players,” said Fournier. “But we actually get a lot of slam poems too.”
After several guitar pieces, stand-alone singers, and poetry readings, Trimble returned to the stage later in the evening for an encore performance. He sang two original songs about love and ex-girlfriends.
The 8th Note usually posts upcoming Open Mic events on its Facebook page and outside its door.