Last open mic up north

Posted Wednesday, August 10, 2011 in Culture

Last open mic up north

Carol Ayoob and friends

by Christopher Bouchard

PRESQUE  ISLE — A small number (but a wide variety) of people sat under the roof of a maintenance building in Presque Isle’s Riverside Park last Friday for the last open mic night of the summer. Called the Every Friday Coffee House and Open Mic Night, the performance series ran from June 3 to Aug 5. Coffee, tea and snacks were brought in by guests and performers alike.

Musicians performed on a platform raised slightly above the floor. Golden Christmas lights were lined along the brick wall behind them, and a lamp sitting on a stool accompanied them on stage. Despite the on-stage lighting, the room was dimly lit. The synthesis of all these tiny details resulted in an environment that was as humble as it was intimate.

Carol Ayoob orchestrated this event, and this is not her first time holding an open mic night, either. Ayoob used to own a coffee house on Main Street called Full Circle, where she taught art to kids on weekends and held open mic gatherings on a weekly basis.  Unfortunately, Ayoob had to close Full Circle because she needed knee-replacement surgery, but she is clearly continuing what she started at the coffee shop, and has strong convictions for doing so.

“During these tough economic, emotional and spiritual times, I think communities need to draw together and share music and love.  They need to create a safe space for creativity,” says Ayoob. “I think artists these days are just looking for a place to perform, regardless of money.”

Travis Cyr, the man responsible for the Arootsakoostik Music Festival, commanded the stage with nothing but an acoustic guitar. Cyr played both original and cover songs, and by the end of the show he was strumming with such intensity that a woman in the audience made a comment about being surprised that he didn’t break any strings.

Cyr started playing music in high school, and says he’s inspired by “everyday life, friends, family, and nature itself.”

“What Carol’s doing here is great,” Cyr said. “There aren’t many events like this around here. This is something that should be nurtured.”

Ayoob took the stage after Cyr. She sat next to her backup vocalist with a banjo in her hands and told the audience about how, a few years ago, she ran into some financial problems at the dentist’s office, and how that event inspired the song she was about to sing. A man on stage sitting a few feet behind Ayoob began to quietly tune his violin during the song that ensued.

Technical difficulties began to plague the group, and Ayoob started to adjust the levels on the mixer. A man sitting at a long table at the edge of the room started to sing loudly in French while all of this took place. His voice boomed as everyone, including the group on stage, laughed. The man politely stopped as Ayoob finished adjusting her levels, and the surreal moment swiftly segued into a slow, emotional song featuring the violin.

The backup vocalist and violinist (who had now switched to an acoustic guitar) remained on stage once Ayoob finished. They both performed a few songs, and soon only the violinist was left. He played a few songs with his acoustic and stayed on stage to perform with the next act.

The gurgle of the percolator could be heard as Mark Shaw graced the stage with his son and daughter. Shaw sat in the background as his daughter pounded on a small pair of bongos and sang a duet with her brother. The relatively small audience erupted with applause when the two finished. The girl walked off stage and the boy and his father played a cover of “Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” by The Beatles. The girl walked back on stage and the whole family played a number of diverse songs. The violinist from the previous act eventually joined in on this as well.

“I love open mic night,” Shaw said. “No matter where you go, you can find artists and creative people. I’d just like to see this continued.”

"It’s cool having a venue to play,” added Shaw’s daughter, Jordan. “Now I can actually play what I want to hear somewhere.”

“It’s too bad this can’t continue in the community,” Ayoob said. “My biggest dream is to have my own building where people can have their own place to perform and explore creatively.”

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