Shuck your inhibitions at Issaquah Open Mic Night

June 22, 2010

By Kelly Hendrickson

Doug Browning plays the banjo, Fred Hopkins sings and plays guitar and Polly Blomster, Studebaker percussionist, joins in a recent open mic night. Contributed

Live music and local talent have found a good home in Lombardi’s, the new venue for Issaquah Open Mic Night. Open to all ages, the event offers musicians a chance to hang out and show off their skills.

“It’s a gathering for musicians and friends to play together,” said founding member Doug Browning, the emcee of the evenings.

He first got the idea while playing at an open mic night in Snoqualmie. He had been invited to the show by a friend, Fred Hopkins.

“He said to just come along and play the tambourine,” Browning recalled with a laugh.

Inspired by the evening, Browning decided Issaquah should have its own open mic night. After researching how to organize and stage one, and with some help from Hopkins, he approached local coffee shop Grimaldi’s, which agreed to host the event. An open mic night ran there for about a year before closing earlier this spring. It reopened April 26 at Lombardi’s, 695 N.W. Gilman Blvd.

“Public reaction has been so great,” said Lombardi’s manager Diane Symms. “It’s turning out to be a lot of fun.”Symms, a former musician herself — “I used to play piano 100 years ago” — explained that open mic and Lombardi’s are a perfect fit, because the musicians reach a broader audience while the popularity of the evenings is a draw for the restaurant.

“We get about 50 more customers,” Symms said of the sizable audience.

In honor of the event, Lombardi’s offers happy hour prices for those attending open mic night.

The show starts at 6:30 with a scheduled performer chosen by Browning.

“They are all talented musicians, and that’s why I pick them,” he said of the headliners.

Then, at 7 p.m., the floor is turned over to anyone who wants to play. (Signup begins at 6:15 p.m.) Over time, Browning has seen audience members put aside their shyness and become performers, like his friends Lee Haro and Bob Brock.

“Their performance was kind of crappy at first,” Browning said, laughing, “but then they got past their nervousness and were great.”

Haro and Brock now help Browning organize and run the shows, and together they make up what Browning jokingly refers to as “the three amigos.”

The camaraderie between the three friends and the affection with which they speak of their fellow musicians is obvious.

“Doug does this out of total love. He just loves anybody who wants to play music,” said Haro, adding with a chuckle that Browning is a natural emcee, because “he’s a retired lawyer, so there’s the gift of gab.”

The atmosphere is relaxed and informal, and Browning lists folk, rock, blues, reggae and bluegrass as examples of the wide expanse of music represented. Of the audience contribution to the evening’s tone, Browning laughed and said, “They eat a lot, drink a lot, and cheer lustily for the musical talent.”

Open mic night is the fourth Monday of each month, including June 28. The headliner is Chris Luquette, a young guitar player who specializes in just about everything, including bluegrass, folk, world music and Brazilian jazz and who “has never met an instrument or genre he didn’t like,” according to Open Mic’s website.

On the Web

Check out the headliner for the next open mic night, Chris Luquette here, where you can listen to him play ‘Miserlou.’ To learn more, go here.

Kelly Hendrickson is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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