Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Underestimated

While cruising around Craigslist a couple weeks ago, I came across a posting for an open mic. I gave ‘er a click which directed me to a number so I gave ‘er a call which led me to a voice mail so I left ‘er a message.

A day passed and I got a call back. She told me a little about the deal and I told her a little about my deal. This is when I learned the open mic was actually an online show, called The Underestimated, which had been going on for six weeks. The show revolved around a spoken-word competition in which contestants get eliminated each week until the two finalists are left for an all out, no-holds-barred, knock-em-out, spoken-word-to-the-death, re-animate-em-and-kill-em-again, head-to-head joust of words. Serious business.

She asked me what I do, I gave her my myspace page, and waited to hear back from her. An hour went by and she called me back to ask me to play. yay.

I was told that I had a grand total of four minutes to strut my stuff. Usually, open mics let you play three or four songs, but this wasn’t actually an open mic. We were just fluff to help fill out the show. I figured that I would be playing with rappers and whatnot so I dug out something from a show I played a few years ago.

I was to play a show with a pile of MCs (I was told there is a difference between MCs and rappers) so I figured I would have to do something a little different than I was used to. I made backing tracks to my acoustic songs and played them through the PA and then played over them. The same way MCs and R&B artists perform live (excluding The Roots and similar groups).

So, I chose a song from that setlist and brought the backing track with me to the show.

We drove into Decatur. Deep into Decatur. I was sent an e-mail that included directions to get to the venue. It said the building would be easy to find because there would be balloons and large sign out front. However, the building was not easy to find. Even with the help of a GPS, we drove past it twice before figuring out where to go. As we turned into the driveway, I noticed one half-inflated balloon flapping in the wind.

We parked, got out of the car, and started walking towards the door. The doorman looked at us like we were lost and asked us what we wanted.

“I’m here for the open mic deal.”

“Are you guys in a band or something?”

“No, I’m just… I was told to come here at 5:30.”

“By who?”

“I don’t know. Some woman on the phone.”

He looked at us for a minute as if he thought we might be spying for all the other white people that weren’t represented. A guy ran inside to check our story and came back out, letting us know it was okay to go in.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Ted asked me as I grabbed my guitar out of the car.

“Of course!”

We were led inside. Ted had to stay in the lobby and wait for the doors to open, since he’s a talentless hack, and I was led backstage to get everything together. I was shown to the back room where the other “open mic” guys were.

“Not even a bag of chips!”

“They got a full bar, but no alcohol!”

They weren’t too pleased that we were simply thrown in a back room and made to pay for chips if we wanted them. While they bitched about the empty bar, I opened my backpack and pulled out a beer.

“I’m from Wisconsin, we always come prepared when it comes to beer,” I told them.

We sat around and joked for a while before we were asked to come out for soundchecks. When it was my turn, the soundman seemed as if he had never seen a guitar before and had no idea how to work it. They checked the sound levels of the backing track and the vocals, but didn’t bother with the guitar. I guess they figured they could just figure it out as I went along.

The show started and all the non-spoken-word performers were asked to sit in the crowd so the place wouldn’t look so empty on camera. There were probably about 40 people there, which slowly dwindled as the show went on. We were encouraged to clap enthusiastically, but they were prepared with a clap track that was played over the PA system just in case.

My fellow open mic’ers were peppered throughout the show. A couple rappers here, a Christian poem there, an R&B singer here, another Christian poem there, and then me. All of a sudden a white dude with a guitar and a harmonica rolls onstage. After an awkward interview with the host of the show, I played my song. I couldn’t hear the backing track, which is pretty essential when you want to play along with it, and was told my guitar was inaudible as well. I had to stop at one point and listen to the bass to figure out what the hell I was supposed to be doing.

I had planned on doing the moonwalk, a few backflips, and at least one stage dive but I was unable to focus on the dance moves on account of all the attention I was spending on just trying to make it through the song. It wasn’t until the harmonica came in that people seemed to get into it. I’m not really too sure though, I was mesmerized by the Billie Jean dance floor I was standing on and thinking about the smoke machine above me.

It can all be seen here. I go on around the 40 minute mark.

I finished, walked off the stage, and was followed by another spoken-word performer. Throughout the rest of the night, members of the audience, as well as the other performers, told me I did a good job. This was pretty funny to me because of all the problems that happened during the song. I wondered if they were just happy to see someone play music, instead of just speaking (not to take away from the spoken-word performers who were actually really good, well, some of them at least) or if they were just being nice. I would say it was the latter, but they seemed sincere. I’ve heard my share of insincere praise before, so I feel that I have the authority to tell the difference.

The show itself ended up being surprisingly good. The finalists in the show were really talented as well as being nice people. Overall, it was a good experience and I’m glad we actually found the place, even though the balloons weren’t as magnificent as I had hoped.

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