On Wednesday, Sept. 29, the Casa Nueva Cantina, 6 W. State St., buzzed with a crowd that was eager to be immersed in the live music atmosphere.
Every Wednesday, Casa Nueva hosts an open mic night for artists of all kinds. Open mic night encourages a sense of community within the local music scene. Artists benefit from an opportunity to network with each other and become more familiar with people who enjoy their music. Sometimes, musical groups form as a result of the connections forged at open mic night.
Josh Brown, booking coordinator at Casa Nueva, enjoys providing a venue for artists to perform and connect with one another.
“There'll be a certain group of people that become regulars,” Brown said. “They'll start playing, bring their friends and, sometimes, they'll play with each other onstage. Sometimes, that's how bands form: by musicians collaborating with each other at an open stage. That's one of the reasons I really like doing it because you can discover some pretty cool talent.”
Many artists have found their footing in Athens. The band CAAMP, which previously frequented Casa Nueva’s open mic nights, found success after getting its start in Athens. Currently, the folk band tours the U.S., performing for many sold-out audiences. In January 2022, CAAMP will perform at a concert alongside The Avett Brothers, among other groups.
Brown estimated that performances are from singer/songwriters about 75% of the time. Other acts often seen at open mic nights include comedy, dance and improv. At open mic nights, musicians can showcase original work in a low-stakes environment.
Performing is a skill that one must cultivate. For artists, an open stage opportunity offers vital learning experience. Evan Seurkamp remembers learning a valuable lesson about being less self-critical onstage at one of his first public performances. After dropping his guitar pick, he froze and thought he had made a fool of himself. But, in reality, people watching him enjoyed his performance and didn’t notice any mistakes.
“Afterwards, I talked to some people, and they were like, ‘You were great. You were great!’” Seurkamp said. “And I asked my family who were watching, and they were like, ‘I don't even remember you goofing up.’ I always think about that. If you think you messed up or didn't do a good job, chances are that the other people watching you are having a good time. And in the end, no one really remembers that kind of stuff anyway. I think that’s been an important lesson for me.”
During COVID-19, many restaurants closed for a period of time. At Casa Nueva, open mic nights were shut down from mid-March 2020 to June 2021. The re-opening of open mic nights remains an exciting memory for many musicians.
“This summer, the first open mic they had, it was slammed. It was crazy,” Kelby Primmer, a frequent open mic performer from Logan, said. “There were a bunch of people here, and everybody was super psyched to see people play at the first one in a year. That was really awesome.”
Brown hopes that open mic nights will continue to provide local artists and the Athens community with mutually beneficial opportunities for years to come. Not only do open mic nights benefit the community, but they also benefit the business of Casa Nueva. Sometimes, people who come to the restaurant for open mic night realize that Casa Nueva also has a restaurant in addition to a bar, and they decide to try out its food.
“It’s a good symbiosis relationship both ways,” Brown said. “Sometimes, people will be here for dinner, and they'll be like, ‘Oh, there's some music playing. I'll stay and hang out and see these musicians.’ It works both ways.”