Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A night at Bishop’s Lounge: the open mic redefined

By Edward Clifford, Collegian Staff

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Perched on the third floor of the old Bay State Hotel, Bishop’s Lounge has a peculiar vibe that is felt immediately upon entering. Cozy Christmas lights and a large tapestry encouraging all of us to “Be Amazing” greet patrons and set the welcoming vibe. With a large selection of craft beers and other libations, Bishop’s blends musically-inclined personality with the neighborhood bar aesthetic to create a truly unique environment in a town that is brimming with personal expression.

Among many of their other entertainment offerings, their Open Mic Night draws a vibrant and enthusiastic crowd of guitar players, singers, and percussionists of all genres. When the night started off with a cover of The Cranberries’ “Ode To My Family”—the opening act paying her own tribute to the late Dolores O’Riordan—one could immediately recognize the way music brings passion into a seemingly mundane Tuesday evening.

Headlined by Mantis Toboggan (a reference to the TV show “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”), the lineup, once a blank schedule, filled quickly with acts. However, the seemingly rigid nature of lists grew arbitrary as players alternated between songs and musicians who just walked in the door were called on stage to perform. The talent of the performers created a fluidity in the event that was both frenzied and inspiring at the same time.

Building on this idea of diversity, the musical acts themselves exemplify everything right with the Western Massachusetts music scene. Music selections ranged from solo folk singers to full band country westerners, from Jimi Hendrix covers by UMass alumni to spoken word-rap fusion performed by The Alchemystics’ vocalist and the evening’s bartender Force, from Spanish guitarists to Beatles covers by the emcee. The evening was a celebration of all forms of music.

Open mics have created their own niche, existing somewhere between live entertainment where the band is paid and playful karaoke that substitutes alcohol-fueled spontaneity for practiced songs. Open mics allow musicians a 15-minute gig to test out songs, a jam session with friends or just an opportunity to perform in front of an audience for the first time. And, as part of that audience, a level of respect and admiration cycles back through to the musicians that can exist only in these community-based locations, for the people who are chatting at the bar or relaxing at one of the tables one minute are the same people who are on stage performing 15 minutes later.

This is not to say that the crowd at Bishop’s is exclusive to artists or creative people—just the opposite. By providing huge posters and markers for drawing, Bishop’s creates a space for people to unwind and enjoy music without the usual social anxieties that come with the nightclub scene. Even first-timers can strike up conversations with the performers who are eager to discuss the craft.

While the days of internet popularity where even the most obscure musician could post their performances online and become mainstream (á la Justin Bieber) are seemingly behind us, modern audiences will hopefully turn to more personal and substantial means of entertainment. Bishop’s Lounge provides refuge from political speeches, violent news stories or just the simple day-to-day minutiae. Bishop’s Lounge cultivates love and community with events such as the Open Mic and thus instills hope in a world that is constantly focused on the opposite.

Edward Clifford can be reached at [email protected]

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