Virtual open mic nights lend voice to performers

Entertainment venues may be closed to the public, but the show must go on as Whidbey performers are still finding a way to garner an audience.

The South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District has been hosting several virtual open mic nights, inviting musicians, comedians and even a magician to perform from the comfort of their homes during a live-streamed show.

The third “take” of the event will occur this Saturday, May 9, starting at 7 p.m. and finishing up sometime around 9 p.m.

A musician himself, Executive Director Doug Coutts came up with the idea for the parks and rec district event from watching live-streamed concerts of professional musicians at home.

“Being a part-time musician, I was kind of getting tired of not playing music,” Coutts said.

He typically opens the virtual open mic night by playing the piano and singing a song.

Performances are limited to two songs or eight minutes, or three songs or 10 minutes. Participants must email Coutts at dirswprd@whidbey.com to be included on the set list. Performers are the only ones invited to the Zoom online conference call, but everyone else can watch the livestream by visiting the YouTube page for South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District.

Coutts plans to host more mic nights in this format, as long as current conditions persist.

Sixteen entertainers performed at the last open mic night, and the livestream YouTube video has been viewed 390 times. Although mostly adults have participated, acts are required to be kid-friendly.

Several performers have acknowledged that Coutt’s virtual open mic night has helped fill a void that would normally be occupied by springtime gigs around Whidbey.

Oak Harbor English teacher and singer/songwriter Erik Christensen had been looking forward to shows with his self-titled folk rock band at various farmers markets, wineries and fairs.

Since joining the parks and rec district’s virtual open mic night, Christensen has gone solo in keeping up with social distancing.

He has been amazed to see entertainers join the live-streamed show from other states and countries.

“It takes a certain amount of bravery to jump up on the little stage in Coupeville and sing for people,” Christensen said. “I can’t imagine the whole world watching.”

Coupeville-born Isaac Wacker has also gone solo as a result of COVID-19, singing and playing a jazzy piano cover of “Fly Me to the Moon” at the last open mic event.

Coutts, who has played with Wacker’s band Ike and the Old Man, invited Wacker to Zoom into the virtual open mic night.

“It’s just something that all of us, all the performers who have been starved for an audience, are kind of really looking forward to,” Wacker said about the park and recs district’s online event.

Bass guitarist Jon Anastasio has enjoyed that the open mic nights have brought together a mix of people.

“An open mic night is kind of like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates,” Anastasio said. “You never know what you’re gonna get.”

The Clinton resident has seen performers from Oak Harbor that he’s never met, and looks forward to catching their acts once things open up again.

And the talent doesn’t just come from Whidbey.

Carlos Feliz from New York had been looking for a way to gain the confidence in playing the guitar and singing in front of other people.

Singing before a screen seemed like a safe way to do that.

“I could never imagine myself singing in front of anyone, ever,” Feliz said. “I never imagined myself being that vulnerable.”

The guitar player, who started taking lessons last year, did a Google search to find virtual open mic nights. None he found were quite as organized as the one hosted by South Whidbey Parks and Recreation.

“Everyone was very supportive of each other and respectful,” Feliz said.

For his first performance he sang “Manic Monday,” originally performed by the Bangles but written by Prince, a musical hero of Feliz’s since he was a teenager.

“It remains a highlight of this time period for me,” Feliz said about the virtual open mic night.

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