Open mic at Hambone's draws diverse crowd

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Let’s say you’re a new musician, just starting out and looking forward to your first paying gig. Well, you should head to Hambone’s in Lawrenceville for Acoustic Open Mic tonight.

Each artist who performs receives a domestic draft beer!

Small remuneration, perhaps, but it could be huge in terms of the opportunity and experience you’ll receive.

“There are lots of open mics around town, but that’s a good thing,” said Dave Bielewicz, who organizes the evening. “It’s important for musicians to have a space to express themselves and learn how to be in front of an audience and be able to promote themselves.

“The environment at Hambone’s is very welcoming. Some open mics, you have the sense that there’s already a built-in group of people there and you have to work your way into it. At Hambone’s you’re instantly welcomed. If you’re a new person, it’s a great opportunity.”

Mr. Bielewicz, 27, of Squirrel Hill, is from upstate New York. He came to Pittsburgh to study theater at Point Park University.

“But I’ve always been a musician,” he said. “I played in a lot of bands growing up. Even in theater school, a lot of folks knew me as ‘the guy with the guitar.’ I was that guy. But it gave me an outlet outside of theater.

“I found myself in between studies writing music. I’ve always been in choirs. Singing is probably my strongest suit outside of acting. I was looking for an opportunity to express myself, and I was interested in the local music scene. One of the bartenders from Shadow Lounge heard me at a house party and invited me to an open mic. That got me started.

“Being an entertainer, I’m natural on stage. I’m very comfortable working with audiences.”

He started the open mic at Hambone’s almost two years ago.

“I was playing at the AcoustiCafe at Club Cafe and the open mic at the Shadow Lounge, and I kind of fell in love with the local songwriter scene,” Mr. Bielewicz said. “But I noticed that something missing was diversity. I wanted to start an open mic that was seriously an open mic, not just for acoustic players but also spoken-word players.

“We’ve been fortunate to have a few. We’ve had a couple guys who have written novels do a section. We’ve had some hiphop artists come in and do some lines from a rap that they’ve written. We try not to promote it as just one thing. And it’s been very effective. We’ve had a really diverse crowd.

“We’ve had Ed Bennett, who is a beautiful writer. The stuff that he writes can be really dark and heavy and loaded with gang-related issues in Homewood and Wilkinsburg and he’ll be dropping F-bombs a few times. But then again it is ‘open mic,’ it’s the nature of the beast. We try to move that toward the end of the list, a little later in the evening.”

Although it’s first-come, first served from the sign-up sheet, the evening promises a mix of regulars and newcomers.

Here’s how it goes:

“I usually open up the show for the first 15 minutes, playing three or four songs,” Mr. Bielewicz said. “I kind of get everybody in the mindset of how the evening is going to run. And then I’ll play again toward the end of the night, depending on how many musicians show up.

“When I started about two years ago, we didn’t have a stage and we’d only have three or four people at a time. Now we get upwards of 18 to 25 artists to sign up and they bring their friends, which doubles the size of the room. It’s gotten a lot of great word-of-mouth.

“We promote it as acoustic open mic, but we do have drummers who bring in small sets. We ask that they be mindful of the acoustic setting and not go full ‘rock band’ on the stage. We do have some artists who come in and try out some solo stuff. Artists trying something new who want to get some feedback. This has been a really good place for that. And they all introduce themselves to each other. They meet and get advice.”

Mr. Bielewicz also runs the sound board.

“I make sure the sound quality is premium,” he said. “I pride myself on really taking care of the musicians and taking the time to make every musician sound the way they want to be heard.”

And the audience benefits as well.

“You may walk in and Joe Schmoe may be screeching a few notes and turn you off,” Mr. Bielewicz said. “But you’re going to get that. The nature of an open mic is that it’s an open mic.

“But I’ve been fortunate to have really great artists, so there’s always the sense that there’s definitely going to be some good music for the audience.”

Acoustic Open Mic with Dave Bielewicz starts at 9 p.m. at Hambone’s, 4207 Butler St. There is no cover charge.

Dan Majors:

First Published January 14, 2014 4:25 PM

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