"Who the f--- are you people?"
Diana, the MC of Duckweed Urban Grocery's monthly Sunday Nite Open Mic asked this as she gawked at the crowd. This was after the last performer, who in three different pieces shared spoken word truth, a three-lined poem preceded by minutes' worth of percussive breaths of various puffs and vocal siren sound effects that caught the ears of a passerby outside the store, and an acapella rendition of Nina Simone's "Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair." Unbeknownst to me until Diana professed her awe at all the performances, this theme tied together my Open Mic night experience.
I found out about the Sunday Nite Open Mic while browsing through the "Page Turners" literary happenings column on Creative Loafing Tampa's website and decided to go last minute. Duckweed greeted me with a local, concrete indoor farmer's market ambiance -- cozy and eclectic -- with its shelves and coolers stocked with fresh produce, packaged foods, and inexpensive beers and wines, which Open Mic attendees were allowed to buy and sip as they enjoyed their entertainment. In a small corner near the storefront window was the designated venue space surrounded by two walls dotted with artwork for sale, the cashier's station, and a deli stand. The floor space for the stage was equipped with a mic and music stand, a single speaker, soundboard, and whatever props or musical instruments the performers brought to showcase their stuff.
Attendants occupied most of the seats. I sat a cross-legged, cross-armed bundle of nerves as I waited for the night to start. Aside from a performer's child, my Millenial self was who appeared the youngest person present. Everyone else was a generation or so my senior.
To begin the Open Mic, Diana opened with an appropriate piece dotted with humor and candor about how writers bare their souls and egos in their work and hope -- or is it expect? -- that a few coffee shop patrons will spare a clap or cheer for their human experience recited in poetic form. While this piece got some good chuckles out of me, the next piece about the latent, unexpected, and perhaps unwanted sexual potential of being a 12-year-old girl had me pressing my lips while clenching and releasing my fingers at the uncomfortable truth it laid out. The piece after that about her stuffing her lover's panties in her mouth and wanting to bind her with love dropped my jaw. Naive as I realize my thinking was, it was a shock to hear such unabashed lust from a woman who could be my mother or a young grandmother's age.
The night continued with the following types of entries: an oddball informative poem about an ancient Roman people's penchant for gifting the wealthy with dead vermin, a surrealistic dream recount about Venutians who eat aquarium algae but can't think an original thought, dirty jokes that covered Eskimo tribe initiation rites and candidates for the priesthood, and a satirical prophecy about the "Lard Cheeses Fried" and the temptation he faced in the desert during his quest for corporeal perfection before his death on the cross. Depending on one's spiritual beliefs, the latter two may have either elicited laughter or rubbed one the wrong way, but they aptly exemplified the American freedoms of speech and religion.
The night also reverberated with electric guitar covers, twanged with folksy acoustic guitar originals about how life is a "dance macabre," and swooned with a blues man bending down and leaning back with the gravelly falls and rises of his cell phone musical accompaniment. Probably one of the most impressive performances was a woman's rhythmic diatribe about a girl being a "tilt-o-whirl" set to a musical improv by a guitarist and clarinetist who had separately taken the stage earlier. It amazed me something so emotionally arresting and cohesive came out of such spontaneity.
A man filled silences between performances with questions like, "Do you like puppies?" or "Did you get your shirt from abroad?" Whether they were legitimate questions or asked in jest, they were a running plotline of their own throughout the night.
What surprised me the most was the work displayed throughout the Open Mic. The topics covered were varied, and the tones of people's performances weren't staunchly funny or serious. People didn't restrict themselves to one genre if they had more to offer. The lesson for me? To use an old adage, never judge a book by its cover. Just because I felt out of place and didn't know what to expect from a crowd outside of my age bracket didn't mean these people didn't have wonderful, silly, insightful, deep, titillating things to share. We all have facets of our personality that aren't obvious from our appearances, and that definitely manifested during the Open Mic. That's why Diana's declaration at the end of the night resonated with me.
Sunday Nite Open Mic occurs every first Sunday at Duckweed Urban Grocery. Signups happen at 6:30 p.m. and performances at 7. With December's event only being the second installment, it looks like there'll be plenty more time for everyone to learn just "who the f---" these people are and enjoy along the way.