Chico State's independent student newspaper

The Orion

Chico State's independent student newspaper

The Orion

Chico State's independent student newspaper

The Orion

Stepping up to the Mic

Published 2004-04-21T00:00:00Z”/>


Matt Shotland<br>Staff Writer

Some carry bongos, some guitars and others simply bring a notebook full of poetry and lyrics. They’ve come to express themselves, to expose their deep feelings of loss and hope. What they find when they arrive, is that they’re not alone.

It’s open-mic night at Has Beans Coffee and Tea Company at Fifth and Main streets, and there is not an empty seat in the house.

The audience sits attentive, coffee in hand, awaiting a special gift that many take for granted: free live music from people who want nothing more than to master their craft and simply be heard.

The free forum at Has Beans was developed 2 1/2 years ago by Susan Dobra, a woman who loves music and genuinely seems to love every performer who graces the stage.

“I love seeing people who’ve never been on stage before and just seem to blossom over time,” she said.

Dobra said she’s been involved in open mic events in areas like Berkeley and Marin, but Chico has something special.

“Chico is a whirlpool of creativity,” she said. “So many people in this town have talent.”

As singers belt out the two songs they are allowed each set, one performer, Chico State junior Victor Hollandsworth, sits at a table, guitar by his side, pen in hand. He feverishly writes new lyrics to a song he’s been recently developing.

“I’m going to try and sing this tonight,” he said with a confident smile. Hollandsworth just began playing his original songs to an audience a few months ago after the support he received from his friends made him feel that others should hear his music.

He said nervousness used to overwhelm him. After each performance, he would agonize over the mistakes he made until he finally put his work ethic in a more positive light.

“After a while I started saying to myself ‘Wow, my voice and playing are sounding better. I must be doing something right,'” he said.

It is uncertain when Hollandsworth will grace the stage, because the list for the night might be too full. So he hangs out, patiently waiting for his name to be called.

Meanwhile, the sounds of credit card and latte machines go hand-in-hand with the peaceful performances that begin to reverberate through the house’s old speakers.

Chico resident Mark Johnson finishes his acoustic set. He chose to do two covers including “Summertime” by George Gershwin. For years Johnson has been playing his music around Chico in coffeehouses, Farmer’s Markets and anywhere he can be heard.

“I love how Chico has an open forum where musicians, regardless of level of experience, can come and play,” he said.

That factor is what seems to help people get on stage, as was seen in a developing poet named Mark. Nervously speaking into the microphone, he scolded customers to be quiet as he read through his pile of notebook paper.

The poems, were, at times, forgettable. But then a single poem came out of his mouth that seemed to strike a chord with the audience.

Dobra politely asked him to read it again. Buried in a clutter of papers was an amazing poem.

“He has moments of pure genius,” Dobra said after embracing the young poet.

Many who grace the Has Beans stage are open to the gracious audience, sharing their feelings of past pains that so many can relate to.

“This is a song about loving someone so much, but they don’t feel the same way,” said singer Danny Atkinson, before playing a heartfelt acoustic ballad that gained the audience’s full attention and respect.

Atkinson said the atmosphere makes it easier to express himself.

Dobra said she feels the same way and encourages any performer, no matter what skill level, to try.

“Just get up and do it because it’s the most supportive and tolerant audience you can find,” she said.

As the night winds down, and the performers finish their sets, Hollandsworth is left without a time slot.

But with clear skies and mild temperatures, sounds of drums and guitars fill the air just outside the coffee shop’s doors. He joins the musical circle harmoniously chanting Oasis’ classic “Wonderwall.”

His voice wasn’t heard on stage but was now singing with others.

Open mic will be there next week, and most likely, so will Hollandsworth.

<em>Matt Shotland can be reached at <a href= ‘mailto:[email protected]’>[email protected]</a></em>

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