San Diego Open Mic Review: Lestat’s

Letstat's, on Adams, in Normal Heights, San Diego.There are two Lestat’s Coffeehouses in San Diego.

One is close to the University Heights sign that spans Park Boulevard. The other is on Adams Avenue, and is right under the Normal Heights sign.

The latter location is where San Diego’s most well-known open mic is held on Monday nights. It’s always getting great reviews in the local publications, and on Yelp.

How It Works

Park somewhere in the neighborhood, or walk. If you’re not worried about it, leave your instrument(s) in your car at first. I’ll tell you why in a second.

The Lestat’s on Adams is made up of several connected buildings. The first two big rooms are a coffee shop, and sitting on the sugar & creamer table is a sign-up canister for open mic. Write your name on a piece of paper, and drop it in. Do this only once, as this open mic uses a lottery to fill spots (it’s popular).

At 6:30p, make sure you’re in the next building over when they draw names. Now you’re in “Lestat’s West.” It is a legitimate venue. There are old theater seats, folding chairs and wooden stools all facing the stage. There is proper sound and lighting, and music is punctuated by fellow musicians greeting and laughing with one another. There aren’t any televisions, which is awesome. Oh, and there’s even a sound guy with an amazing mohawk. I didn’t catch his name, but I can pick him out of a crowd.

The night is hosted by Chad Taggart. Chad is a handsome guy that usually wears a hat. He has a kind demeanor, and deadpan delivery. A guitarist & singer primarily, he carried in some oddly shaped, wooden lap guitar along with his more standard acoustic.

Getting Picked & Playing

If your name is drawn, you’re allowed two songs or ten minutes (comics or poets get five minutes), so pick the time you want between 7:00pm and 11:00pm. Obviously, the further into the drawing you’re name is called, the less spots you get to choose from.

I’m married. I like playing early. So, when my name was called, I picked 7:20pm. People before me picked 10:30pm. It’s personal preference and luck of the draw.

This is why I told you to leave your instruments in your car. Someone is going to be playing the 10:50pm slot. Maybe you. Probably not. But know that this is FOUR HOURS after your name is called. If you left your axe in your car, you can more easily go get something to eat at a nearby restaurant, grab a coffee next door, or sit and listen without worrying about your guitar being in the way.

No matter what you do, make sure you’re back in the room, tuned up, 20 minutes before your spot. Things can be ahead of schedule, and if you aren’t around, there are three alternates ready to go.

The Crowd

Lestat’s is a collection of the faces you see at all the other San Diego open mics. Psycho Lizard, Happy Ron, Chris Carpenter, Craig of Suede and more. There’s camaraderie and respect that’s shown, and when you’re playing, the audience is attentive and receptive.

When I got up to play, I had just finished tuning my guitar outside in the cold. Bad decision. While it didn’t sound horrible, I could tell some strings were sharp, and that’s annoying.

It was a lot of fun; quick, but a crowd and sound like you’re playing a real show and not just an open mic. I played my newest song, “Make Up Your Mind”, followed by “Gone“…the most popular iTunes song off my band’s last album.


Go play Lestat’s. You’ll meet a big part of the San Diego songwriting community. Their atmosphere is killer, and the crowd is there to listen. Wow them.

Also, maybe I missed an extra sign-up jar or canister, but Lestat’s should put one in the venue side, too. When I first got there, all three of the other first timers had no idea they needed to drop their name in a lottery jar next door. Maybe an instruction sheet somewhere? Whatevs. Don’t sweat it.


Choosing the Right Type of Guitar Pick. What Do You Use?

This orange Dunlop pick is my favorite.Right after graduating college, I moved from my family farm in Central Illinois, to the big city of Los Angeles.

My friend hooked me up with a job at Drive-Thru Records—at the time one of the country’s biggest indie labels.

Part of my job was to secure endorsements for the label’s artists/bands. Sometimes shoes, sometimes clothes, as long as a company was willing to trade some of their wares in order for their brand to be in front of teenage audiences (our bands were mostly pop-punk), I would go for it.

One of the companies I contacted was Dunlop. Dunlop makes guitar accessories, and I was looking to get guitar picks. More importantly, personalized picks for all guitarists and bass players on our roster of a dozen or so bands.

Somehow, I convinced Dunlop to sponsor the bands.

Two weeks later, I received a bags of custom picks. Each pick had the musician’s name on one side, and the band’s logo on the other (Finch, Rx Bandits, Senses Fail, Allister, HelloGoodbye, others). The picks were cool enough to where I took one of each, just for keepsakes.

This also allowed me to test out the preferred pick sizes and shapes that full-time musicians were using.

Up until that point, I was playing any pick that was lying around. I had probably come across 23 different styles of guitar picks. I had seen them made of old cymbal metal. I had found a giant, Dorito-shaped cardboard one in a ditch. And when I bought my Taylor 314ce, used, there were some weird picks in the storage area of the hardshell case; they had a hole shaped like an asterisk. I think the hole was supposed to improve grip, but it failed miserably.

It was at this time that I came across the pick I would use almost exclusively for the next ten years: the Dunlop Tortex Standard .60mm 418P.60. Oh my.

I love this small orange piece of awesome, because it’s the perfect thinness; not so thin that you hear it slap across the strings like a flappy piece of junk, but not too thick where it sounds like you’re smashing your teeth against the fretboard.

Just like when you buy a new car and start seeing it everywhere, I’ve noticed these orange Dunlop picks are pretty popular. Do you use them?

If not, do you have a favorite pick that you recommend? Let us know in the comments.


San Diego Open Mic Review: The South Park Abbey

On Wednesday nights, open mic at the South Park Abbey starts at 9:00pm. At 8:30pm, a sign-up sheet is set out on a table by the front door. First come, first serve. Hosts are either Amanda Cogan, or me (Joe Nafziger). We alternate weeks.

When I host, I kick things off with a few songs so that a) no one is forced to go first, and b) I get to practice playing publicly.

Each performer (musicians only) gets approximately 15 minutes to play. Tune up beforehand so you don’t eat up your time. Everyone usually plays three songs, sometimes four if the songs are shorter. This is generous compared to other open mics around San Diego, where you usually run into a two-and-done approach.

The Crowd

The open mic crowd at South Park Abbey can be hit or miss. Some nights, everyone is quiet and listening to performers. Other nights, there may be groups of people who are there just to hang out, watch sports and talk loudly.

I try to make this place as musician-friendly as possible, but keep in mind this is a bar/tavern first, and a place to play showcase live music, second. That means the owner keeps the majority of televisions on (no sound) during open mic.

This is good experience for playing in front of lukewarm crowds and working to win over listeners. If you’re good, people shut up and pay attention. If you suck, they’ll probably keep talking about—and watching—the ESPN Classic highlights of Jordan, in Game 6.

Note: Oddly enough, because of the way the bar is set up, you can watch TV while you sing and play. Try not to get distracted. Keep your eyes in contact with people who are watching and listening to you; makes your stage presence stronger.

The Location

The South Park Abbey sits at the corner of Fern + Grape. It’s a neighborhood brew-pub with an above-average food menu. On Wednesdays, Dave usually tends bar, and Brianna serves tables. They are super nice and always smiling.

There is a pool table in the back, and a jukebox that gets turned off during open mic, natch.

Please come by some Wednesday. Any an all musicianship levels welcome. This open mic has hosted everyone from members of the San Diego Symphony to 12-year-old phenoms to first-time performers.

Here are some random clips that I threw together:

Making Your Voice Sound Better to the Audience

San Diego open mics are never this nice.Have you ever heard music coming from somewhere, but couldn’t quite make out the words?

It can drive you crazy.

It’s even worse if you can’t decipher the vocals of someone playing music in a live setting.

When I’m soundchecking performers at open mic, nine times out of 10, the vocals need to be turned up; singers are either too far away from the microphone, or singing too quietly.

Normally, it’s fixed by a quick tweak of the various volume buttons on the PA head. But if the singer is standing really far back (eight or more inches), or singing really softly, the mics can only be turned up so much before they feedback.

And no one likes unexpected feedback; from high school debate meets to eulogies to getting your name called at the car rental place, a squealing microphone makes it look like Amateur Hour.

Solution: Get up on it!

You sound better when you get your mouth within an inch of the mic, two inches at most. Sometimes your nose or top lip will bump into it. You’re nice and close.

Now your audience can hear you and your lyrics. They will get pulled into your song more easily.

Yes. Other people have yelled and hollered and rapped and whispered into that same mic.

Yes. Their mouths & spit have hit the windscreen (the round part) just like yours will.

Yes. It may smell sometimes. Big deal.

Like Ryan White assured the other students: “You’re not going to get AIDS, folks.”

Wouldn’t you sniff garbage for a few minutes in order to avoid sounding like it?

Step up to the microphone. Sing out. You take control of the room when the audience hears your instructions.

SD Songwriter, coming soon! (And looking differently than this.)

Thanks for visiting. As you can see, nothing is happening yet. Today is February 8, and I’m hoping to have a better looking, and more, how do you say, robust site in a week or so.

San Diego Songwriter will be your website for finding out how to get shows booked around town, discover the latest on SD’s best open mics, and hear from local musicians about how they do what they do and why they do it.

Plus, there will be lots of extras and secret squirrel things that I can’t talk about yet.

If you want a “heads up” for when the site is OFFICIALLY live, please email me at joenafziger [at] yahoo [dot] com.

Talk to you soon!