San Diego Open Mic Review: The Lazy Hummingbird Coffee & Teahouse

lazy hummingbird open mic review san diego ocean beachAfter leaving work one Tuesday night, I headed straight to the Lazy Hummingbird Coffee & Teahouse, in Ocean Beach. They have an open mic that starts at 7pm, and I had been told to get there early because the sign-up sheet fills quickly.

After getting through a small amount of traffic where The 8 splits into Nimitz & Sunset Cliffs, I pulled up at 6:35pm.

I was eager; while I had played a full-set at Winston’s, an established Ocean Beach venue, I had yet to strum and sing at an open mic in this neighborhood. Plus, fellow open-mic musicians had told me to check out “the Lazybird.”

Street parking was easy. OB seems to be like that. Everyone local walks everywhere, and you always find a spot right around the corner from wherever you need to be. Also, you will always smell weed in the air. Always. You’re in OB.

The Lazy Hummingbird is a small coffee shop, diagonal from the Apple Tree grocery store parking lot, on Santa Monica Avenue. During the day, the Lazybird’s chairs, tables and standard tea-house furniture are scattered throughout the inside, and on the patio.

For open mic, things were a lot more orderly. All the seats were arranged to face a lone, padded, wooden chair sitting in front of the main window. Strangely enough, the other side of the Lazy Hummingbird’s main room is actually another business—something similar to a FedEx/Kinkos. The unused tables are re-purposed as a barrier between the two sides.

You are unable to reach the bubble-wrap.

How It Works

I asked another patron if he knew where the open mic sign-up sheet was. He acted annoyed and tossed his arm in the general direction of the cash register.

Maybe he thought I thought he worked there, and was insulted in some way. I don’t know. If you can’t be happy just to help another person in the smallest of ways, I’m sorry you cry yourself to sleep most nights, dude.

So, yeah, the sign up sheet is near the cash register.

It was damn near full.

Out of, I don’t know, 17, 10-minute spots, only the second and third were still open.

I grabbed the second. I like playing early. That’s one of my things. I play early. I stick around to listen to several more players, and then I head home to hangout with my lovely wife before going to sleep at a decent time.

There is somewhat of an unwritten rule that you should stay for the full open mic, but I’m OK with breaking it. Maybe you stay for the whole open mic. That’s polite of you. That’s being a supportive, fellow musician. Thank you for doing that.

But my guess is, if you stay all night, you’re not married. Staying for the whole thing is a single-man’s game (or single-lady’s game). No matter how supportive my wife remains, I feel guilty hanging out too long.

Playing

The first signup-ee wasn’t present when things kicked off, so the host, Cat (with a K, maybe?), brought up an older guy (in his 60s), who read three short poems.

Cat radiates a happy disposition. She’s cheerful and sits right in the front, listening to everyone, unless the coffee/tea aspect of this place gets to busy, and she has to go help work the counter.

After the third poem, the first person still wasn’t around. It was my turn by default.

I played “Make Up Your Mind” and “Gone.” The time flew by, and I have to say, it was probably the best open mic experience I’ve had.

Here’s why:

• I sat down.
Lazy Hummingbird isn’t really a standing type of place. It felt more comfortable to sit, like when I practice at home.

• All unplugged.
No mic. No amp. (Though both are available.) It’s just such a small, intimate setting, I knew I could fill it without electricity. Plus, I was able to hear my voice better which let me sing more on key.

• Great crowd.
I played early, and nearly every seat was full. Just 30 minutes later that evening, the place was jam-packed. People are super attentive, respectful, and there are no TVs on, no pool table. It’s like playing music in your friend’s bedroom, but without the stiff socks lying on the floor.

Recommendations

This place is doing open mic right. Go check it out on Tuesdays. Sign up early. Starts at 7pm. I give it 4.5 chai lattes out of 5.

San Diego Open Mic Review: Train of Thought, at Queen Bee’s

Two hundred feet north of where Ohio Street intersects University Avenue, is Queen Bee’s Art & Cultural Center.

On Tuesday nights, host Gill Sotu, and DJ Redlite put on Train of Thought, “an all inclusive open mic experience. We are a family of poets, storytellers, singers, songwriters, comedians, musicians.”

It’s true.

Doors open at 8:30pm. If you want to play, tell the lady at the cash register and she’ll put your name on the list. She was really nice, and explained how it all worked. (More on that in a second.)

If you just want to watch, that’s cool too. Either way, it’s five bucks. This is one of San Diego’s few open mics that costs you money to play. Don’t look at it as paying to play though; it’s a cover to get to see all the other talented performers.

And there are plenty.

How It Works

Some people get to play in the order their name is written down, and other people are picked to play at random. You never know when you’re going to be called, so it keeps you paying attention. Be ready.

The craziest part is that you only get six minutes to play! You can shoehorn a couple short songs together, or take your time with just one (that’s what I did).

When Gill calls you up, first timers need to dance a bit when DJ Redlite drops the beat. This was my first time at Queen Bee/Train of Thought, so I went with my standby move: The Stanky Leg.

It was a hit.

Gill and his team really make you feel supported. They lead the crowd in a “We got you!” cheer, and are super nice.

Like I said, you get six minutes to play. At five and a half minutes, Redlite scratches a couple times so you know to hurry your ass up! I never saw anyone get the scratch-warning.

Remember to watch your mouth. This is an all ages show.

The Location

Queen Bee’s is built like a grade-school cafeteria. It’s a large room with a stage on one end. There’s even a glass-door fridge with refreshments for sale…non-alcoholic of course.

There are chandeliers and velvet banners. There are rows of comfy armchairs lined up facing the stage. If those fill up, there are folding chairs in the back, and two-top high-chair tables set running along the East wall.

Right above the tables is an intriguing painting series. I noted some of my favorites while I was waiting for the show to start:

— standard werewolf
— a woman wearing a serpent as a scarf
— guy playing saxophone made out of a squid tentacle

Finally, the sound system is killer; Redlite makes the whole place feel like a unique nightclub.

The Crowd

Super cool. Really cool. Everyone was attentive. Quiet. Supportive. Participatory. And a quarter of spectators are street poets or some other wordsmithy type. These dudes (and lady) know how to freestyle & flow, and will impress the hell out of you.

I’d say there were 37 people in the room. Total.

Recommendations

It would be nice if Train of Thought went in a certain order so people can be ready to play at the right time. If you hit up the restroom, you might miss your name being called. That sucks. Especially if you waited nearly two hours to play.

Other than that, Gill & Redlite & Train of Thought is a worthwhile show to see, to play or to do both. Check it out on Tuesdays.

Contact Info:
Queen Bee’s | 3925 Ohio Street | San Diego, CA 92104
(619) 255-5147

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.

Recommendation

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.

 

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: