Four years ago, Danny Banfield started a casual jam session at the former Split Crow location on Bedford Highway. The jam grew such a fan base, he reorganized the concept as an open mike in January of 2012. The event changed locations in September, after the Split Crow was sold. The open mike found a new home at the Riverside Pub on Sunday nights. Over the years, the event turned into something more.
“It’s a community, it’s a club,” Banfield says. Banfield and his open mike are on the move again. Starting in January, the show will go on at Freeman’s in Lower Sackville every Thursday night.
“It grew so nicely over the three and a half years we had it at the Split Crow,” Banfield says.
While the open mike has a new venue, the details of how it works will stay the same. At each event, those who want to take part sign up at 8 p.m. choosing a time they’d like to perform a 15-minute set. Banfield kicks everything off with a 15-minute set of his own.
Musicians can bring their own instruments, but the stage is equipped with mikes, amps and an electronic drum kit. There are no restrictions on genre. Musicians here have played everything, including metal, rap, country, rock, and blues. There have even been a few spoken word artists and poets.
A random draw is held at the end of the night that includes everyone who took part. The winner of the draw receives a prize. For those new to performing, Banfield says the open mike helps them get over the stage fright. He says veteran musicians often give the new talent advice, join them on stage or help them with song choice.
“You always think when you’re starting off, ‘I shouldn’t be up there,’” Banfield says.
“’Those guys should be up there. They are way better than me.’ Well, we don’t believe that. We believe music is a collaborative thing that it takes all skills and levels. We help out the person who steps on that stage.”
For experienced musicians, it’s having the outlet for new songs, trying out something to see how it will work otherwise. Colin Boutilier learned about the open mike in January of 2015. Up to that point, the singer and guitarist was what he calls “an occasional bedroom player.” But with the encouragement of a friend, Zach Stephen, he signed up.
He started out playing older country tunes such as those by Merle Haggard and Brookes and Diamond. But Banfield encouraged him to try some Beatles’ songs. Yet another open mike regular worked with him on some blues.
He also learned a lot about stage performance, how to sing into a mike and set up gear, and how to play lead guitar in a band.
“My lead guitar skills have improved 20 or 30 fold since I started playing with them,” Boutilier says.
Since then, he’s even joined a few of the musicians on paid gigs at other clubs. When the open mike moved from its former venue the Split Crow, Boutiler penned a Facebook post about his time at the event. He recalls how he was “nervous as hell” the first time he played there. But he calls Banfield “one of the kindest souls” he’s ever encountered.
“It’s the most comfortable environment I’ve seen for anyone to play who isn’t a professional musician,” Boutilier says. “Or for someone who is.”
Ed Halverson has been performing at the open mike for a couple of years. He likes to play classic R&B, pop, current hits, and original tunes. “I play whatever I can get my fingers around,” he says.
He says when musicians work together, they learn together. “I really like the inclusivity of it all,” he says. “It’s the inclusive element that really helps you get better.”
He credits Banfield for creating that tone. “Danny sets the atmosphere that is really laid back and welcoming,” he says.
Banfield says he’s even tried out other songs he wouldn’t play at other gigs. And while he kicks off every event, he doesn’t consider himself more of a logistics guy, making sure the sound is right and organizing schedules.
Banfield says it’s more than music. He says over the past few years, there have been a lot of great parties at the open mike events, as well as musical collaborations and friendships formed, including many he’s made.
“Musical friends are very tight,” Banfield says. “Musical friends are in a lot of ways tighter than a lot of friendships because we share the common bond of music. You will always have that to talk about.”
Banfield plans on keeping the event in the area. He says most of the participants are from Bedford and Sackville. He wants the open mike to be the “go-to place for their musical outlet.”
“The reason for its success in the first place is because of this community,” he says.
“That’s all I want it to be, really, is a strong community.”
This article was published in the January 2016 issue of Bedford Magazine. Bedford Magazine invites reader comments and encourages respectful discussion; we reserve the right to remove spam and libellous or abusive comments.