Community can mean many different things to people. For some Lansing musicians, there’s a sense of community every Monday night at REO Town’s Blue Owl Coffee Company.
Since the first open mic night in August, local area residents, artists and coffee-lovers have come together to enjoy a family-friendly evening of original music each week.
When Blue Owl Coffee Company first opened last year, co-owner Nick Berry knew he wanted to foster an environment conducive to live music events. He approached local singer-songwriter Tania Howard about hosting an open mic night and she immediately began marketing the event to fellow musicians.
According to Howard, Blue Owl’s space is rich in acoustics and atmosphere. Blue Owl’s exposed brick and colorful, quirky dining chairs help create a relaxed, warm and cozy community feel.
“I hope that the open mic and the live music that we do at Blue Owl is one of the ways that people can find that sense of community and home,” Howard said. “I hope those connections can end up actually being meaningful beyond just a nice night out, but really can help to form some long-lasting friendships as well.”
While there are other open mic nights around town, many of the frequent Blue Owl regulars say this one is different from their counterparts.
Local guitarist and singer Brendan Hamilton has been to the weekly event five times and said it’s been useful as a networking tool to meet other musicians.
“I’ve been to most of them around town.
The atmosphere feels a little bit closer than most of them,” Hamilton said. “The musicians kind of click together a little bit more. A lot of regulars make it feel more of a closer-knit feeling.”
Fellow musician Matthew Shannon has also frequented the Monday night open mic sessions.
“The people are there to listen to the music, not passively let it wash over them,” Shannon said. “There’s very little conversation for the performer to have to try to cut through, and whether you’ve played for years or are just starting out, people are paying attention. Not to mention the caliber of performers that have performed there is stellar.”
Shannon has performed in bands for 20 years, but credits this particular weekly event as a key muse for crafting more tunes.
“I’ve given myself a rule that as long as I play at the Blue Owl, I have to write and perform at least one new song every week,” Shannon said. “To date, I’ve written 11 brand new songs, and I have the Blue Owl to thank for that.”
Shannon has made a lot of connections with other musicians at Blue Owl. “Several of the regulars are extremely talented songwriters, who, because of this open mic, are now people I’ll get to collaborate with in the near future,” Shannon said. “I’ve gotten word of other open mics in the greater Lansing area that I never would have heard of otherwise.”
Host Howard encourages people to come out to the event, even if they’re nervous to play in front of people.
“Community, to me, means that everybody has a place; everybody belongs,” Howard said. “People can enjoy each other’s company, people can be exactly who they are, and be wanted and needed and appreciated. People can come from all different walks of life, and still find something in common.”