Open-mic night at P.B. Cantina has gone online, and international.
The world of live music came to an abrupt halt in mid-March as concerts large and small were canceled. While most of the local attention centered on the postponement of major events such as Coachella and the Rolling Stones at SDCCU, a beloved institution for many musicians was put on ice as well — the open-mic night. PB Cantina has a long-running open-mic that takes place every Monday evening. Instead of throwing in the towel, one of the participants pitched moving the event to the virtual realm.
“Our good friend and musician Patrick Kelly has been playing the open-mic here ever since day one,” PB Cantina open-mic host Jeremy Miller explained. “He had the idea to not only do an individual stream but to somehow organize it and broadcast it where you have a sign-up list ahead of time and he can choose who goes up to the main screen. It’s a good open-mic set-up for virtual.”
While Zoom is becoming a nationwide sensation for family group chats and virtual happy hours amongst friends, it isn’t the ideal technology for a virtual open-mic. Kelly utilizes a platform called Be.Live to manage the various participants who are all checking in on different devices. During the livestream, he oversees the technology while Miller plays his usual role as the event’s host. Miller can view all the participants waiting at the bottom bar of his screen and introduces them in a split-screen set-up. When it is time for their performance, Kelly then switches the participant to fullscreen when they begin their song.
“He’s kind of the director doing all the tech stuff, and I’m doing the hosting stuff at the same time,” Miller explained. “So, we’re kind of co-hosts of this new thing. Then it broadcasts out live to the Facebook Live feed on the PB Cantina open-mic page and also the YouTube livestream as well.”
One interesting facet of this house arrest open-mic set-up is that it is no longer limited to participants who live close to the physical location of the PB Cantina. Miller mentioned how a former open-mic local performed live from her new digs in New Zealand. “I think it was 12 noon Tuesday for her, but she still found the right timeslot for us and her stream actually worked out really well,” he said.
While Miller is itching for the live music scene to return to normal where you toast “cheers with actually clinking beers instead of video cheers-ing,” he does recognize that the adaptive measures taken by musicians at this moment may have some positive longterm effects.
“People are now going to have this experience and have good streaming set-ups at their homes from all this experience we are gathering,” he explained. “There could be virtual festivals, or even just a nightly virtual open-mic when it wouldn’t be feasible to have a physical one every week. It’s going to be interesting to see if this continues after everything goes back to normal.”
“I think it’s a crazy, alternate universe of music happening right now. People used to be on stage with all this production and lights and sound, and now everyone’s back to playing in a living room with a guitar. It’s kind of the ultimate open-mic: it’s literally just the guitar player/singer and a microphone. At the same time, they’re by themselves in the living room, but also they’re playing in front of these huge online audiences and making pretty decent Venmo tips. Everything’s kind of backwards, but it’s really cool.”