Leave your guitar covers of “Wonderwall” at home — this open mic is specifically for the spoken word.
“There’s plenty of places for that,” said Matthew Jonassaint. “This is something a little different.”
For four weeks beginning on Thursday, Jan. 23, Back of Beyond Books will host Desert Howls, a Thursday night pop-up open mic event.
Back of Beyond event organizer Shari Zollinger said that the idea was brought to her by Jonassaint, a local writer currently working on a series of short stories entitled “An American in Cádiz.” She said his passion for the project was obvious and compelled her and store owner Andy Nettell to throw their support behind the new series.
Zollinger said that although Back of Beyond Books hasn’t held open mic readings much in the past, the tradition goes well with the store’s values.
“We love hosting a space where you can write something and bring it to try out on an audience,” said Zollinger. “We want to explore what writing means and keep it fun.”
The events will be held after hours at the bookstore, said Zollinger.
“I knew this event was meant to be in a bookstore, surrounded by books,” said Jonassaint, who said that the staff and owners have been extremely supportive of the idea.
“In the winter, people are always looking for something to do,” notes Zollinger. “We want to appeal to locals and give us all something to howl about.”
Desert Howls is intended to have a welcoming-but-edgy style that’s a little different from your average open mic night and a little closer to a cabaret or vaudeville performance.
“I’ve always kind of had a taste for the theatrical and carnivalesque side of things, said Jonassaint, mentioning that he was inspired by a diverse open mic event in Provo and by Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue, a 1975 concert tour that focused on intimate venues and included a variety of performers and poets.
“It kind of came out of this idea of vaudeville that people don’t really associate with traditional open mics,” said Jonassaint.
“We really want a fun, come-one-come-all feeling rather than something that feels very highbrow or literary. Those kinds of events can get a little dry and academic,” said Zollinger.
To inspire a loose, playful feeling for the event right from the start, Desert Howls will focus on a potentially embarrassing theme for its first event: cringe-worthy journal entries.
“We thought it would be interesting to start right off the bat by being super-vulnerable,” said Jonassaint.
Future event themes will be poetry, found and created lists and a final event on Feb. 13 to feature finished works.
“The fourth event will be for pieces that people have been working on,” said Zollinger. “But the first three are loose, for things that you’ve just written or even that you’ve found already written.”
“We want people to bring something to read, but also to embrace this other side to performance. We want to be a space where people can come and wear a feather boa or a mask...or not!” Jonassaint said.
Really, he said, the events are intended to help everyone feel comfortable with writing, sharing and hearing creative writing in all its forms.
“Bring a weird email that you got from an ex,” he urged, “or a really long text that you sent a friend. We all have these weird pieces. Bring that!”