Going for it

Local performer Ron Neill is well aware that some folks object to the idea of having an open-mic competition. Local-talent nights should be about free expression, these idealists contend — about music for music’s sake, not for fortune and fame.

“And that’s fine. … Maybe that’s what music is all about,” concedes the musician, who tours nationally and has been highlighted in Performing Songwriter magazine. “But for me, I have to play music anyway, or spend my whole life in psychotherapy. And two years ago, I said to myself, ‘Well, I can get serious about [music] and make some money, or I can become bitter and angry when I’m older and be thinking, ‘Oh, what if I’d had a shot?’ … If you’re just doing [open-mic nights] for the love of music, that’s great. But if you’re really serious about playing music for a living, the whole thing is one gigantic contest, anyway. It’s competitive, and you have to get used to being in that kind of role if you’re going to do something [professionally]. If you have a [musical] career, there’s always some kind of competition. It’s one big competition.”

Neill got the idea of hosting a competitive open-mic after attending one at Eddie’s Attic, a popular acoustic club in Decatur, Ga. An Asheville version has been a long time coming, he says, given some local clubs’ reluctance to sponsor an event that might injure egos.

But certain other clubs’ practices in the (officially) noncompetitive open-mic area have resulted in hurt feelings, anyway, Neill laments. He recalls a recent frustrating night at such a venue.

“I’ve done hundreds and hundreds of open-mic nights, and it was the worst one I’d ever been to, because of this one guy who was [using the open-mic forum] as basically a showcase for him and his friends,” Neill remembers. “He played with everyone on stage, and people kept getting bumped and bumped and bumped. I showed up at 8:30 p.m. and didn’t get to play till 12:30 a.m. It was so funny, too, because after I did play, the guy finally realized I wasn’t just some schmuck off the street … and he [apologized]. But it was terrible. … People were getting treated like s••t. If you’re good or bad, you should still be treated with the same respect as if you’re an established recording artist.”

Neill feels that Asheville, though rife with musical promise, is sometimes not the best place for an up-and-coming performer. “There’s more talent here than the fan base of Asheville can support,” he reasons. “There’s always something going on [in the clubs], and usually something going on for free. Not to blame those clubs [that host free music], but it does hurt musicians. People only go out so many times a week, and they might automatically choose [a free show].

“There’s not enough focus on [promoting] local talent,” he adds seriously.

Which is where the open-mic showdown comes in, he feels: Each night during the first four weeks, a winner will be chosen on the basis of performance, originality and quality of material (only solo and duo acts will be considered). Each weekly winner will receive a $50 gift certificate from Musician’s Workshop. Then, these four acts will return for a fifth competition on Dec. 1. This final winner will receive a three-hour recording session from WhiteWater Recording Studios and a live interview on WNCW-FM. (Three judges — different each week — culled from the local music community and media will choose the winners.)

Rather than viewing the event as strictly a competition, Neill explains, “I look at it as an opportunity, because there are a lot of people out there who are very good, but they don’t have anything recorded, and you can’t get gigs [without a demo tape or CD]. This is great exposure, and it might bring some people out who wouldn’t normally [play at open-mics]. And you might say, ‘Well, what about people who get discouraged because they don’t win, and want to [give up]?’ … Well, for me, [that kind of thing] always makes me fired up to work harder.”

A time to sing

The Open-Mic Showdown takes place at The Basement (50 Commerce St.) every Wednesday evening in November (Nov. 3, 10, 17 and 24). On those evenings, participants must show up between 8 and 9 p.m. to sign up for a slot. No phone calls will be accepted, and people will go on in the same order as they sign up, until all slots are filled. This contest is for solo and duo acts only. (If the event is successful, Neill is hopeful that the next Open-Mic Showdown will showcase bands). All styles of music are welcome.

Ron Neill will play a short set every evening, and the competitions will begin around 9:30 p.m. The event costs $3 for both participants and audience members.

Contact Susan Haynes at 285-0808 for more info.

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