Open mic nights at CoHo build a ‘community of musicians’

Feb. 27, 2023, 8:04 p.m.

CoHo was packed. Groups of students crowded tables, while others danced to the live music at an open mic night hosted by The Arbor. The performance — an acoustic duet — ended as the audience erupted in claps and cheers. “What just happened now, when everyone came together, that was so cool,” Jess Jacobs ’26, a frequent performer and sound operator, told me.

The Arbor, a largely student-run bar that also organizes trivia and live performances, introduced weekly open mic night to CoHo at the beginning of the quarter. On Wednesday evenings between 8 and 10 p.m., student singers, poets, pianists and comedians take the stage. According to Ellie Stalcup ’24, The Arbor’s lead sound engineer, “[open mic nights] have been going really, really well. We’ve pretty much had full nights every time we’ve done it.”

Performers describe the night as a low-stakes environment to practice and experiment with their craft. Shayla Fitzsimmons-Call ’26 performs spoken-word poetry each week. “I competed in poetry in high school, so coming here and reciting poetry is kind of nostalgic for me. I also really like the environment. It’s supportive,” she said. 

Fifth-year modern thought & literature Ph.D. candidate Mitch Therieau, a singer and guitarist, decided to test out a song he had just finished writing and perform a cover of one of his favorite songs, “Hey Jealousy” by the Gin Blossoms. “It’s a great, relaxed venue for people to stretch out and try new things in a generally friendly and low-key atmosphere,” he said. 

Nathan Sariowan ’24, the lead student organizer at The Arbor, wanted to bring regular open mic nights to campus to provide a venue for student performers. “I was inspired by coffee shops that have regular open mics. I think the one thing that really helps a community of musicians is something that’s consistent,” he said. 

The Arbor nights have facilitated relationships between student musicians. “I’ve gotten connected with a lot of artists here and we’ve started jamming together. It’s such a cool place to find people who are also really interested in music,” Jacobs explained. 

Sariowan wants open mic night to help revive post-pandemic campus life. “I think things have been sterilized a little bit here at Stanford. And I feel like things like open mics are sort of unfiltered. I want them to be events where anyone could go up and be supported for doing anything they want.” 

Sariowan has performed songs he’s never practiced before at open mic night, and, for him, “the best moments in music [are] when you can do something that’s unplanned and spontaneous.” 

The spirit of performance and sharing in music is infectious. Those interested in performing scan a QR code at the venue to join the queue, but towards the end of the night as the acts begin to taper off, it’s not uncommon that audience members originally there to support others find themselves on stage.  

Open mic performers at The Arbor are not limited to students. Stalcup recalled a memorable time when “five jovial German [tourists] just getting dinner decided to get up and sing a song in German. It was fantastic.” Members of the CoHo staff have also taken the stage. Stalcup and Sariowan’s roles in organizing and running the open mic nights have provided them with an opportunity to build community with CoHo employees. “It’s just been really nice to form those connections, which is something that I hadn’t done before we started working there,” said Stalcup. 

The open mic night have provided a new showcase for student talent, in addition to revealing a wider network of students who support live music. Stalcup especially appreciated getting to see “what people on campus are creating. They’ll come back every week and be like, ‘I wrote this song this week’ and then play it, and it’s amazing,” Stalcup expressed. 

With its cozy atmosphere, stage and “jazz-club” vibe, CoHo is a unique space for music on campus and Palo Alto at large. The Arbor intends to keep utilizing the space to showcase student talent and enrich the campus live music scene, according to Sariowan.

Open mic nights will be held on Wednesdays for the rest of the quarter, and The Arbor currently plans to continue them through spring quarter at the same time and place. 

A previous version of this article misidentified a performer in the photo. The Daily regrets this error.

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