September 5, 2018 was a pretty momentous day for me. I spent most of that Wednesday pretty completely freaked out. Anxious beyond all belief – and for me that’s kind of saying something, as I spend most of my life in some degree of worry or anxiety. However, this was a deliberately sought-out source of anxiety, and one for which I had prepared over the previous two or three weeks.
You see, that Wednesday night was the first time that I was signed up to play the Open Mic Jam at Terry O’Reilly’s. I hadn’t played live on my own since I’d fronted a band back when I was in my early 20s. I’d continued to do songwriting and recording, but life had gotten in the way of performing.
In January of 2018, I wrote down a list of things I wanted to accomplish that year. “Playing my music live” was at the top of the list. And then of course the anxiety and self-consciousness that comes with exposing yourself – and all your flaws – in public, for all to see, caused me to find excuses not to move forward.
I’d known about the Open Mic Jam for years. I’d gone to see other friends play, and it was always a very big deal. It also seemed like a really supportive crowd, so I knew that’s where I wanted to start.
Come August, Jen reminded me that I had in fact set a goal for myself, and suggested that I actually get it on the calendar. So, I found the Facebook page and the link to sign up, and took the third open spot for the night of September 5.
I met both Andrew Geano and Terrance Reeves for the first time that night. Andrew listened to a little bit of my story, and then when the time came he said in his inimitable way, “OK, we have a first timer here. I want you to take your one hand, put it high in the air, then raise up your other hand, and bring them together fast to give a big Open Mic Jam welcome to Chris Steele!“
I played “Caroline” and “Old Age and Treachery” that night.
There was a lot of sweating. My hands didn’t work right. My voice felt weird. And at the end, there was a lot of applause, and a really warm feeling that reminded me why I wanted to do this, and told me that I might have found a community I wanted to do it with.
Two years on, I’ve played another 95 sets, and over 500 more songs. I’ve played in Newton, Boston, Allston, Maynard, Concord, Cape May, Indianapolis, Red Deer, and my second hometown – Edmonton. It’s become a core part of my life, and one I won’t ever walk away from again.
I have also made so many good friends along the way – Tim Ko, Joe Dunn, and of course Andrew and Terrance, who have run the shows, and then Danielle, Miriam, Audrey, Ethan, Polly, Sarah Beth, Rory, Lisa, Alex, Elliot, and all the others with whom I have shared a stage and a microphone. (And of course Jen – who is both a poet herself and a main source of encouragement.) I’ve also done my own small part to try to support our group and others during this period of COVID by establishing a virtual safe place to perform and try out new ideas – The Virtual Necessity Open Mic.
I cannot fully express how appreciative I am, and how wonderful it feels to be in community with all of you. (Of course, I do wish that our community could be more in each other’s company these days.) The past two years have allowed for a tremendous amount of growth and change. Two years from now, if the fates allow, I hope to look back (with another 100+ shows under my own belt) and celebrate with all of you all that we have accomplished.