Local wine bar offers space for performers to shine
Published: Saturday, May 07, 2011, 10:30 PM Updated: Sunday, May 08, 2011, 12:37 AM
Standing on the steps of the American Can Company building on a recent Monday, a tall young man sporting a goatee enthusiastically greeted passers-by, entreating them to come inside the Clever Wine Bar. Solanke Kerr, who started writing poetry at age 11, is on a mission to showcase new performing artists at his Monday open-microphone nights.
Kerr and friend John Simmons decided several months ago they wanted to create a stage for all forms of creative expression and started what they dubbed Melodic Mondays. Since then, the intimate bar in the American Can complex has become an incubator for budding musicians, singers and performance artists, who can try out innovative work before supportive audiences.
Kerr grew up in Chicago, where “the open mic scene is so strong,” he said. As a teen, he accompanied his mother to Mojos’ Pen on Chicago’s South Side, which presented artists offering thought-provoking spoken and musical commentaries. Mojos’ Pen, now located at the University of Illinois at Chicago, claims its open mic nights have made “love and revolution irresistible since 1968.”
Kerr observed that poetry readings in New Orleans tend to be competitive slams.
Instead, he and Simmons wanted to develop a supportive, creative atmosphere that nurtures artists.
The Melodic Mondays forum is “open to all genres and demographics ... without the limitations and boundaries of other places,” Kerr said.
David “Profess” Burl Jr. is a regular Melodic Mondays performer. He plays guitar and sings his own heart-wrenching compositions that recall 1960s folk music. The open mic lets him “test the crowd and test the music,” he said. A house painter by trade, Burl might be tired after a long day at work, but he is revived by the experience of performing.
“Once I get there, it’s fantastic seeing people’s responses, their reactions to something I wrote,” he said.
Bartender Dean Arnett loves the music and “eclectic crowd” the events attract, adding that Melodic Mondays also allow performers to network.
“Profess will go on to better things,” Arnett predicted.
Next up to the microphone was a soulful vocalist, Natasha Herbert, a hotel desk clerk who fronts two Baton Rouge rhythm-and-blues bands on weekends. She drives from her home on the West Bank to be on Monday nights.
“It’s really about helping you showcase your talent and network,” she said.
The Clever Wine Bar is a place to see up-and-coming talent, Arnett said. On some nights, the bar has held the maximum number of patrons, “maxing at the fire code,” he said.
Mykia Jovan studied drama at the University of New Orleans, but she has discovered music is a more personal form of expression for her. “With music, there’s no wrong,” she said. “It’s a way to communicate with the audience.”
A cocktail server on the steamboat Natchez, Jovan writes poetry about fairies, aliens and love, setting it all to music. With a mesmerizing performance style, she emulates Erykah Badu, Jeff Buckley and Nina Simone, all of whom put emphasis on lyrics.
Jovan has performed with Shamarr Allen and the Underdawgs, Khris Royal, Dark Matter, and Kermit Ruffins, but she frequently drops in at Melodic Mondays. Last week, she sang an unaccompanied “Under the Lilac Tree,” captivating the small audience.
Coming to the Clever Bar provides her opportunities to try out new material and challenges her to write more songs, she said.
“It’s such a unique environment,” she said of Melodic Mondays. “People want you to succeed, so you give a piece of yourself.”
Open mic night is free for performers. The cover charge for audience members is $5. Call 336.327.6697 for more information.
— By Mary Rickard, Contributing writer
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