SFR: How’d you get started doing the open mic?
JR: I started going to it in March of 2007, going just as a performer. This year, in February, I became the host. So I’ve been running it since February. The last guy was running it for four or five years or something. He hurt his leg and he kept having to have surgery, and I kept having to fill in for him, so they just came to me and said, ‘Do you want to just take this over?’ And I said sure.
In your experience, is Santa Fe a talented city?
Yeah, there’s lots of talented people out there. Thankfully, a lot of them are coming to open mic. That’s part of why I like doing open mics so much—because people who you might not ever see otherwise come and play. We get all different levels of players and people at all ends of the spectrum. People who are battling stage fright, professional musicians who just want to try a new song.
That’s part of why it’s so fun to do, because you get to see all that. And it’s given me a place to work on my own thing. That’s why I’ve been doing this, to build some momentum for myself. At some point I’m going to move past the open mic and into performing around town.
How would you describe your own style of music and the album you have coming out?
I guess the reason that anybody writes music is so they can create the music that they want to hear. I’m a rock ’n’ roller at heart. I was a teenager in the ’80s, and Motley Crüe and Kiss were the two big bands for me. Then in the ’90s I was very, very into grunge, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden and all that stuff.
But I always had an acoustic guitar and played at open mics. Before I came here I lived in Detroit, and I went religiously to an open mic at a place called Gotham City, a coffeehouse in Detroit, and that’s where I learned how to perform. All the music that I listen to in my CD player is rock and hard rock, but I was always around acoustic music. While I was in Detroit I was around drum circles and drumming a lot, so I guess my style kind of tries to bring all that stuff together. It’s rock, but it’s acoustic, but I also like a tribal feel.
What have been some of the more magical moments at the open mic?
Last week was pretty magical. It was the best turnout so far—I actually had to turn people away. I didn’t have enough time for people to play. The most magical moments are usually somebody that you’ve never met or seen before just amazes you with whatever it is they do.
You never know what somebody’s gonna do. That’s what’s so great. The other magical thing is the regulars that are coming; we’re starting to develop a friendship. One of the guys has referred to me, saying, ‘He’s part of our family.’ It’s this cohesive thing. [On Aug. 13] Taj Mahal is playing, so we don’t get to have our open mic, so all the guys decided to get together at somebody’s house next week to just hang out.
So you refer to them as ‘the guys’—are there any regular women who get up there?
There are definitely women who have been coming. There’s definitely a group of guys that comes every week. We definitely have women come out on a regular basis, the same ones just don’t come every week. It would be great if they’d start.
What’s changed since you took over?
Since I’ve taken it over, turnout has been getting better and better. I guess I’m lucky. Another thing that probably has an effect on that is that I record all the shows. I started that. I record every show and I make CDs for everybody that comes, so when they come back next week I can give them a copy. You get a CD of the whole night—actually, it’s always two CDs. People really like that. When I was in my early 20s, going to that open mic in Detroit, if I could go back and listen to it every time, it would have affected my growth as a musician.
So is your computer full of massive files of every show?
I have stacks and stacks of CDs in my closet. Everything is backed up; it’s all there, everything I’ve ever recorded. That’s the purpose of recording, to have it. I have a big double-size milk crate that’s just full of stacks of CDs.
Do you think Santa Fe needs more open mics?
I think open mics are a great thing. More would not be a bad idea. I think it’s probably good for there to be different types—there’s open jams too. My open mic is developing this certain thing of singer-songwriters coming out. People like to come and play their songs and do their thing, and there’s no real competition and there’s not a bunch of egos. Everybody seems to be really thankful for having the space to do that and getting to share their songs with everybody. The vibe that is developing over there is very cool, and I like it a lot.
Do you think there’s a chance the Santa Fe scene is too sleepy to do you justice?
There have been times that I’ve felt like I’m not in the right place just because I’m more of a hard-rock kind of guy than acoustic folk. I’ve been here for 10 years, and for most of those 10 years I feel like I’ve been in hibernation; I haven’t been performing or getting out there. But now I’m coming out of that, and getting this much of a response at the open mic so quickly, it feels great. It’s going really good. Now I just wish I could start paying my bills.