Down the hallway of the Haiku Cannery on a Thursday night, past the array of musicians tuning their instruments, you’ll run into an open mic. From 7-9pm, the crowd loads into a violet, geometrically-lit space with a library-loft lookout. Five dollars at the door brings you to the intimate listening area, where everyone scopes the scene for a sliver of wall or ground, as seats tend to fill quickly. Get there early if you want a chair!
Throughout the night, names are picked from a jar and granted 5 minutes to share. Performers arrive early to chase the first five guaranteed spots, and the open mic saves an additional two slots for newcomers, to ensure a moment on stage.
“We get a lot of musical acts,” Joanna Zamir, the current host, explained. “Originals and covers of all genres, drums, singing bowls, hand pans, hang drums, etc.”
But it’s not just music, she went on. “We get comedians and poets and storytellers and, it’s been a while since we’ve had a dancer, but sometimes people dance or start dance parties.”
Founded by Parker Detchon almost 3 years back, the open mic began in the Treehouse Art Studios and quickly outgrew the space. The event sells no food or drinks, but guests are invited to bring their own. Attendees often run next door, adding a hunk of change to the Haiku Market’s weekly revenue when they find a way to quiet their stomach gurgles mid-show.
Hosted nowadays in a shared venue with rotating personalities, you’ll find Zamir keeping the show moving with light-hearted humor and deep appreciation for each artist. Her improv MC comedy fills the moments between each act and Gene Curtis, the sound guy, introduces each new artist with his handpicked samples, methodically chosen to match performers’ vibes.
The audience consists of supportive listeners, many who frequent the event every week. “The community is awesome! It’s a bunch of loving surfers, hippies, and musicians,” Zamir said.
Many of the attendees who perform end up collaborating.
“And, since there’s zero competition, people actually talk and bond. There’s a great community vibe,” Zamir said.
Before the event begins, folks exchange introductions and admirations in the venue. A lot of musicians, sometimes not expecting to play, end up concocting collaborations just before the show and improvise their way through an act.
“My favorite thing is when someone gets up to the microphone and asks for someone to come play guitar or drums or beatbox or sing and someone runs on stage unprepared, unknowing exactly what they are supposed to do – and then they come up with something incredible.”
Many notable collaborations stuck with Zamir, like “Shirtless Dave” and his guitar or mutton-chops Chad with his banjo and flute. It wouldn’t be a rarity to find either artist playing alongside anybody who desired accompaniment.
“One of our regulars, Michael Hey Bear, teamed up with Seda one night to sing ‘Tennessee Whiskey’ and it felt like they were spinning velvet all over my ears.”
She said the acts can often be really healing and cathartic, depending on the night.
The crowd always stays quiet, with ears glued to the stage. “It can be daunting, getting that much attention at once,” Zamir added. This is the type of event where, lovingly, devotees will shush talkative guests conversing during performances. “Our audience is there for the show,” Zamir said.
Attendees expressed their connection to the open mic as more than just a showcase for performers.
“I’ve made a lot of friends through this event and you can too!” Zamir said. “I always tell new people to come to open mic just because there is such a diverse group of people here. We’re all friendly and living our lives, and it’s a good place to not feel alone. I’ve gotten jobs through people I’ve met!”
The open mic invites guests to share community happenings as well.
After the last performance, the MC opens the stage for upcoming events and announcements. Anything from birthday parties and yard sales to service projects and activism engagements receive mention.
Once the last speaker finishes, clean up begins. Each night, the hosts set everything up and break it all down again and many regulars help stack chairs to expedite the process. During this time, folks reflect the night and send praise to performers they enjoyed. A lot of their regulars go on to get acts around Paʻia and Maui, according to Zamir. Not a bad way to spend a Thursday night in the jungle.
Haiku Thursday Open Mic Night
810 Haʻiku Rd.
$5 at the door
Photo courtesy Joanna Zamir