A decade of open mic night

Weekly musicians’ night a springboard for new local talent

Steve Smith (right), Cam Lovett and Trevor Wallach (drums) perform at the 10th anniversary celebration of the Last Drop’s Open Mic Night, which has been an incubator for local live music talent over the decade. Photo: Alex Cooper/Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine

Years ago – nine to be exact – I was asked to do a story about open mic night at the Last Drop. I hadn’t been before (as a punk rock elitist, I’d generally had a low opinion of open mic nights) but I had heard it was the night to go out in Revelstoke.

I showed up and the place was packed. There were lines out both doors and a thirsty horde pressed up against the bar. The stage was at the side of the pub, with about three metres between it in the bar. And in that space, everyone crammed in, dancing, moshing, and even crowd surfing.

Turns out it was a little too popular, because the bar owners begged me not to run the story because they’d just been issued a liquor license suspension because of the night’s success.

Nik Winnitowy performs. Photos: Alex Cooper/Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine

“I don’t know what it was,” Steve Smith, the founder of open mic night at the Last Drop, told me. “People were wanting to party, and there wasn’t a lot of live music then.”

At the time, the Last Drop had just re-opened under new ownership and a major renovation transformed it from a dingy dive bar into a British-style pub. Speederz had an open mic night and the new owners wanted to keep it going, so they approached Smith, who had hosted an open mic in Yellowknife and played in local band Maritime Kitchen Party with Shannon Sternloff and Trevor Wallach.

“We wanted to have a place where a musician could come in – either a neophyte or a professional,” said Smith. “It was a perfect place for us to hone our teeth as a band.”

Ashley Borne performs at open mic night. Photo: Alex Cooper/Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine

Open mic night is now in its 10th year, and while it isn’t wild like that first winter, it continues to be a hangout for local musicians, a place where they can perform with minimal pressure and make connections in the music scene.

Cam Lovett, who now co-hosts open mic night with Smith, started coming out when he moved to Revelstoke in 2010. He now plays bass in several local bands and credits the night for getting him into the local music scene.

“Open mic is the stepping stone for music in Revelstoke,” he said.

While it’s ostensibly an amateur night, a few professionals have stopped by over the years, including rock duo Human Statues, folk-blues artist Rick Fines, and singer-songwriter Dave Gunning. Corb Lund showed up once, though he didn’t play.

The bar is much quieter on this Wednesday night than it was that night nine years ago, but there’s still a crowd of musicians looking to get on stage. Nik Winnitowy was one of them. He moved to Revelstoke two years ago and started coming out to open mic night to play. There, he forged connections to start a band called Catherwood.

“I never would have had the opportunities I’ve had musically in Revelstoke if it weren’t for open mic,” he told me.

Smith is still the driving force behind the night, coming out almost every Wednesday year-round. He’ll open the show with his band, and they often close as well, and in between he schedules performers and, occasionally, gives people the heave-ho if they overstay their welcome.

“We started it for the right reasons – to give musicians a chance to play,” said Smith. “We’ve watched people come out and have their first time on the stage, and then we’ve watched them blossom.”

Open mic night takes place at the Last Drop every Wednesday night starting at 10 p.m.