Performers in all genres and talent levels are laying down the sound in monthly “open mic” sessions at the Church of Atonement in Carnegie.
The Artists of Atonement Open Mic, as the group is officially known, held the first of its monthly get-togethers on Dec. 3 with 14 performers. By the time the second open mic rolled around on Jan. 7, the roster of performers and the audience packed the undercroft of the church located at 618 Washington Ave.
The brain child of Mike and Diane McCauley, members of the congregation and business partners of Howling Kitty Music, the events offer free admission to listeners and performers alike as well as complimentary snacks such as biscotti, pretzels, cookies, candy and coffee. Donations, however, are accepted.
One by one, from 7 to 9:30 p.m., the performers take the stage in the sequence of signing in at the door while the audience sits at small tables that give the venue a cabaret-style feel. People may bring their own alcohol, which is limited to beer and wine.
As owners of Howlin Kitty Music, a song publishing and recording enterprise, Mike McCauley said he and his wife are always looking for new and undiscovered talent. As members of the church congregation, they also knew the church was searching for new forms of community outreach and proposed the idea of the open mic to the vestry.
“It was a perfect fit, and they loved the idea,” said McCauley, who emcees the events.
Although the next open mic would normally be scheduled for Feb. 4, which happens to be Super Bowl Sunday, the date has been moved back to Feb. 11 to allow performers and audience to enjoy the game.
“The open mic is open to musicians, poets, songwriters, spoken word artists and storytellers of all ages,” he said. “So far, our youngest performer was a 3-year-old Zanya Smith, who sang ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.’”
The January session featured mainly singers and guitarists who played mostly country/folk music. The roster also included spoken word artist, David Minniefield, who gave a dramatic recitation from the Book of Ecclesiastes, and flutist Suzanne Levinson, a member of the Pittsburgh Savoyards Orchestra and teacher at the Johnstonbaugh Music Center in Bridgeville. Levinson played an aria by Rossini, a classical work by Schubert and ended with the Irish song “Danny Boy.”
Steve Chess of Dormont attended both sessions as a listener, although he said he also plays the guitar and five-string banjo and may perform sometime down the road.
“The level of quality of the performers varies from professional to amateur, but all are worth listening to,” he said. “Some of the songs were original; others were familiar standards from current country to Credence Clearwater.”
Husband and wife folk duo Annie Trimble and Curt Cooper have been performing together for over 27 years – ever since they first laid eyes on one another while recruiting for old time dance band, Corn Dogs. They met the McCauleys a couple years ago at one of the monthly “song swaps” they hold for musicians at their home in Mt. Lebanon.
“We’ve had the opportunity to attend over 20 different open mics and always find them fun,” said Cooper, who runs a small music business with his wife through their website at www.southwind-pa.com. “We find it a good way to share our music with an appreciative audience and plan to continue doing them with (McCauley).”
As for McCauley, he said had some early song writing success in Nashville in the late 1970. During his five-year residence in the Tennessee capital of country music, his biggest hit was “Ugly Women & Pickup Trucks,” recorded by five different artists, including Ronnie Dunn of Brooks and Dunn fame. The version by Bill Arwood is available on YouTube.com.
After deciding to leave Nashville to make a “steady living,” McCauley taught high school English in Bethel Park, then became a computer science professor at LaRoche College
Following his retirement, he and Diane formed Howlin Kitty Music, named for their cat Woodstock.
“Through the open mics, we hope to be able to find local talent we can record in our studio in our home and put them on our record label,” McCauley said.
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