This article is also available in print: Quaker Campus, Volume 19 – Issue 6, dated Nov. 17, 2021, on the Whittier College campus.
KPOET Radio’s Open Mic Night returned to a full house in Villalobos on Friday, Nov. 12. Colorful strobe lights pulsated across the audience and performers, helping to drown out the typically academic environment of Villalobos. In previous years on campus, open mic nights had been held in Club 88, giving performers an actual stage and a clearly creative environment to help promote the feeling of artistry and expression that usually permeates the air at Open Mic Nights. However, despite this change in venue (most likely because many did not know of the original venue due to the year and a half off campus), students took the stage or, uh, the cleared floor in front of the podium, ready to share their creativity. Third-year and KPOET Assistant General Manager Kyle Auliffe said that there were technical struggles in reviving the event. However, the almost 50 students gathered in chairs and around tables in the hall, eager to watch their friends and peers perform, made clear the effort was worth it.
The first performer of the night was fourth-year Alena Lakha, who sang “Never Enough” by Travis Atreo. Lakha would return later to close the night out with a dance routine to “Brighter than Gold” by Louis II. While it was a shaky start — with Lakha wanting the lyrical version of the song to sing along with rather than the instrumental — Lakha’s voice carried throughout Villalobos with confidence. She made a wardrobe change for her dance to “Brighter than Gold” where she wore a gold sheet over a black leotard for a dramatic reveal.
Quite a surprise, singing was popular at open mic night. First-year Ilya Gromochenko made sure Open Mic Night did not go without the traditional ukulele rendition of Vance Joy’s “Riptide.” Gromochenko jokingly acknowledged the popularity of his song choice, introducing himself with, “Perhaps you’ve heard this before.” Gromochenko seemed nervous at first, but, after roping in a harmony from KPOET DJ Kirsten DeMarquez, they enchanted the crowd with the indie classic. Fourth-year Clifton Blevins was a fan favorite. He performed “Wakko’s America” from the Animaniacs soundtrack with a glimmer of humor and a smooth voice that had everyone cheering.
Each performer was allotted 10 minutes to perform, which some students used completely. Fourth-year Christian Bannuelas played three songs, including an original he named “Nevermore.” Bannuelas sang with a soft voice and accompanied himself by playing guitar. Despite using the full 10 minutes, no one in the audience could complain as Bannuelas’ performance showcased the talent Open Mic Nights hoped to attract. Another talented musician, first-year Kaitlyn Taft, used the full 10 minutes to display her skills and took a seat at the piano bench to grace the audience with piano renditions of “Dream On” by Aerosmith and “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen. While piano versions of rock songs can sometimes feel more gentle than original performances, Taft captured the energy of the songs and was met with cheers from the audience as she hit the more recognizable verses of the songs.
Two poets also used the full performance time to share their vulnerable words with the crowd. Fourth-year Daniel Wolf was no stranger to Open Mic Nights, as he has read poetry at the events pre-COVID-19. Some of his poetry has also been featured in previous editions of the College’s literary journal, the Greenleaf Review. While the colorful strobe lighting was perhaps not exactly matching Wolf’s poetic tales of love and life (with an occasional sprinkle of mentions of COVID-19), Wolf’s unwavering delivery captivated the audience and was met with snaps (and some claps from those who didn’t get the memo). Third-year Andrew Tarango also performed original poetry. Tarango shared a couple haikus as well as other poems he had written and was kind enough to take the time to share the motivational meaning to the poems.
Perhaps the most unique performance of the night was by third-year Dayquan Moeller, who concluded the poetry of the night with a performance piece. Moeller’s performance engaged the audience; he said he did not have the time to write the poem they planned and gave the crowd thirty seconds to boo or heckle them . . . except no one set a timer, so he gave everyone another 30 seconds. While the crowd threw out a few half-hearted boos in the first few seconds, Moeller’s performance was mostly met with lighthearted laughter and smiles as he provided them with a performance that was not only interesting but also gave students a chance to relieve some stress. Moeller wrote the performance an hour before Open Mic Night began, and admitted that they were nervous to perform. “I really liked the event,” he said. “It was my first Open Mic Night, since I didn’t get to do it my freshman year.” He was glad he got to go this year, as they watched people perform that he had never seen or met on campus before, and found out about fellow students’ hidden talents. In fact, he is excited to go to the next Open Mic Night. “I think everyone should go at least once, if they’ve never been to one,” said Moeller.
Whittier College would not be the vibrant liberal arts college we are without KPOET’s Open Mic Night. The return of the Open Mic Night signified a return of life and joy to campus through an hour and a half of uninhibited artistic expression. “To actually have the chance to experience an event like open mic night feels like a reminder of identity. It’s a strange form of nostalgia I think only our generation will know.” said McAuliffe. “To go from hiding expression behind masks and screens to rediscovering ourselves with peers.” Learning to live and learn under COVID-19 has not made for an easy semester, but KPOET reminded the community it is important to have spaces where students can unwind and share their creativity, no matter what it is or how experienced they are.
Featured Photo Courtesy of Brianna Wilson