Open Mic from thrift store A to Zen gives musicians a chance
Keith Alan Barnett performs at Open Mic Night in Carson City on March 25.
Kyler Klix/Nevada Call
The North Carson Street store has been hosting an Open Mic party for about 13 years and it has evolved over time, especially recently, owner Mike Epps said.
It is a place where musicians and artists come together and take the opportunity to show off their talents or hone their skills. Often this is a place where beginners can start.
Epps describes the place as a “musical island of misfit toys”.
“We’ll have everything from 60-year-old pros to people shaking in their shoes and performing in front of people for the first time,” he said.
The room where the music takes place is the Zen Den. The stage is large, with house drums, a grand piano and other instruments to use. Local company KD Sound helped set up the sound system and Epps is grateful for the crisp, clean and professional audio. Three cameras are used to broadcast the concerts live on Facebook.
For the public, the room is open and comfortable. There are several sofas for lounging among other seating. And there’s room to dance if you feel like moving your feet. The store is licensed and serves alcohol and if you need a snack there is fresh pizza.
Epps said it’s completely family-friendly because it’s not a bar.
“Children are welcome,” he said. “We had 7-year-olds up there singing songs. This has been one of the benefits for some people.
The atmosphere at A to Zen is musicians supporting other musicians. When people are in the Zen Den, they pay attention and listen to the music. Canyon White said that’s what makes their Open Mic Night special. She began hosting Open Mic Night shortly after Epps pitched her.
“People go there to listen to music, and that’s it,” she said.
If you need to get out of the room to have a conversation, there are speakers throughout the store and there’s a video feed.
“They won’t miss anything because of the quality of the wiring,” White said.
Epps said the location was significant for many players as it was not the usual bar atmosphere with added noise.
“When you’re playing in a bar or a cafe, people are half-attentive,” he said. “It’s not like that here. When the music plays in the back room, that’s what happens.
Epps said many people come to Open Mic, from beginners to professionals.
“I really like people shaking in their boots for the first time,” Epps said.
He said many professionals use the space to practice new songs.
“It gives them a chance to test the waters, to try something to see how it works,” Epps said.
One Friday night in March, Keith Alan Barnett put his name on the sign-up sheet. He’s a professional, playing many gigs in the area with some of his bands. Before being in these groups, he played Open Mic Nights.
“When I arrived here, I was shaking like a leaf,” he said. “Trying to get up there on my own was tough.”
He eventually started playing with other musicians because people saw him and liked what he was doing. Now he performs regularly in the area with three bands: The Lonesome Polecat Band, MiXed Company and Southbound Train.
He came on stage and played a few songs. He had instrumentation for a song that seemed difficult, and he tried to play it as best he could. With a few slow notes and a little work, he got through the song. He said he had practiced this part, so this was his chance to try it out in front of people.
Deanta Saunders came from out of town to visit her dad, Jeffrey, and she sang a few songs in front of the crowd. The Wisconsin student said she had just visited for a week and it was her first time singing at A to Zen.
“I heard about it; I got online and had already seen the show live on Facebook,” she said.
She said she had sung in choirs before, but that was something different. She said she would like to sing again if she had the chance.
“I would love to come back,” she said.
The store has updated its technology and is now streaming the show live on Facebook. If you go to the A to Zen page on Friday night, the show will be available to watch in real time, or you can watch reruns later.
The store has the help of John Rodriguez who handles audio and video. It’s a hobby of his, and he also uses the space to record his @TheBigJohnShow podcast.
“I took the opportunity as soon as he showed me the equipment,” Rodriquez said. “I couldn’t stop playing with it.”
He said he’s been doing this for about a year now.
“It’s a constant evolution and I keep learning more,” he said.
Rodriguez loves live music and is learning to play the guitar. He hasn’t performed on stage yet, but he said he will when he’s ready.
Epps said the A to Zen had come a long way with their Open Mic Night and they would continue. He wants to continue to build on what they have, and that includes offering more to bands via audio and video.
He also wants to have a recording studio that can record a video clip. Epps said he wanted to offer this to bands to help them get started, so they have professional sound and video to promote themselves.
Epps said A to Zen has helped give the community an amateur venue to perform in front of an audience and wants to continue helping newbies grow. He has shows on Saturday nights at A to Zen and he says that many of Open Mic’s good artists can be asked to perform longer shows.
Epps says you never know what you’ll find at A to Zen. He said they might bring in someone they’ve never seen, and they look like they’re homeless, and they’ll have everyone jump out the window.
“There’s nowhere like it; I have never seen anything like what is happening here,” he said. “We are the musical island of misfit toys.”
IF YOU ARE GOING TO
A to Zen is located at 1803 N. Carson St., Carson City. Open mics begin at 6 p.m. every Friday. Follow their Facebook page at facebook.com/a.tozen.9 or visit online at www.atozenonline.com