The Pittsburgh area offers 40 or more open mics, ranging from bluegrass to hip hop, coffee houses to smoky bars. Where to begin?
The Shadow Lounge's Release open stage is among Pittsburgh's most dynamic and diverse, featuring singer-songwriters, emcees, poets, even electronic musicians. For the last five years, it's been hosted by house band Hambone Jenkins and Yah Lioness; the four-piece band provides the glue for the evening and backs up interested performers.
"Shadow Lounge has this history of being a place where artists can gather," says Yah Lioness. "It serves as a conduit for new artists coming into town."
It starts at 10:30 p.m. on Tuesdays (except the third Tuesday of the month), with sign-up beginning at 9 p.m. Unlike most open stages, there's a cover charge -- $3 for 21 and over, $5 for 18-20 -- and unlike many open stages, it's worth paying to see.
Another well-established event is the Calliope Songwriter Open Stage at the Bloomfield Bridge Tavern, Tuesdays at 9 p.m. The night is hosted by musician and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer John Hayes, and emphasizes singer-songwriters, with perhaps a bit of bluegrass and blues. The first Tuesday of the month, it's proceeded by a Songwriters Circle, with many of the participants sticking around for the open stage.
Both events are presented by Pittsburgh's Calliope folk-music society, which offers related jam nights: the Bluegrass Jam at the Starlite Lounge, in Blawnox (8 p.m., Tuesdays), and a monthly Old-Time Jam at Brillobox (6-9 p.m., third Sundays of the month). Details for all Calliope events are available at www.calliopehouse.org.
There are always new events cropping up around town, too. One emerging night takes place Wednesdays at 9 p.m. at Papa J's Centro, Downtown. It's hosted by Anthony Jardine, himself an AcoustiCafe regular. While acoustic musicians are the norm, "it's not just limited to one genre," Jardine says -- he's even had a reggae band show up. After everyone has played, the night often ends in a jam.
While you can find classic blues jams at plenty of bars around town, good places to start are Mondays at Lawrenceville's Thunderbird Café, hosted by Craig King; Tuesdays at the Aspinwall Grille; and Wednesdays at Blawnox blues club Moondogs. For more options and details, check out City Paper's weekly Open Stage listings.