The Mill, an Iowa City staple, has been around for over 50 years. The restaurant doubles as a concert venue where live music can be heard almost any night of the week. Every Monday night, The Mill hosts a well-attended open mic night. I asked Joanne, a waitress at The Mill who works most Monday nights, about the acts she sees every week. “Well the sound guy is always the same and he opens and closes every week with his own set,” said Joanne. She added that there are usually four or five new artists in addition to the three or four performers who attend open mic night on a regular basis.
The “sound guy” Joanne is referring to is J. Knight, creator of open mic night at The Mill. I got to ask him about the origins of open mic night and what motivated him to create such an institution. “I started this open mic in 1981,” J. said proudly. He continued, “I was playing music as a singer-songwriter and I had come to Iowa City the year before. The Mill was the main place that I played in town and Monday was kind of a musician’s night off – they’d usually play on the weekends and be back for Monday. So I talked to the owner about doing an open mic on Monday nights.”
I then asked J. how often he plays his own set during open mic night. He replied, “Not always, but if there’s time!” J. explained that his open mic nights are usually fully booked two to three weeks in advance, but he is “always ready” to fill extra time or replace an act that fails to show up.
When I asked who his favorite artists are, J. had an interesting response. Chuckling, he said, “All the people who come and play at my open mic! Those are my favorites!” J. went on to say that as a musician, he does not listen to other musicians very often. Instead, he listens to National Public Radio. He then said that he plays a lot of Hoyt Axton and Johnny Cash songs. Sure enough, J. closed his set with a Johnny Cash number from the 1950’s.
If you are a musician, open mic night at The Mill is a great way to get your music heard. Open mic night is every Monday at 8pm, and admission is free for audience members.
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