It’s Thursday night at the Santa Barbara Roasting Company and a man identified as Freddy sits on a low stage, reading a poem in rhyming couplets about being homeless and “a penny-pincher.” The audience sits at tables in front of him, drinking and listening. They listen respectfully because it won’t be long before it’s their turn for seven minutes with the microphone and their original material. When Freddy’s time is up he leaves the stage and emcee Jenny David gets up to introduce the next performer, Hugh, who plays, in contrast to Freddy’s serious poetry, a light-hearted guitar song about the troubles of a world without gravity.
Hugh and Freddy are a small example of the diversity of artists who now attend what started as a simple open mic for local poets. David, a spoken word poet and SBCC film student, has been working the Independent-sponsored Santa Barbara Open Mic for over a year. “It started in October 2008 and just took off.” Said David in a telephone interview, “We had about 15 artists the first time and now we have about 30 to 40 artists showing up. Each week is unique and special and inspirational.”
David believes the success of the open mic can be used to make it more than just a performance venue. That’s what moved her to form the Free Culture Arts Foundation, a coalition of artists dedicated to using their talents for community activism.
Artists have strong convictions at heart, David believes, and she wants to help them build connections with regional organizations through the foundation. Created in March 2009, the foundation has already held two fundraisers with a third in the works, sponsored a youth open mic, and teamed with Santa Barbara businesses to host regular open mics and showcases for local musicians. “It’s kind of a big family,” said Taylor Strand, a musician who’s been attending open mics for nearly eight months, “It’s made me more a part of the community. I can connect my music with my [other] passions.” Strand, an ardent surfer, participated in Free Culture’s first fundraising event, a concert at SOhO that raised money to protect the Gaviota coastline. She said that Free Culture improved her as an artist. “It’s not just about the music, it’s also about caring for the community. I can use my music to better the community and raise awareness about issues that are important to me. I’m not only a musician and surfer, but also an activist.”
After the success of that first fundraiser, Free Culture joined with Downtown Santa Barbara’s 1st Thursday program to hold a concert and art show at Casa De la Guerra to raise money for the Save Naples Campaign. Another event, a benefit for Global Water, is scheduled for March.
Free Culture has also expanded from just the weekly open mic to partner with Live Culture to hold an additional monthly open mic for musicians at the Live Culture Lounge. Co-owners Darin Fiechter and Sierra Falso decorate their walls with works by local artists and have an elevated stage where musicians can perform in plain view of the lounge’s tables. “We have a place where local musicians can come and showcase their talent,” says Fiechter, “so Free Culture was a natural fit. Jenny was walking through Paseo Nuevo and saw our name and said, ‘It was just a sign.'” Fiechter said that the participants at the open mic are often asked to play other nights and other venues by Live Culture patrons. Falso, surprised that there aren’t more new artists coming in, believes this will attract more aspiring musicians to play.
The foundation’s Web site, freeculturearts.com, features an impressive number of profiles of member artists along with video clips, samples of their works (along with the the occasional free download), and links to their Web sites. The site also sports a short documentary by David about the open mics, a monthly featured artist, details on upcoming events, and clips of past events.
Free Culture Arts Web site: freeculturearts.com, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, open mic every Thursday at Santa Barbara Roasting Company from 7-9 p.m. (sign ups at 6:30), 321 Motor Way, Santa Barbara, Phone: 962-0320
Live Culture, 11 West De la Guerra (in Paseo Nuevo). Phone: 845-8800; open mic fourth Sunday of every month from 6-10 p.m.