Alaskan Bar's weekly musical forum going strong for 18 years and counting
All musicians have to start someplace. Even singers that have now become legendary had to perform for the first time in front of someone, somewhere. Open mike is often the best outlet for amateur performers to bring their art to meet the public.
Dan Minuskin started hosting an open mike at the Alaskan Hotel & Bar in 1991 and it has been going on most Thursday nights since. Between then and now, the event has been hosted by many other local musicians, including Teri Tibbett, Scott Fry, Sean Tracey and Scott Burton, to name a few.
"I enjoyed it," Minuskin said. "It gave me a reason to learn new songs, practice, and be in the thick of things one day a week. It kept me in the groove of performing and gave me something to work toward every week."
While it's great to have a good host, the whole point of open mike is that it is open to the public. Just about anyone who has anything to say, sing, or play has equal opportunity to perform. The Alaskan has seen every type of act, from limericks and throat singing to sonatas and hoedowns.
"There were quite a few people who were regulars, who would show up every week and do a 15-minute set. It was their 15 minutes of fame," Minuskin said.
Singer-songwriter Brian Sullivan has been one of the most loyal performers at open mike, having missed only a few weeks here and there in the 18 years of its existence.
"If you ask Dan, he remembers when I wasn't so good. I was just starting to write, but he'll tell you that I've come a million miles, and that's because of playing down there every week. I probably have a bachelor's degree in music from hanging out in the Alaskan," Sullivan said.
"Brian Sullivan is really the authority on the open mike," Minuskin said.
Originally from Ohio, Sullivan said he chose to settle in Juneau because of the musical opportunities that exist here - not only for professionals, but for amateurs as well.
"There's a tight music community here. We all help each other out," Sullivan said, adding that one of his favorite things about open mike is the opportunity to play with other musicians. By the end of the night, it has often turned into one big jam session.
"Not too many places have opportunities for us amateurs to get up there in front of a big audience and test the water," Sullivan said. "It's been a good experience for me because I'm a writer. I've gotten to write all these songs and work them out on stage in front of a live audience, and I get to look at peoples' faces while I'm playing and know if I've got a winner or not."
Throughout the years, there have been peaks and lulls as far as musician and spectator turnout depending on the time of year, the weather, and other events going on in town.
"You should have seen it, some of the years in there, it was a zoo. There was a line all the way down the street just to get in for open mike. It was nuts," Sullivan said.
"Over time it's become much more of an institution. It was a little more rough and muddy back in the early '90s when we were doing it," Minuskin said.
Open mike still takes place Thursdays at the Alaskan from 9 p.m. until everyone is all played out.
Libby Sterling can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.