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Open mic night returns to The Underground Coffee House

As students returned to campus after two weeks of virtual learning, The Underground Coffee House hosted its first open mic night of the quarter

A sign for The Underground Coffeehouse at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash. from April, 2016. Open mic nights are held there every Tuesday from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. // Photo by Bryn Yasui

With new faces, returning regulars and improved COVID-19 precautions, open mic night returned to the Underground Coffeehouse at Western Washington University on Tuesday, Jan. 25 for the first time since fall quarter.

For about as long as the coffeehouse has existed, open mic night has welcomed all student performers who sign their name on the list before 7 p.m. on Tuesdays.  

Although the performances usually consist of one person and an instrument, comedians and poets are also featured. 

Jacqueline Pham, the Underground Coffeehouse coordinator, said that in order to adapt to COVID-19 regulations, capacity was reduced from its original 150 people to 75 in fall of 2020. This quarter, that has been further reduced to 60 people in response to the omicron variant. 

“We basically have security, and they check everybody’s green clearance pass that we all have on myWesternHealth,” Pham said. “For now, everything has been going well.” 

Pham said she has been working to be flexible and balance people’s desire to increase capacity and relax restrictions with what is safest for students and coffeehouse employees.

First-year Jules Auston, who has been performing at open mic nights since early in fall quarter, is glad for the extra care to safety. 

“I’m immunocompromised, so I definitely always appreciate those greater precautions,” he said. “One thing I’m glad they keep allowing is for the performers to remove their masks.”

Singing and playing guitar, Auston performed songs from his album “At The Base of Veindgofth Mountain,” which is a concept album of songs he’s adapted from stories from a novel he’s been working on.

He said what keeps him coming back to open mic night is the ambiance, the location and the general disposition of most of the people who go.

“There seems to be a focus of most everyone there on growth,” Auston said. “Seeing people have bad weeks and then come back the next week and kick-ass is pretty intoxicating.”

Auston said that from his experience, the performers mainly play music although there have been a few weeks where poetry was more common. There have even been a few people who came up just to talk, which he said was interesting. 

Auston has been playing guitar for two years but originally learned banjo, which he has been playing for eight years.

Also singing and playing guitar was fourth-year student and newbie to the open mic night, Jerod Hollen.

Hollen has attended open mic nights at other venues with his friends, one of whom told him about Western's. Although his friend was not allowed in because he arrived after the coffeehouse reached max capacity, Hollen was happy with the measures taken to ensure COVID-19 safety. 

“Displaying your badge clearance and having that be a prerequisite to gain entry I think helped a lot,” Hollen said. “It at least put my mind at ease.”

Like Auston, he said he liked the general ambiance of the coffeehouse. He specifically noted the stage as a positive. 

“I haven’t really ever gone up on a higher level than the audience and then played, so that definitely added a more real element in comparison to any of the other open mic nights I’ve been to,” Hollen said.

Hollen has been playing guitar since he was eight years old and recently formed a band with his friend called Flipside. He said he plans on attending and performing at the open mic every week that he can.

As Western settles into being back in person, the Underground Coffeehouse plans to be flexible and adapt to COVID-19 related changes in ways that allow them to continue hosting events like open mic night.



Ben Larson

Ben Larson (he/him) is a reporter on the city news beat for The Front this quarter. He is a visual journalism major and when he isn't reporting he enjoys the outdoors and horror movies. You can reach him at benlarson.thefront@gmail.com


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