The ambiance in the room is dim and friendly. Regulars greet each other, the bar tender shakes and pours, mixes and presents, the live band plays with the easy familiarity of men who have played together for years (or at least are experienced enough to fake it).
My first impression of The Harvest Open Mic, put on quarterly by the Spoken Soul 215 Collective, is one single word: homey. And it really does feel that way. The hosts are infinitely amusing, popping on and off stage in between acts to make a joke, to pump up the crowd. Even an unexpected dance competition breaks out on stage at one point with volunteering audience members popping, locking, dropping, and twerking their hearts out.
There are only three rules to keep in mind at The Harvest Open Mic and that is to sit back, relax and: get open, get free, get fed.
As I sat in my seat watching the performers rap, sing, dance, play, and tear up in the midst of their performances, it was impossible for me not to let out an occasional gasp or snap. I thought about how uncommon it is for an audience to respond with anything but laughter or tears during a performance. Yet here, at this open mic which celebrates individuality and freedom, it is impossible to restrain yourself, to close yourself off from what you are feeling. That “EXACTLY!” lingering behind your lips is pushed out free of remorse and you go home without regretting a single honest reaction.
During the open mic, artist Lavett Ballard painted on stage, stroking to the sounds of the music and creating bursts of color across a once white canvas. When asked after the show, which verb she was out of “get open, get free, get fed” Ballard chose get free because of the feeling that accompanies her while she creates live and in front of an audience at The Harvest. In the end, Ballard created a painting of recently deceased singer B.B. King, colorful notes and piano keys surrounding his proud, beaming face. The Harvest truly is a freeing experience. To see unrestrained people around you, allowing themselves to respond to art in whatever form that feeling comes is powerful and reminds each of us the importance of words and of artistry.
This is my favorite (and not only because World Cafe Live had many drinks and treats to spare). “Get fed” is my favorite out of the three verbs because it reminds me how important it is for us, as writers, readers, and art lovers to step out of our daily lives and nourish ourselves with new art. Art has so many purposes. It calls to action, it calls to attention, it causes dissension and causes new types of thinking. All of the poetry that I heard concerned love, social justice, authenticity, power, individuality and most importantly, community. I left nourished and saw that everyone else did too.
The next Harvest Open Mic will take place in September. Till then, take advantage of the other wonderful poetry resources available to you through Philadelphia’s art-filled night life. I would recommend checking out the Philly Pigeon and Fergie’s Pub for Word Up Wednesdays. Interested in hearing about more literary resources in Philadelphia, check this article out.