Open mike: His 7 seconds made in heaven

To sing badly for people, and not to realize it, can be very embarrassing.

I know; I have done this.

For much of my life, whenever I have sung for people, they have — in short — urged me not to.

So when I stepped to the microphone for my first open mike performance, I felt like I stood alone. In the back of my head I heard every person who ever scoffed, jeered or recoiled at my attempt at song.

The moments before going on stage at the Taco Mac in Duluth were emotionally perplexing. I found myself in the bathroom — to tune my guitar. It was quiet there.

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Walking out, I tripped over my guitar cord. My mouth had decided it was going to be dry, no matter how much water I drank.

“Now, please welcome Craig Schneider, doing his first open mike,” the host said.

I was too scared to look out at the audience, so I didn’t ... the whole time. I just stared at the music book in front of me, ignoring the 10 people eating dinner.

My voice sounded strange singing into an amplified microphone for the first time. It cracked on Bruce Springsteen’s “The River,” and my version of Gordon Lightfoot’s “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” seemed to last 45 minutes.

But people clapped, and in the end it felt great. That’s the thing about doing open mike (sometimes spelled open mic) nights. Even the little good moments feel great.

Open mike nights are different from karaoke. Most open mike performers have some level of training, play their own instruments and often write their own songs. They are lawyers, store clerks and plumbers by day but singers, musicians and songwriters by night.

Singing has been a passion of mine since, as a kid, I rolled a sheet of paper into a fake microphone and sang and danced until I sweated to the Tom Jones show.

In the past year, I’ve hunkered down, taken lessons and done about two dozen or so open mike nights.

Let’s face it, this is as good as it’s going to get for me — a little stage, maybe 30 people listening and seven seconds of applause. Yes, I count.

I’ve found a place that brings out the best in that combination, Ragamuffin Music on the Roswell Square. It’s a funky little building that owners Jackie Whitaker and her husband, Mark Breuker, have turned into a “listening venue.” That means people sit quietly while you play.

This is better than an open mike at a bar, where your voice competes with the football game on TV, the blender making drinks and people talking.

At Ragamuffin, many of the performers really know what they’re doing. That has, at times, led me to moments of intense self-loathing. But this community of singer/songwriters has encouraged me as I’ve popped my P’s on the microphone, occasionally played out of tune and slowly found my sea legs on stage.

Recently, I’ve taken to writing my own songs. As my learned and patient teacher Louis Robinson says, you never sound so good as when you’re singing your own songs.

The big news is that, about a week ago, I got my first fan. After my turn at the mike, a guy approached me and asked for a recording of one of my songs, called “These are my Songs.” He said his wife wanted to hear it.

Saints be praised. I immediately agreed to send him a recording I had from a prior open mike. I am also willing to fix his transmission and carry barbells up to the attic.

Finally, a person who appreciates my singing. Maybe I am getting better.

Meet the reporter

Craig Schneider has been a journalist for more than 20 years, but he has wanted to be a singer for most of his life. At The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, he has exposed problems with the state child welfare system, walked through chest-high flood waters, and tracked swine flu and salmonella food poisoning. As a singer, he has stayed mostly in the shower. Recently, he ventured out to sing in public. The result: He’s not quitting his day job.

Open mic nights

Ragamuffin Music. 8 to 10 p.m. Thursdays. 585 Atlanta St., Roswell. www.ragamuffinmusic.com.

Eddie’s Attic. 7 to 11 p.m. Mondays. 515B N. McDonough St., Decatur. www.eddiesattic.com.

Red Light Café. 8:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Wednesdays. 553 Amsterdam Ave., Atlanta. www.redlightcafe.com.

45 South Cafe. 7 p.m. Tuesdays. 45 S. Peachtree St., Norcross. www.45southcafe.com.

Open Mic Atlanta hosts several open mic nights at various venues around metro Atlanta. www.openmicatlanta.com.

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