Top Five Open Mic Spots in Bristol
Up-and-coming poet Judith Schofield knows the best places to go and share your work with others. Here are her top fives for the best open mics in the city.
Bristol is famous for a lot of things; being a green city, our fantastic ciders, and primarily our thriving musical scene. One of the less often acknowledged, but most interesting parts, of this musical scene is the wonderful variety of open mic nights. On any given day of the week you can find somewhere to express yourself, through music or poetry or even comedy and impressions. Or you can simply go to enjoy the atmosphere, the performers and the aforementioned cider. Since there are so many open mic nights in Bristol, it can be difficult to find the “best” ones, so here’s a brief overview of my favourite five.
The Arts House, Stokes Croft, Wednesday 8:30-11pm
The open mic at the Arts House in Stokes Croft has been one of my favourites for years. It has a wonderful mix of styles and genres, a laid back atmosphere and one of the most supportive crowds I have ever seen. There’s nothing intimidating about getting up on stage, it feels almost like performing for friends and family. This makes it a great place for new artists to test the waters and find their courage. The venue is relatively small, so be sure to get there early if you want to sit down; I’d recommend around eight thirty. It’s a particularly good place to go to as a poet, but also very welcoming to musicians. The performances go on in the basement below the cafe, giving the evening an almost prohibitionesque atmosphere, as you listen to beat poets and great original music in a sort of stonewalled cavern. Definitely one of the best places to be on a Wednesday if you’re looking to unwind and feel really artistically stimulated.
The Old Duke, King Street, Tuesday 9-11PM
Everyone knows that the Old Duke does amazing jazz; wandering past on a weeknight you’re sure to be drawn inside by the sounds of harmonica and saxophone drifting on to the street. What is less commonly known is the quality of the open mic that they hold on Tuesdays. It is every bit as good as the paid performances on other nights of the week, and with such an awesome variety of styles. There is still a heavy jazz influence, probably because the host Eddie Martin is a jazz musicians himself, but just this past Tuesday I also heard covers of Metallica, Bon Jovi and a ton of originals. Eddie himself is a fantastic musician who plays the harmonica and guitar simultaneously (talk about multitasking!), and has a wonderful Tom Waits-style husky voice to accompany it. When I asked Eddie what he thought distinguished the Old Duke’s open mic from the others, he said that it was ‘the closest thing I’ve ever discovered to New Orleans in Bristol’. He also described the atmosphere as being ‘funky as hell’. I have to say, I couldn’t agree more; the funky atmosphere, the relaxed vibe and the top notch music make this an ideal place to go to perform or listen on a Tuesday night.
Cafe Brigstow, Centre, Friday 7:30-11PM
This particular open mic is very unique for both its location and its date. Very few open mics take place on a Friday night, and fewer still directly in the middle of the centre. On a night typically known for drunken debauchery, this venue is a great respite from the hectic clubbing atmosphere. Alternatively, it’s also a great place to go before clubbing it up in town. One thing I especially enjoy about this night is the open front of the cafe, weather permitting, that lets you sit outside and still be just as close to the music. In fact, at one point I was literally sat about 1 foot from the musicians whilst sitting outside. It’s also a great place to meet people; everyone’s extremely friendly. The venue is relatively small but I think this gives it a more intimate vibe, and yet somehow also vibrant and exciting. The decor is extremely cool, with graffiti on the walls and olive cans for plant holders; the whole place feels very modern yet bespoke. One big bonus for performers there is that they get free tapas and a drink, and the chance to be picked up for paid gigs if they impress.
The host, Jeremy Allen, explained how they take a ‘friendly approach, so no one will be intimidated to play’. He’s right about that, the staff and performers alike seemed incredibly comfortable and if I’d had anything with me to read I might have been tempted to break out the poetry. It isn’t just Fridays that have a lot to offer at Cafe Brigstow; I was also reliably informed that Wednesdays are a great night for live music from surprising guests such as Celestine from the Voice. Not my cup of tea personally, but I’ll certainly have to drop by on a Wednesday some time to see who’s next. Check out their Facebook page
The Rope Walk, Bedminster, Wednesday
This is probably the least known night on the list, but the one with the most potential. The Rope Walk in Bedminster used to be an, ahem, somewhat dodgy place under the previous ownership. Unfortunately, some of the stigma from that seems to have stuck to what is now one of the nicest venues in the area. The new owner Tristan Roddy has done a complete rework of the decor and the atmosphere; there’s warm low lighting, stonework walls and lovely chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. It physically couldn’t be a further cry from the old man’s pub it used to be.
The open mic is hosted by Lady Nade, who’s fairly well known in the Bristol music scene for her melancholic and beautiful singing/guitar playing. Tristan says that ‘having a professional musician like Lady Nade has helped to set the tone of the open mics, someone who understands the craft and is passionate’. Her passion shows in her performances, and I couldn’t recommend getting down there to see her more. They’ve had a variety of styles of performers play, from fiddlers to bands to acapella hip hop, whatever that is. I was even lucky enough to see the owner Tristan perform some poetry of his own, an unexpected and great surprise. The main thing about this place is that it seems like everyone is involved, from the owner to the customers to the staff; the event is just extremely interactive, and it’s hard not to want to participate. They also have a monthly poetry open mic on the first Thursday of each month. Check out Lady Nade
The Oxford Pub, Totterdown, Thursday
The Oxford is a great little place up in Totterdown, which has a lot to offer performers. Just for starters you get a free meal and a drink for performing; this week it was seafood linguine and potatas bravas(yum)! If you aren’t ‘in the band’ that will be £5, still very reasonably priced. Aside from that there’s the interesting atmosphere, amazing artwork on the walls and reasonable drink prices. Expect to hear music ranging from folk to R’n’B covers, jazz and blues. It’s upbeat, it’s downbeat, fast, slow, happy and sad. The variety of styles and genres makes each night a unique experience, and it’s never boring. Look out for a beautiful painting of a nude woman just to the right of the stage, my personal favourite. For those wet blankets not too bothered about the frankly brilliant music, there’s also a pool table and a large smoking area out front.
So if you’re looking to perform or just to relax with a drink and some quality entertainment this week, head down to one of these great nights after work. You’ll see some of the best unknown artists in Bristol, and those who’ve already made a name for themselves as well. Poets, comedians and musicians alike can all sharpen their craft, and you get to witness it for the low low price of nothing.
Where do you go for Open Mics? Let us know @rifemag
Support more young people to have their voices heard
Rife is Watershed‘s online magazine created for young people, by young people.
We offer paid internships and publish work by young writers, photographers, illustrators, and filmmakers from all sorts of backgrounds, helping them get into creative careers. Rife has reached over 8,000 young people through our workshops, over 220 young people have made stuff for Rife on topics ranging from mental health to identity to baked beans, and last year, over 200,000 people visited our website.
In these complex and uncertain times hearing from and supporting young people who are advocating for social change and contributing fresh perspectives has never been so important.
Through supporting Rife you can ensure that this important work continues and that more young people have their voices heard.