Open Mic Night returns at Aspen’s Red Onion |

Open Mic Night returns at Aspen’s Red Onion

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
Andre Salvail/The Aspen TimesMorgan Hale, of Winter Park, performs an original composition during Open Mic Night at The Red Onion in downtown Aspen. The popular event, which draws dozens of locals and tourists, returns Mpnday at 9:30 p.m. after an offseason hiatus.

ASPEN – They sing about love, hate, jealousy, murder, trailer-park living, the trappings of wealth, heavy drinking, drug use, sex, dogs, work, fishing, mountains, oceans – the list goes on and on.

The folks who perform at each Monday’s Open Mic Night at The Red Onion will play just about anything and everything, from covers of Merle Haggard and Stevie Nicks to their own compositions and the personal statements that lie within the lyrics.

The event, in its 10th season, returns in full swing to the downtown Aspen restaurant tonight after a short offseason hiatus. Musician Trenton Allan, who said he moved to Aspen “homeless and penniless” in 1997 and has been coordinating Open Mic Night for the past decade, said the key to the event’s success is the help of many spirited local residents.

“Open Mic Night is successful because of the crowd,” Allan said. “Each week, hardworking folks come after work, unwind with a good drink and encourage each performer with generous applause and fervor. Without a community that supports its musicians and artists, the event would never have been so successful.”

Those who have performed at Open Mic Night, or at least attended the shows regularly, know that each night can be different. There are times when the crowds are largely made up of tourists, and there are others when the bar is filled with locals. Sometimes the listeners are attentive; on other occasions they chat and pay scant attention to the performers.

Likewise, the quality and tone of the performances vary. The singers and songwriters can be outgoing at times and pensive at others. Newcomers and regulars alike can be downright nervous, and it shows. Musical genres run the gamut of country, folk, blues, rock and funk – with a lot of weird stuff tossed in, as well. It’s an eclectic scene.

“No matter where I’ve been in the world, music brings people together and refreshes and revives them,” Allan said. “It doesn’t matter where you are from or where you are at – honest, passionate music attracts people and brings them together.”

He encourages artists to be professional. Instruments should be in tune already before they’re brought up to the stage. Participants should listen closely for when their names are called to avoid long delays between performers. Between-song banter should be kept to a minimum.

“We encourage all styles of music and performance. Cussing is discouraged. We ask the performers to please show some class on the stage,” he said.

Allan said one of the biggest problems he faces when coordinating the show is squeezing everybody into short time slots. The performances typically start at 9:30 p.m. and run until about 1:30 a.m. Sometimes there are so many participants it’s hard to fit everybody into the allotted four hours.

“Making live music is very addictive, and once you get warmed up and get the crowd into it, you don’t want to stop,” he said. “So we try to give each participant at least three songs with a time limited to no longer than 15 minutes. Otherwise some players would never give up the stage.”

Over the years, Allan said, Open Mic Night has proved to be an incubator of sorts for local performers. Musicians and singers have developed the skills to play with bands or on their own at other venues – for money.

“It absolutely helps,” Allan said. “The reason I started this whole thing was to improve my abilities and gain confidence on stage. And we have local guys, like Travis Blair and Mark Nussmeier, who have transformed themselves into professionals but still play at open mic.”

He said he hopes other club owners and managers are scoping out the talent each week with an eye toward booking some of the artists and helping to resurrect Aspen’s once-proud live-music scene.

“This year we’d like to start helping mature players get booked for other gigs in town,” Allan said.