American Idle

Who knows what will fall into an open mic?

"Coming back?" I asked.

"They want me to work the 6 a.m. shift," she said. "Probably not."

Open mic: As open-mic time approached, more people filtered into the bar, and a friendly buzz lifted the overall mood. The first performer was Justin, a handsome dude with a nice, full voice. He crooned tunes from Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, and Sublime and rocked out on his acoustic guitar. I noticed that the older couple who had supposedly left to go play Guitar Hero were back in the bar, waiting anxiously.

"You guys here for open-mic night?" I asked Penney (or her artist name, "Pennilynx"), who had cropped gray hair and wore shorts and a visor.

"Yeah," she said. "I'm waiting to go up. I was here last week, and I didn't do well. I had a lot of rum and Coke." She let out a long, warbling noise. "That's what my voice ended up sounding like."

"Yikes," I said. "Hope you're drinking water tonight. What got you into music, anyway?"

"Oh, I was in a band when I was young," she said. "But once a musician, always a musician. My stuff isn't exactly — what's it called? — contemporary? But it's unique." She pulled her CD out of a bag and handed it to me. "I play a bunch of different genres." The CD was titled Deep Thoughts, and it featured a forest and a picture of a lynx on the front of the case.

After Justin, it was Penney's turn, and she looked slightly nervous as she glanced back at her supportive husband. She approached the microphone, plugged in her guitar, and opened a book. She sang "Blue Suede Shoes," an original called "Fort Lauderdale," and one off her album, "The Change." Yeah, some of her lyrics were about as deep as an inflatable kiddie pool, and all the music was in one chord or the other.

She told me she only knew nine chords total — and when I looked skeptical, she retorted: "Well, the song 'Cocaine' only uses two, and look how well that did." Touché.

She strummed along and sang her heart out. At the end of her set, I put down my beer to give loud applause. After all, I couldn't have done even close to that well on stage. Smashing a guitar, like those dudes from the Who, might be fun, but don't expect me to play a single note.

Afterward, I approached Penney. "I sound better on my CD," she said quickly.

"Nah, you were good," I said. "And getting up on stage takes some serious guts — which I personally don't have."

"Yeah, it's scary," she agreed. "But ya gotta start somewhere."

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