A Mic Night to remember from Front Porch and MPU
Nestled behind Cal Poly Campus Health and Wellbeing is Front Porch, a snug refuge and 501(C)(3) non-profit known for providing free Wednesday night dinners, serving warm beverages and above all fostering a sense of community.
Although Front Porch creates an inviting atmosphere in many ways, it hosts one event that uniquely imbues its hospitality-driven ministry with dynamic live performance: Open Mic Night.
On Friday, Jan. 20, a gaggle of performers and music enthusiasts like myself crowded into Front Porch’s warmly lit living room. Unlike open mics held there previously, this one was co-hosted by Music Production Union (MPU) — a club where Cal Poly students meet weekly to discuss, create and perform music.
Although the event certainly furnished entertainment for a crowded room, it also accomplished something far greater: demonstrating how the act of loving individuals can be instrumental in unifying the masses.
Just moments before the first act, I sat down on a wooden bench alongside other audience members who reclined on couches and metallic chairs, assuming the ready position to shower performers with applause and supportive cheers. The full coffee lounge seemed to brim with a welcoming energy that showcased the fulfillment of Front Porch’s mission to create a space where “college students can develop genuine relationships and experience life together through radical inclusivity.”
This “radical inclusivity” was evidenced by diverse performances ranging from R&B covers of Charli XCX and Rex Orange County to original pieces from groups like “Boycott Daylight,” a band consisting of MPU club members.
Yours truly also took advantage of the opportunity to perform by freestyle rapping – that is, spontaneously improvising and reciting lyrics inspired by audience suggestions. Although the occasional bout of nerves surfaced onstage, I sensed more comfort than claustrophobia within both other performers and myself.
Part of this might be due to Front Porch’s neighborly rendition of a familiar theme: public performance, which according to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, ranks as one of the most prevalent fears reported by American adults. The fact that Front Porch’s open mic seemed to sidestep the intimidating aspects of this sort of event left me with a question: what is it that makes the experience of performing at Front Porch inviting?
On the Tuesday leading up to the event, I sat down briefly with Front Porch intern Malia, who told me that the organization’s attention to comfortability and community is what distinguishes its event from other open mics.
“It just is like a space where we want to make sure everybody feels celebrated,” Malia said. “And so no matter what the performance, it’s like, everybody claps and everybody is enjoying.”
After the show on Friday, I additionally learned that context plays a large role in shaping a performative atmosphere, as noted by philosophy junior and MPU president Cameron King. With a whimsical and knowing smile, Cameron stood with me on the Front Porch patio to share his thoughts on what distinguishes the open mic from MPU’s high-tempo house shows.
“There’s lower stakes in the open mic, and so that leads up for more people to kind of blow you away,” King said.
Electrical engineering junior and MPU Vice President Ryan Marienthal nodded in agreement with King and elaborated on the significance of this open mic, which marks the club’s second collaboration with Front Porch. The one they co-hosted last year specifically provided a platform to celebrate feminine and BIPOC perspectives in the community.
“We really think that music is one of the most important things you can do for a community,” Marienthal said. “And especially Front Porch likes having us because that is their mission. And so we’re perfectly aligned, and music is what brings us two together.”
Front Porch’s emphasis on giving — whether it be gratuitous coffee or a place to study and socialize for people of all backgrounds — translates to not only a positive outcome for the nonprofit’s mission but one for the music scene as well.
Marienthal added that Front Porch’s generosity in offering an oasis made the open mic possible by eliminating complications posed by venue rental costs and noise sanctions that can reduce local musicians’ access to live performance opportunities.
“I really love SLO’s music scene and I am very grateful to Front Porch because it is extraordinarily hard to find venues to put on music,” Marienthal said.
Everything from the crowd’s energy to the thoughts shared by performers and attendees, like computer engineering sophomore and lead singer of “Boycott Daylight” Thomas Choboter, designated the Open Mic as a night to remember.
“This event made me super happy,” Choboter said, calling the event “a really special place that I think is one of the best and most enjoyable parts of the Cal Poly experience for me.”
For the buzzword that it is, the word “experience” is an essential ingredient in the recipe behind Front Porch’s atmosphere of togetherness.
“I think with an open mic, it’s just a constant flow of giving and receiving. Sometimes we’ll have snacks or coffee provided, but that’s not even always. I feel like the main thing being exchanged is just the experience,” Malia concluded at the ultimate moment of our interview.
Her thoughts are an accurate assessment given how strangers and old friends applauded and stood up to mingle within the toasty den of Front Porch before gathering their belongings after the final guitar strum. In this moment, a sense of togetherness born from individual talent filled the lively coffee house: an experience in which everybody appreciates, and is in turn appreciated.