How to describe Open Mic Night at Tickles? On Wednesday nights the Tim West Band (Tim West lead vocal and guitar, Tommy “Bronx” on drums, and whoever joins in on bass, lead guitar, harmonica, or whatever.) Tim and Tommy have day jobs and numerous gigs around the island. On Wednesdays, they run the Open Mic Night with skill, humor, and an eye on the clock. (Since Tickles is a typical Caribbean establishment, open on two sides, and located only steps from boats in Crown Bay Marina, the performances have a 10:00 PM curfew.)
Those out for dinner, perhaps without even knowing about Open Mic Night, arrive after work, or a day doing boat projects, or basking on the beach, looking for a convivial bar, dinner, and drinks — not necessarily in that order. The rest of us: professional musicians, and musician/sailors/professors/dive instructors/attorneys/contractors/waitresses/students, some accompanied by “band-aids”, begin to gather at 6. Some sit at tables and order dinner, others opt to sit at the bar or a high table in the corner near the water. The guitars, mandolins, and saxophones pile up in the front corner. It takes Danny three trips to the car (two with help) to schlep his keyboard, stand, and stool.
The bus boys have already moved tables from the “stage” area, and now bring the drum set out from the storeroom. Tim and Tommy set up microphones, test the sound system, and greet the “guest” musicians. “Hey, Stew! You going to play tonight?” “Hi there Peter, you’ll play after Kevin.” Tim and Tommy walk through the crowd, noting strangers with instruments and inviting them to perform later, keeping a list, and estimating how long it may take to give everyone a chance to perform. On a slow night, they are allowed to do three songs, on a busy night they may only get two.
We eat, we drink, we greet friends. During the high season, (and during our best years here) the cruisers would commandeer two or three adjacent tables, Peter, Ross, Kurt, EW, Tony, Mike, and others usually with significant crew (aka band-aids), would laugh and share stories as if most of us hadn’t been together in days. In reality, we probably spent time on one boat or another for at least two music nights during the week. Those who live on the island may have shown up without knowing it was Open Mic Night, others come every week for the show. One senior couple show up early, sit in the corner surrounded by instruments and wait for the one of two songs with the tempo that will allow them to dance a low-key jitterbug.
It’s a lively night. Everyone is our friend. We all share the language of music.The wait staff is alert and good natured as we frequently jump up to greet someone, slide over to a different table for a conversation, or steal a bar seat close to the stage in order to take photos.
One night, the attorney/singer/songwriter offered his version of Open Mic Rules among them:
- Don’t play over someone’s solo
- The person who is singing is in charge. He or she gets to pick the song, style, and who will perform with him or her.
- Don’t play a song you know is another player’s key number.
- Remember to thank Tim and Tommy, and those who played with you.
- Never stick your hand in the tip jar.
Newbies are encouraged to perform, and Tim and Tommy are there to catch them when they fall—or don’t know how instruct the band to end a song. After every performance, Tim or Tommy will step up to the mic and say, “Let’s hear if for Stew!” (Or whomever.) Some of those who came with instruments don’t lead sets, but want to sit in with the band, providing sax, harmonica, washboard, mandolin, bass, and lead guitar creating great walls of sound, and a bit of bedlam, and music magic.
They will play blues, rock, country, pop, hard rock, and ballads; generally ranging from the 50’s to current hits. They will play old standards, new arrangements, and original music. Professionals may try out new pieces; for some St. Thomas is their starting point before heading to Nashville or New York. Others drop by while on the island for professional gigs in larger venues. One memorable night a group of middle-agers from New Jersey arrived from the Marriot by taxi. Turns out one of them is a crooner in the best New Jersey tradition, and he quickly cooked up a couple of numbers with the “house band du jour” and wowed us. If the older dancing couple is in attendance, EW always plays “Teen Age Wedding” because they always want to dance to his rendition of that song.
Under all this music you can hear laughter, attempts at serious discussion, folks meeting other folks and invariably finding some connection. “You’re from Auburn Maine? The principal at your high school was Larry L. He’s my cousin.” You’re from Texas? Meet Coach.” Turns out they grew up within 15 miles of each other. St. Thomas is like that. Everyone who performs gets a chip for a drink, and the occasional audience member will congratulate the attorney, or sailor for a great set and offer to stand them a drink.
We know the wait staff, the manager, the bar tender who lives on Water Island, almost all the sailors, and more and more of the locals. We know the drummer’s lady, and his son. We’ve met her mom, dad, and brother from Utah. It’s a social evening that breeds both lively discussions among strangers who will never meet again, and life-long friendships among cruisers and musicians who will keep in touch via Facebook and email—and who hope to meet in other harbors.
Our rule for Open Mic at Tickles is just go. You never know when music magic will happen.
Last night, we said “fair well” to Jerry Lee, who is leaving St. Thomas to promote his music. We enjoyed one more performance of his distinctive “Messing With the Kid” and “ Unchain My Heart”. Good luck, Jerry Lee. “Hey!”