MANCHESTER, NH – It’s a quiet Monday night at the Angel City Music Hall—a bar, restaurant and entertainment venue in downtown Manchester.
Music memorabilia plasters the walls of the clean and spacious basement establishment located beneath Spider-Bite on Elm Street. The relics range from electric guitars to a bass drum with John Bonham’s interlocking rings symbol from Zeppelin’s iconic fourth album to framed pictures of rock legends—including photos of musicians sitting imperially on the porcelain throne outside the restrooms.
There’s also a Frank Zappa concert poster from a show at Cal State in 1972.
There’s a pristine stage behind a giant projection screen, which is raised when live bands perform, and a VIP lounge beside it. There’s a professional PA system and stage lighting. In fact, the entire room was designed to absorb sound with acoustics in mind, said Jon Thomas, who owns the building.
On this night, in the corner by the entrance, behind a pair of pool tables, Jonny Friday—a stalwart on the Manchester music scene and the host of the open mic nights at Angel City Music Hall—sets up for tonight’s acoustic open mic.
For 15 years, Friday has hosted open mics in Manchester, which began at TJ’s Sports Bar (now The Central Ale House) and moved to Angel City Music Hall when it opened mid-pandemic in 2021.
“From where [the open mic] began, it has graduated to something pretty huge,” said Friday, a Manchester-native. “[Angel City Music Hall] has been nothing but great to me. They’re very supportive of musicians, and it’s easy to work with them.”
Currently, Friday hosts two weekly open mics on Mondays and Thursdays from 8-11 p.m. On Mondays, musicians—both professional and amateur—can sign up to perform acoustic numbers in a smaller, more subdued environment.
On Thursday nights, they plug in.
The Thursday night open mics use the state-of-the-art stage and sound system, as well as laser lighting and fog machines. Musicians can also choose to be accompanied by the Open Mic Band, which includes Friday on guitar, Jess Lyn on drums and Jeff Clarke playing bass.
Each performer is allowed three songs, and the event lasts until everyone on the sign-up performs, often running over the allotted time.
“I want to make sure everyone gets in,” said Friday. “If you wait all of that time, I want to make sure you get a chance to play.”
The events contain an eclectic range of musical genres. From heavy metal and classic rock to R&B, soul and jazz, everybody is welcome with the only prerequisite being a desire to perform.
“There are no rules here. You’re free to do your thing,” Friday said. “It takes a lot of guts to get up there, so it’s always positive, no matter what.”
The open mics can also prove a boon for musicians in the Manchester-region.
“It’s a huge deal for the music scene,” said Friday. “Networking in-person with other people is kind of going away. The only way to meet people and interact musically is to do something like this.”
And it’s not uncommon for bands to assemble at open mics, said Friday.
Nick Ferrero, the frontman for The Graniteers, met his current bassist Monica Grasso at an open mic. “I think [open mics] are a good thing,” said Ferrero. “In many ways, they make you a better musician. You can play in different styles you wouldn’t ordinarily play.”
As far as the atmosphere on any given night, it can vacillate. “The vibe changes from show to show,” Friday said. “There are a lot of different people, but they all vibe together. They’re all here for the same reason.”
Friday added that the open mics also welcome musicians of varied experience, from professional musicians to veritable neophytes. “Sometimes people play for their first time in front of an audience. It happens all of the time, and it’s usually great,” he said.
On this quiet Monday night, the list of performers is small, and between songs, Friday comes into the crowd, sits down at a table and coaxes two women into coming up and singing while he accompanies them on the guitar.
It turns out both women have lovely voices, and after they perform, there’s a mixture of relief and elation in their faces.
“Once you’re up there, it’s like a drug,” Friday said. “You can’t stop doing it.”