If there’s a line running outside of an establishment, there’s typically a good reason for it.
Every Wednesday evening, sometimes an hour and a half or so before the doors open at 8 p.m., musicians can be seen queuing up outside of Velour Live Music Gallery in downtown Provo. Their musical experience and disciplines can vary greatly, but they all stand outside — be the weather burning hot or freezing cold, rain, snow or sunshine — to share a bit of themselves through their art, and to be welcomed into the supportive, tight-knit community of musicians within.
Since the music venue’s opening in January of 2006, the weekly open-mic night has been a staple of Velour, and an integral part of Utah County’s music scene.
“It’s such an important part of the progression of the music scene,” said Corey Fox, owner of Velour Live Music Gallery. Fox has been running music venues in Provo since 1997, and open-mic nights have played a part in each establishment.
“But, it has definitely come into its own at Velour,” Fox said. “It’s not just a music community service for up-and-coming artists. Velour stands out differently from a lot of venues because it’s more based on artist development than a typical entertainment place.”
Since Velour’s opening 13 years ago, it has established a storied pedigree of musicianship. Bands such as Imagine Dragons, Neon Trees, Joshua James and many more hail Velour as their home and credit it for playing a role in their rise to stardom.
“A lot of the biggest success stories have started here on the stage and started as solo open-mic artists that found their band and then progressed,” Fox said.
The acoustic open-mic night has simple guidelines: The doors open at 8 p.m., there are 18 eight-minute time slots which are filled first come, first serve, musicians have a house guitar, keyboard and sound engineer at their disposal, and admission is $2 for performers, $3 for the audience. Music begins at 8:30 p.m. Fox explained that a gathering of roughly 50 people and performers is typical, but lately a crowd of more than 100 people is not uncommon.
“You’ll get everyone from some of the top musicians in the scene that want to come down and just try out new material to a crowd, all the way down to people who’ve never stepped foot on a stage before,” said Fox. “It’s a very cool, forgiving crowd. There’s a lot of great, positive energy going toward these younger artists that push them to keep coming.”
One such artist was Mariah Divis, now the frontwoman of Riahpaan & The Penny Candies and an experienced solo singer/songwriter, who came to her first open-mic night 10 years ago as a budding 19-year-old musician.
“I have like a huge stage fright problem, and it really has been such a safe space for me to try and get over my fears and practice,” said the Vineyard resident, who also now volunteers some of her off-stage time at Velour. “It’s like being home. There’s a lot of camaraderie, which I think is uncommon at least for me being from Washington state. There, if you’re really good, you’re more of a threat. Here if you’re really good, people cheer you on.”
Divis’ band was formed entirely through Velour open-mic-night connections. “I can’t tell you how many people that I just approached and asked for their contact info, and now we have like an eight-person band because of it,” she said.
Dallin Major is another musician in The Penny Candies’ lineup. “I played a song and Riah came in, and like kind of put me under her wing,” the Pleasant Grove resident said regarding a past open-mic night.
“It really is important to get into the community and find a network of people who can help you and support you,” Major said. “Go to as many events as you possibly can.” In addition to his role in Riah Pan and the Penny Candies, Major has his own solo act.
“If you’re trying to begin, that’s the perfect place to start,” Major said of open-mic nights. “You find something and if you don’t have songs yet, just get covers, because nothing improves your skills more than performing live.”
Performing live, at Velour in particular, is something that James McIntyre estimates he’s done over 50 times.
“There are these people that have years of experience, and they come here as examples of how to do it, and that’s really helpful,” McIntyre said. “They give you something to go toward.”
McIntyre is a Provo resident, originally hailing from Melbourne, Australia, who is a drummer for several local bands, half of a singing and guitar duo with Devin Knight in The Old Birds, and also a solo musician.
“Nate Pyfer, Joshua James, and Isaac Russell were these famous people, like these legitimately famous people, who were recognized on the street and were coming to open-mic nights until like, recently, to where it would stop being effective,” McIntyre said. “Having a community of people that you could really look up to that came and were like, ‘I’m not too good for open mic,’ was really cool.”
Velour is also unique in that it is an all-ages venue, free of smoking or alcohol.
“There’s an artist named Faith Johnson that goes by Faith Marie, and she’s kind of a YouTube sensation and on the verge of some big national things,” said Velour’s owner. “She started at our open-mic night when she was 12 years old. I’ve literally had label representatives telling me that they love all these Provo artists because they feel like they’re so much further ahead, because they were able to start playing at an earlier age on a real stage with real lights and a real sound system,” Fox said. “People ask us sometimes why isn’t there more touring bands here, and it’s because our priority is actually more so turning our local bands into the touring bands.”
Through love and a dedication to structure, Fox has helped artists as eclectic as Velour’s décor create a platform for themselves at open-mic nights.
“The point of this in particular, whether you want to play shows or not, is to come and have an accepting space for you to come and play your stuff,” said James McIntyre. “No one’s going to make fun of you. And if they do, they’re going to get scolded because that’s not what this is for; this is for people coming and getting something off their chest or just doing what they want to do. This is their space to do that. People come to listen to music and to be with people who like music.
“It’s really pure — pure and built on love.”