At some point in the last few years, the open-mic nights at Woodman’s Bar and Grill dropped in attendance and fizzled out.
After being away from Orono for a few years, University of Maine alumnus Jon Bailey returned to find that his favorite Wednesday night tradition had all but disappeared.
“When I used to go to UMaine… it was always a ritual for friends and me to go to Woodman’s every Wednesday night to have a great open mic,” Bailey said. “[Bar owner Abe Furth] and I talked and we wanted to have something that was more intimate than your average nightly rock band in Orono.”
So the weekly “Extravajamza” events at Woodman’s were born. Every Wednesday, performers sign up and share their tunes with the crowd. Essentially an open-mic night with a twist, it’s a primarily acoustic affair, focusing on singers and songwriters.
According to Bailey, the idea behind Extravajamza was to put on an event that was more open and fun, an intimate forum between performers and the audience. Due partly to the quaint atmosphere and the rustic vibe of Woodman’s, they decided the show should also be acoustic.
“We wanted to get a showcase instead [of a strict open mic],” Furth said.
Although the show consists primarily of the artists on the bill for that night, there is also technically an open mic, with spots available after the main performers’ sets.
“It’s basically a formulated open mic so we can keep regular guests and so patrons will know what to expect before they go,” Bailey said.
Bailey said the open-mic nights were one of the most popular things happening during his time as a student. Hopeful performers would have to show up early if they wanted a chance at performing that night.
“It was just my favorite musical thing in Orono,” Bailey said.
While not yet up to its former glory, it is building momentum. Each week, the event has more attendees. On Wednesday, just the third installment, there was a full bar.
“We’ve had success so far and it seems like we’re just climbing up a staircase, so hopefully we keep going that way,” Bailey said.
The music has been varied so far. Last Wednesday featured the edgy acoustic rock of Scott McAlister, the bluegrass stylings of the Park Street Pickers — of which Furth’s brother is a member — and the acoustic ’90s covers of Erik Schwab, among others.
Bailey usually plays a few songs himself, and says that playing Extravajamza is like being at a private party.
“[It’s] like we’re playing in Abe’s living room,” Bailey said.
Performers routinely chat amongst each other and with members of the audience while playing, like a bunch of friends getting together and jamming with each other.
Last week, Bailey decided to grab an unused microphone and beatbox over Schwab’s performance of Eagle Eye Cherry’s hit “Save Tonight.” Schwab rolled with it and inserted rap verses from “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Theme Song” and “Ice Ice Baby,” prompting loud laughter and cheers from everybody there.
The performances have been so well received in part because there was a bit of a longing for some good Wednesday night music in Orono, according to Bailey.
“There are a lot of the same kids that were here when Woodman’s opened [in 2005] and it was one of the biggest things I went to,” he said. “I think people were missing the consistency and right off the bat, it was pretty good and we had a full house.”
Attendance needs little improvement, but one thing that Furth and Bailey would like to bolster is the already diverse variety of the performers.
“We did just have our first bluegrass band, which was great, so we’re trying to make it as diverse as possible,” Bailey said. “I’m looking to add a couple a cappella groups from UMaine as well.”
Other types of performance are more than welcome at Extravajamza as well, including short story readings, poetry readings, stand-up comedy and just about anything that can be contained within the walls of Woodman’s.
“We’re trying to mix it up and make it a consistently fun thing on a Wednesday night in Orono, Maine, which is kind of hard to find,” said Bailey.
Roll up to Woodman’s Bar and Grill on Wednesdays any time from 10:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. — as long as you are 21 or older.