Three Rivers open mic to celebrate two-year anniversary

Aundrea Sayrie reads poetry at an open mic night at Lowry's Books & More in downtown Three Rivers.

The monthly Open Mic Night at Lowry’s Books & More in downtown Three Rivers will celebrate its two-year anniversary next week, albeit with a slight change in location.

On the afternoon of Thursday, July 2, a celebration featuring a collection of socially distanced performances from 7-9 p.m. will take place at the Huss Project’s Front Porch Pavilion, located at 1008 8th Street in Three Rivers.

Poet Aundrea Sayrie, who hosts the open mic nights, said the monthly happening was inspired by another event series at Lowry’s Books. 

“(Mayor and store owner) Tom Lowry used to run a series called ‘Tom Talks.’ They would run for four or five weeks, and once a week on Thursdays he’d bring in a subject matter expert,” Sayrie said. “I was tapped by one of the organizers at that time, Brandi Peterson, to come and share poetry.”

At the time Sayrie hadn’t yet performed since moving to Three Rivers. 

“I had just made up in my mind that I was going to start stepping out more, becoming familiar with the community, and start saying yes to opportunities that presented themselves,” Sayrie said. “That was the first opportunity. I said yes, I shared poetry, it was a magical night, and Tom took a poll while we were there. He said, ‘If I were to have an open mic, how many of you would return and be in attendance?’ and it was just all hands in the air, so right after that, we began the open mic.”

Sayrie is thrilled with the event’s success. “There have been times where the crowd and the feature or the band really shift into this vibe that is truly unscripted, a groove where the whole crowd is singing along and participating, just totally unexpected,” Sayrie said. 

“It’s become a very familiar atmosphere, and it’s always been supportive. I’ve never known for anyone to have a tense moment that we were unable to get past. It’s done nothing but bring us together.”

Lowry has also been pleased with the event. “It’s been amazing. Sometimes we only have 15 people, but sometimes we’ve had 30 or 40, and a few times we’ve had more than that, and for a community our size that’s a really respectable showing. I think it’s because there’s a need for it, but we’ve also had a variety of performances,” Lowry said. 

“We’ve had poets, we have people reading often stuff they’ve written themselves, but we also have singing and musical performances. Every month it’s unpredictable what will happen because we don’t know who will show up, but it’s been really fun. I encourage people to come out, because the musician we’ve scheduled has been here once before, and he’s an amazing musician and poet. He’s one of my favorites.”

DeKwan Morris, a Battle Creek native who performs as DK Morris, will be the celebration’s featured performer. Sayrie met the saxophonist through mutual contacts in Kalamazoo. 

“He just lets the saxophone do his speaking for him,” Sayrie said. “You go into a trance because he’s so expressive. He’s just a beautiful saxophonist, and being outside in that atmosphere, he’s really going to be the right touch for the evening.”

Morris said he’s been playing the saxophone for almost a quarter century.

“I’ve been playing since I was 12. I’m 36 now, so that’s 24 years,” Morris said. “I was introduced to the saxophone I think around four years old. I used to sit next to this guy, Tony Woods, on the front row every Sunday and listen to him play. In school, I didn’t really like band. Band was really structured. I got A’s in classes, but I often found myself in trouble. I would add notes and slurs, like I know what’s on the page, but I think this should be on here too. 

“I’d still get my A, but me and the teacher kind of butted heads. It kind of took the fun out of the music for me a little bit, but I just never stopped playing. Our church band was really good, and our guys had been playing for years. I had to acquire some study habits of my own at home. Those guys helped me perfect my gift.”

Morris’s first introduction to Three Rivers was during a three-on-three church basketball tournament as a child. He plays in several church bands and solos in a variety of settings, including other open mic events. Morris played at the Three Rivers open mic in 2019, and is looking forward to next week’s event, because, as he says, “I didn’t get a chance to catch any of the other acts. I received congratulations afterward, but I wasn’t able to give them (congratulations as well), so this time I am anticipating being able to see some of the other talents.”

*culture is not optional Executive Director Rob Vander Giessen-Reitsma has been a regular attendee of the open mic nights and is helping organize next week’s event. 

“I think open mic is one of the best things going in Three Rivers as far as a safe space for artistic expression. I think Aundrea and (co-host Becca Sonday) have created a really unique space for a wide variety of people, a diverse group, to express themselves creatively, including younger people who are finding their voice. The space that’s been cultivated has really been beautiful to watch, because putting yourself out there to sing your own original songs or perform your own poetry takes a lot of courage. It’s a great space for diverse expression, which is lovely, and is why we’ve been supportive and wanting to go all these years. It’s nice to be able to participate in a small way.”

Torrey Brown reads poetry at an open mic night at Lowry’s Books & More in downtown Three Rivers.

The pavilion where the event will occur is a new addition to The Huss Project. “It was part of our Imaginarium project last year,” Vander Giessen-Reitsma said. “We raised money through Patronicity to build the Imaginarium but also this outdoor component. It’s built from a barn. We removed it from where it was out on Gleason Road, 120 years old and falling into disrepair. The owner offered it to us, and we worked with an Amish crew to disassemble it and repurpose beams and roofing material for the pavilion. There are just some massive beams. It was a big barn.”

Sayrie said she has enjoyed working with others to prepare for the anniversary. “Because we’ve been doing it for two years, we have a flow, so planning wasn’t really difficult, just figuring out who we want to feature,” Sayrie said. “The DJ, Mitchie Moore, has been the standing DJ for two years. Becca Sonday, at our one-year anniversary, joined me as a host. We’re starting to get a rhythm where people know it’s the first Thursday of every month and look for when and where to show up and share.”

“I’ve seen people start off very shy and throughout the two years and really sharpen themselves as artists. It’s just always evolving and growing and that’s really special.”

Thursday’s event will be the first time in several months the open mic takes place live. It has continued through the Zoom platform online during the pandemic shutdown. “We’re hoping to have a nice turnout,” Sayrie said. “I’m glad we’ve made it this far. For a moment there, I wasn’t sure with Zoom, but I’m looking forward to this outside format because it’s not something we’ve ever done before, so it’s a new beginning.”

Dave Vago is a writer and columnist for Watershed Voice. A Philadelphia native with roots in Three Rivers, Vago is a planning consultant to history and community development organizations and is the former Executive Director of the Three Rivers DDA/Main Street program.