Things to Do

You’re On: A Guide to Washington Open-Mike Nights

Most Washington-area musicians hope to play on the stages of the Black Cat and the 9:30 Club. But amateur singers and songwriters—as well as those messing around with a new instrument who aren’t good enough to grab a gig at those venues—want to be heard as well. Open-mike nights offer an opportunity to perform for people in search of local connections and new music. Play a song or two, work on stage presence, and gain local support and audience feedback at one of these open-mike hot spots.


Busboys and Poets
This gathering place for artists and writers makes a cozy spot for poetry and spoken-word open mikes. Busboys suggests bringing an open mind and ear to support the rookies and regulars. The free open mike runs from 8 to 10 PM. Although most come to recite poetry, musicians are also welcome.

Marx Cafe
The crowd might not know what to expect from an open mike because a DJ spins nightly, but all musical genres are welcome. The process is less structured—the open mike starts sometime after 10, depending on the turnout, so if you’re not one for solid plans, bring an instrument and the rest is provided. Also Tuesday and Wednesday.


Busboys and Poets
Of the three Busboys locations, the open-mike night at 14th and V is in highest demand. Expect a crowded house and don’t forget to purchase a wristband, which are sold Tuesdays at 10 AM in the bookstore ($4 a person with a four-ticket limit). Doors open at 8 PM, and the main event kicks off at 9. Most acts are poets, but musicians can also participate.

Front Page
Host Brad Pugh introduces the acoustic bands, solo artists, and vocalists at this weekly open mike. Don’t be discouraged if few people show up—musicians often launch into a jam session. Sign-up begins at 8:30. Contact to register in advance.

Solly’s Tavern
At Solly’s, participants have many options to get involved in an open-mike night on the second and fourth Tuesday's of the month. Drum kits are discouraged, but drummers should try bongos and other hand drums to get in on the action. Solly’s also has a guitar on hand for those who don’t plan to play but get caught up in the moment and need to rock out. Sign-up starts around 7:30 .

Palace of Wonders
Andy Rothwell hosts a variety open mike called “Live Humans in DC,” on the first three Tuesdays of the month at the Palace (and the fourth Tuesday at Solly's).  No genre or act is favored or discouraged—so musicians, comedians, magicians, poets and burlesque artists are all welcome. Sign up starts at 7:30 every week, with names being drawn in the lottery style.  Everyone who shows up is able to perform.  Come join in, and check out a featured artist from 9-9:30.


Busboys and Poets
With the success of open mikes at Busboys’ other locations, this outpost will soon join the ranks—there are plans to start September 15. Check back for details.

Iota Club & Café

Emcee Mike Maloney kicks off the evening at 8 with some of his own tunes before hosting other musicians. All acoustic acts are welcome, but drum kits are not allowed. Sign up starts at 7, but the bill is full in under five minutes. Participants play two songs, and featured artists break up the evening with a set from 9:30 to 10.


The Braddock Blues Room
Join Kenny and the Cobras for Blue Thursday. Bring a guitar, bass, or drumsticks—back-line equipment is provided to participate in the open-mike blues jam around 7:30.

Zoo Bar Café
Find your inner blues and join Big Boy Little’s open mike every Thursday. Big Boy and other friends jam between songs and sets, so bring a guitar and get in on the fun. Official sign-up begins at 8, but participants can join in all night.

The Old Brogue
The relaxed and supportive atmosphere welcomes new players, veterans, and comedians the first and third Thursdays of every month. Don’t stop home to pick up your six-string—the list fills up fast and the Brogue has a house guitar available. Sign up at 8 to play a 15-to-20-minute set.


Caribou Coffee
The Songwriters Association of Washington sponsors open mikes at Rockville's Caribou on the first and second Fridays of the month from 7 to 9:30. Participants can play either three songs or for 12 minutes, and all music must be original. To sign up, contact Michelle at

Modern Times Coffeehouse
All styles of music are welcome at this lo-fi open mike hosted by Maureen Nelson of Whiz Bang Three. Mikes and Amps aren’t provided, which makes the experience more intimate. Participants can play two songs, but sign up at 7—the list fills up quickly. The first act starts at 7:30.

The Potter’s House
This Christian coffeehouse hosts an open mike for music and spoken word every fourth Friday. Play original, inspirational, or cover songs to fill the tip jar. As part of a regular Friday concert series—Sounds of Hope—the money is donated to a charity. Sign-up starts at 7.


The Coffee House of Occoquan
Open mikes can be intimidating, but the friendly and supportive crowds at the Occoquan will put any first-timer at ease. All musical acts are welcome from 6 to 10 PM.

Cameron Perks Coffee House
On the last Saturday of every month, Cameron Perks welcomes anyone who wants to showcase his or her latest tune. Mark Austen, a regular performer at the coffeehouse, hosts the Songwriters Association of Washington-sponsored event at 7:30.


Ireland’s Four Courts
Brad Pugh of Practically Einstein hosts the Emerging Artist Showcase from 9 PM to 1 AM. Acoustic acts are welcome, but contact the host regarding drums sets or keyboards. Sets generally last 20 to25 minutes, but to guarantee a spot, participants must sign up in advance by contacting Brad at

Union Jack’s Bethesda
Host Uncle Chunky will also provide backup music at the open-mike jam from 8 until the place closes. Worried about the house band cramping your style? Playing solo is okay.


Jammin’ Java Music Club and Cafe
Jammin’ Java squeezes in open mikes whenever a show isn’t scheduled—which doesn’t happen often. But check the cafe’s Web site often because you have to sign up in advance.

Mayorga Coffee Factory
Check its Web site often—Mayorga randomly hosts open-mike events.

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