A white board propped up under the red lights showed a bracket of 13 names. Each would face off to make it to the next round by putting their talents on full display for the bustling crowd. These names belonged to the best of the previous Lizard Lounge’s Open Mic challenge nights, coming together for the 9th semi-annual Finals event on Saturday.
Emceed by the energetic and hilarious Tom Bianchi, the first artist up was Hugh McGowan playing a lovely and buoyant song called “The Fast Lane.” A pretty love song supported with rich guitar, Hugh finished up his set with a coy “Let the games begin!”
Laura Grill followed, a regular of Monday night shows for the last few years—she even had her CD release party at the Lounge. She brought up that she was an “example how this little Lounge Lizard family really works,” as all these talented musicians come together in this one club. Alone with her guitar, Laura gave a great performance with beautiful, husky vocals—scatting like Ella—and her guitar supplementing a jaunty Bossa Nova flair. After she finished, the judges were faced with the first of many tough decisions. Laura Grill made it to the next round.
Mark Lipman appeared at an Open Mic night and wound up in the final 3 his first time, but did not win. The next time he entered, he won the prize. Tonight, he sang “Picture,” haunting with his lines, wavering on the last lyric of each verse. He was followed by Pat McCann on his piano singing “Separate Ways.” McCann’s voice was powerful, tinged with a cottony, blues enunciation and wonderful piano playing. McCann moved on, with Tom mentioning that Mark Lipman is working on a new CD.
Travis W. Lund flew in for the Finals from Atlanta, Georgia, having just moved back there after some time in Boston. The fedora adorned singer told the audience his song was about a girl who done him wrong—thus “The Devil Needs a Queen.” Dylan-esque vocals and a strong blues guitar got the room thumping.
Next up, Tall Heights, a guitar and cello twosome. They appeared before at both Monday and Saturday night shows. Tom heard them at Toad over in Porter Square, blown away by the Wall of Sound thing they had going on. Tall Heights and their folk number “The Hollow” was haunting when in vocal harmony alone, but throw in the combo of guitar and strings and the pair achieved an ethereal sonic plane.
A long and tough deliberation for the judges once more. Tall Heights came out the victors, and Tom called out to Travis, “Free drinks to the man who sings the blues!”
The next performer was with the Lizard Lounge since the start of the Open Mic challenges, taking home the Monday night prize a few times. John Gerard, folk singer and truck driver, serenaded the club with a sweet and somber tune. Tom joked about how John looked like he could kick his ass and it seemed true; John had a powerful build, but could quiet the room with his beautiful voice and guitar.
Danielle Doyle, another veteran of Monday and Saturday shows, will be traveling to Thailand for a year. For her song, Doyle said she got inspiration from her Comparative American History class—or White Guilt 101. Ashy, husky vocals painted the picture of a woman of Manifest Destiny. Something shy of a murder ballad, but in this case the murder of the unclaimed frontier.
John Gerard moved forward.
Erik White sang “Rainy Day” with a syncopated guitar that blended into a smooth and relaxing melody that bemoaned the lack of stuff to do on a rainy day. Trio Guys and Dahl sang “Seattle,” their sound harkening back to the folk groups of the 60s. The song was sprinkled with references to Boston, adding a nice regionalist flair. But Dahl sang of taking flight to Seattle, saying it too felt like home. Erik White made it to the next round, completing the performances of the first 10.
After a brief break, judge Ryan Montebleu took the stage with three songs, the last of which was the lively “Dance, Dance, Dance,” that got many on their feet and raring for the second round.
Matthew Ebel resumed the show singing “Trees,” something he wrote about the poetry club back in Spokane, Washington. Full of miserable f**king people, he said. He alerted the club to a call and response in the song (to say “Moo!” upon hearing “cow”), part of a hilarious rant about how hard it is to be deep when writing poetry.
Cathy Schumer came up next with the pretty “Veteran’s Day,” a song she said she doesn’t perform too often because it requires a quiet room. A lovely and sobering reflection on PTSD that culminated in frenzied finger picking before suddenly ceasing. Cathy moved on.
Olinde Mandell came next, holding her own with impressive folksy vocals. Olinde opened on one Monday night at 8, sang in the final 3 after midnight, and took home the title. Her capable fingerpicking provided a humming, gentle performance.
Laura Grill returned with a song about the things that go on in her head as she tries to sleep, incorporating scat elements once more. Olinde continued to the next round.
Pat McCann returned on the piano with a gospel inspired number, going all out in his second performance. With great playing and solid vocals, he got the audience clapping along like an impromptu choir. Tall Heights in their second appearance gave a strong and steady act that wasn’t as otherworldly in sound; instead they stayed earthy, but still created beautiful harmonies. The judges chose Pat.
John Gerard came back, nervous with caffeine jitters, giving a genuine performance with “Lost.” He was up against Erik White this round and moved forward.
Following a second intermission by Dietrich Strauss, Cathy Schumer performed first in the final four with “The Girl That Doesn’t Miss You Anymore,” a gorgeous song with more sweet vocals. Olinde Mandell was next with a Paul Simon-esque guitar and spindly, repeating melody akin to a music box. Both ladies were fantastic; Olinde moved to the final round. Pat McCann and John Gerard faced off in their bout, McCann coming out with bouncy piano work and John with a slower, minimalist guitar. John headed to the finals.
After a break, the club prepared for Olinde and John’s last performances of the night. Olinde sang a dreamlike song with bluesy vocals and soothing guitar, an absolutely hypnotic number. John followed with Grand Central Hotel, using the name of a fictional hotel from Deadwood. More country inspired this time around, and a performance that netted him the $500 prize and the Open Mic Finals title.