An open-mic series, Sound-Off Saturdays, provides a showcase for Richmond artists 

Poet Jamil Jasey stands with Jaynell A. Pittman-Shaw, owner of Maple Bourbon at 1116 E. Main St, the setting for a new open-mic series that starts Jan. 26.

Scott Elmquist

Poet Jamil Jasey stands with Jaynell A. Pittman-Shaw, owner of Maple Bourbon at 1116 E. Main St, the setting for a new open-mic series that starts Jan. 26.

All it took was a broken down car to lead Jamil Jasey back into the open-mic world.

After five years performing as a spoken word poet, Jasey had given it up. But when his car faltered, he decided to catch the bus to get home and worry about getting his car the next day. Walking down Second Street, he happened to see that Tuesday Verses, Richmond's longest-running open-mic poetry series, was happening and went in.

The year was 2002 and Jasey, a poet himself, was back in the open-mic game.

When Jaynell Pittman-Shaw opened Maple Bourbon on Main Street downtown in March, she had a dream that part of her restaurant would be devoted to entertainment. A mutual acquaintance put her in touch with Jasey, who by then was doing regular Friday open-mic nights at Ma Michele's Café.

"I consider this a community space," Pittman-Shaw says of her cozy restaurant with its bright blue art-filled walls. "I wanted this to be a space for artists in general, where people can come and hang out."

The result is a new open-mic series Jasey is curating called Sound-off Saturdays, which debuts on Jan. 26 and runs on the fourth Saturday of every month. A sign-up sheet allows performers to claim one of the 16 to 18 slots that will be available every month.

"I love the art scene in Richmond because we have become such an art city," Jasey says. "A lot of the scene used to be underground, but it's come to the surface. I want to showcase that talent because you never know who will walk in these doors to see artists perform."

Working with a group of 35 artists called the Divine Soul Collective, Jasey describes the open-mic scene as vibrant and diverse in talent. He should know. A substance abuse counselor by trade, he writes and performs poetry and deejays all over town with a focus on house music. He created Dance Party RVA specifically to highlight Richmond's thriving house music scene.

In the past, his open-mic events have played host to poets, singers, comedians and musicians, including memorably he says, an accordion player who performed Michael Jackson's "Human Nature."

Kim Jones, who performs as Special K, got involved in the scene in 2014, was injured a year later and returned to the open mic scene earlier this year.

"If you're going through something, this gives you an outlet to speak your mind without anyone saying you're cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs," she says laughing. "It also gives me a chance to give voice to those who aren't able to speak up about things like rape or cancer. We all have a story to tell."

Known as the Intimate Poet, Leroy Joseph says he gets joy from what he does because poetry is real, not fictionalized. "With my poem 'I Want to Make Love to Your Mind,' I'm speaking of building relationships on a solid foundation in a society that looks to other places rather than between the ears," he says of his goal to intellectually seduce his audience.

While you can expect to have a good time at Sound-off Saturdays, Jasey says there's more to it than that.

"You can expect to feel like the person sitting beside you will become like family by the end of the night," he says. "Depending on who's performing, you're going to laugh and hear music and poetry that bring out emotions. By the end of the night, you'll feel close to whoever you're near."

Once the new Sound-off Saturday events get rolling, Jasey will kick off the Lab at Maple Bourbon, spotlighting three artists chosen from the open-mic nights. Each will have a 30- to 45-minute set followed by a 10 minute question-and-answer period. The Lab series is slated to run every second Saturday beginning March 9.

"I want to help shape the scene by having artists perform so we can showcase their talent," Jasey says. "The local artists are what motivate me. You come here, you help build community and we all strengthen our city's scene."

Sound-off Saturdays runs every fourth Saturday beginning Jan. 26, 6-9 p.m., at Maple Bourbon, 1116 E. Main St.


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