A singer doesn’t have to be a professional to howl at the moon, at least not at the Yellow Moon.
The Yellow Moon Café in Cobden held its monthly Howlin’ at the Moon open mic night Saturday.
The event, hosted by John Vitt and Ray Hogan, is open to anyone who signs up on the legal pad list that sits on the bar.
All 20 slots on the list weren’t filled Saturday, but the café was packed, and there wasn’t much room in the back near the stage. Musicians stood out in the crowd, with instruments by their side, waiting their turn, or milling around the back door getting in tune.
Vitt said the closest thing to a set process for the show is that he and Hogan play a two-song set, a John Prine cover then one of Vitt’s own, every night to open things up. Saturday featured Prine’s “The Accident,” and a Vitt original called, for the time being anyway, “Walk On By.”
Throughout the show, Hogan reminded the audience that the night’s focus was to listen to the musicians, and when the talking got a little overwhelming, he wasn’t afraid to quiet things down with an emphatic, “Shhh.”
Though Saturday’s set featured professional guitarist Robert Bowlin, Vitt said the event is really about showcasing people who don’t usually perform.
He said he was a back porch musician himself for years, and now as the host of the open mic, he has been able to witness others grow beyond nerves and into consummate performers.
He’s also got to see a surprising range of performers, he said. One night, he said, a 7-year-old fiddle player wowed the audience, only to be followed by a fiddle-playing couple in their 70s who’d just recently picked up the instrument.
Susan Addington, 64, said she’s been performing for two years and has known how to play guitar for slightly longer.
Despite the fact that she gets nervous before going on stage, she said the experience of getting in front of a crowd and playing is a freeing experience.
“I’m 64 and I’m liberated,” she said.
Saturday night, she was joined on stage by Bowlin and upright bass player Wil Maring.
She worked the crowd, especially the women, into a near frenzy with her first song and its refrain of, “I don’t need no man telling me what to do.” By the end of the song, Addington could barely be heard through the cheering.
Addington downplayed the warm reception at the end of her performance and said, “Anybody can do this if they have professionals with them.”
Paul Frank, of Cobden, said he comes to Howlin’ at the Moon about every other month. Though he said watching professionals such as Bowlin is awesome, he has also liked being surprised by newcomers.
“I think there’s a lot hidden talent that comes out,” he said.
Nick Cistola took the Yellow Moon’s stage for the first time Saturday, though he said he’s not necessarily new to performing.
Cistola, a sophomore from St. Louis studying music, said he found out about Howlin’ at the Moon through a friend and signed up.
He performed his own songs Saturday, and he said he’s been writing songs since high school. Though he gets nervous before performing, the more he does it, the better he deals with it. And he said there’s also a special appeal to playing that draws him back to the stage.
“There’s something about pouring your heart out in front of a group,” he said.