Looking out at a crowd of about 20 people, members of Binghamton-based acoustic duo Johnny Unheimlich waited for the sound crew to give them the signal to start. The singer, Nick Ransom, held his guitar in one hand and a craft beer in the other. When he was asked to play for sound check, he strumed one string repeatedly with his free hand and laughed when the operator told him to set his drink down and play a chord instead.
“It’s priorities, man,” Ransom said. “It’s priorities.”
Johnny Unheimlich performed at Cyber Cafe West’s monthly open mic on Tuesday, May 7. The cafe, located on Main Street, holds an open mic on the first Tuesday of every month, giving Binghamton University students and community members an opportunity to show off their talents in a 15-minute time block if they can get their name on the sign-up sheet quickly enough. The show went from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. and brought a wide variety of musical and spoken word performances.
This particular open mic served as an opportunity for members of Slam Poetry Club, the University’s spoken word poetry club, to get off campus and perform in the broader Binghamton community. Aspen Rust, president of Slam Poetry Club and a senior majoring in psychology, said as a slam poet, it’s especially important to get experience performing with a crowd.
“Slam poetry’s a little bit different than normal poetry — we’re meant to read it out loud instead of on paper, so that’s kind of what we focus on,” Rust said. “But we also want people to be able to be comfortable stepping onto a stage and expressing themselves and getting used to their own voice.”
Rust said the group decides what material to perform at each event in the moment rather than preparing beforehand. Poets bring their entire notebook on stage with them, allowing for flexibility to adapt their set list based on reactions from the crowd.
“I usually read the room, so you have to [be able to] tell what people would be okay with listening to and what they won’t be,” they said. “A lot of slam poetry can be pretty heavy. That’s basically how I decide what I perform.”
Rust also said the event helps connect student performers with other poetry groups in the area.
“I think it’s important, because Slam Poetry’s such a small club on the University’s campus, and a lot of people don’t know who we are,” they said. “But if we can get out in the community and get other community groups involved, especially poetry groups, we can show people that we really aren’t just sitting in a room by ourselves talking to ourselves.”
Jaden Nogee, treasurer of Slam Poetry Club and a sophomore majoring in accounting, also performed at the event, but with music rather than slam poetry. Nogee said music is her other major creative hobby and she aims to balance it with her passion for slam poetry.
“I am both a poet and a musician, so in the slam poetry workshops I try and do as much poetry as I can, just to force myself to use my creative outlet,” she said. “But during open mic nights and stuff, I tend to perform music instead, just because it’s a good opportunity to do that.”
According to Nogee, the unique ability to perform slam poetry has helped her work through personal difficulties and confront trauma in an emotionally healthy way.
“The biggest thing is gaining that sense of community from your problems,” Nogee said. “I think that’s very important to kind of get that validation, almost, and show that everything you’re feeling is valid — other people are feeling it too. It really kind of brings together everyone. Misery likes company is kind of the best way to put it.”