CSULB alumna opens doors for raw talent
Published: Sunday, January 20, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 00:01
Timid, new artists drop their guards as they walk through the doors of Shillelagh and are welcomed by Cal State Long Beach alumna Ann Louise Thaiss, who greets them with a smile and a sign-up sheet.
Thaiss hosts an open mic night at the small yet cozy restaurant attached to O’Connell’s Cocktails on Fourth Street and Temple every Thursday at 7 p.m.
“I’ve been to various open mics; what’s different about Ann [Thaiss] is that she’s very friendly and she shows open arms,” CSULB alumnus and musician Kevin Ng said.
Local, fresh talent can come out and perform in front of others for the first time, letting them get used to crowds, rejection or both, Thaiss said.
“All the people that have come consistently have become better performers,” she said. “If people put themselves out there and expect rejection, but just keep holding on, they’re going to feel better about themselves.”
Thaiss started the event as a way to break out of her shell after moving from Virginia to California to go to school for vocal performance. She started hosting the open mic night in 2008 at Pizza Pi, a restaurant where she worked as a waitress.
“When I came out here, I was scared. I was very shy,” she said. “I didn’t talk to anybody. The only other person I talked to was my roommate.”
As a way to break into the Long Beach music scene, Thaiss said she decided to host the open mic every Monday night. The event started off with a bang, bringing in students from the CSULB music department for what would become an ultimate jam session, Thaiss said.
However, the burden of school and different schedules brought a lull in the open mic night participation.
“So, basically what the open mic was, was an empty restaurant, me playing piano and singing for three hours and then me crying at the end of the night,” Thaiss said. “Some nights it was really good, and I met a lot of great friends that I hold really close to me. But some nights it was dead, and I would just cry. But it made me stronger.”
The open mic night was put on hiatus so that Thaiss could focus on her studies at CSULB. During the summer, however, Thaiss teamed up with coworker Vanessa Luciana to start the event back up again.
“We had a different approach,” Thaiss said. “We had a feature artist this time, and we did a better job at advertising.”
As the open mic night grew, Thaiss and Luciana, who have been hosting the event for free over the course of a year, asked the owner of Pizza Pi, who was reluctant to share the restaurant’s profits, for compensation for their work on the event. Miscommunications and disagreements with Pizza Pi’s owner led the girls to move to Shillelagh last October.
Pizza Pi eventually closed in mid-November.
“The atmosphere is just so much better,” Thaiss said. “It’s a smaller place, which is unfortunate, but the food is just as delicious, if not even more so.”
Shillelagh owner Donnie Larson said that the open mic night is something new that his restaurant is still feeling out.
“We are having a great turnout, but it’s a small space, so it limits the walk-in customers,” he said. “It’s so new to me. I’m still trying to figure it out.”
The event starts out with Thaiss, who warms up the artists with a couple of songs. She showcases her experience from singing with the CSULB Pacific Standard Time Jazz Ensemble.
“I pretty much owe all of my abilities now to the [CSULB music] department,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot … about being a professional, which is going to help me out in every aspect of my life.”
Now when Thaiss approaches the microphone, a booming voice comes out of the once-shy performer. She becomes the subject of the song, telling stories through her music.
Thursday’s featured performer, CSULB communications alumnus Tim Ehrreich, also gave Shillelagh customers and other open mic artists a chill through their spine as he performed music inspired by the Deep South. Switching between soulful vocals about redemption and cheating, Delta blues-inspired harmonica and folk guitar, Ehrreich offers listeners a familiar approach to storytelling.
Ehrreich said that the open mic is a good opportunity for artists to come together as a community and share their work without having to worry about selling tickets.
“I just like the fact of promoting live local music … It’s a dying breed,” Ehrreich said. “Everybody’s worried about rejection. For me, I try to become the character in the song.”
Other performers include comedians, poets, as well as an eclectic mix of musicians.
After graduating, Thaiss started working on recording sessions in Los Angeles, formed a band called Ham and Turkey with CSULB alumnus Kaan Akin and even started aiding the production of a Las Vegas musical. Other projects, like an all-girl folk group tentatively called Whiskey and Honey, have also come up in the past few months for Thaiss.
“If you haven’t seen the Long Beach music scene, you are definitely missing out because there are so many amazing bands, and they have so much to offer and so much to give,” Thaiss said. “That’s where you find talent in the raw and you see it blossom.”