The year’s final Off Knox open mic offered everything that we have come to expect this past Friday night at the Cherry Street Restaurant and Bar Bier Garten. While some of the acts were diamonds in the rough (several singer/songwriter style songs by junior Sam Brownson [TKS writer], an a capella rap by junior Junyoung Choo and a poem by senior Marnie Shure), the majority of the performances were the same jumble of derivative, hipster moaning and screeching that is the standard fare of Off Knox.
The Bier Garten was an improved venue over previous iterations of Off Knox that took place in different locations like the main floor of Cherry Street or The Box art gallery. The Bier Garten was airy and spacious with a bar and sufficient, tiered seating, making it possible for everyone to see the performances while sipping their drinks.
The vibe of the location and performances were definitely calibrated to appeal to a specific audience—one that generally did not want to talk or mingle. The whole evening seemed bespoke to conjure up all of the emotional energy (or lack there of) of a circa 2006 Portland, Oregon coffee shop where the clientele has decided that actually enjoying things is just too passé to be tolerated and soiled plaid is all the rage. Of course, guitars outnumber people that can play them.
As with any open mic night, the talent was variable, everything from the downright awful (rather a lot of this), to the unremarkable to the actually fairly excellent. While a complete play-by-play of the performances would be unwieldy, and there were many acts that were both good and bad, several stood out. Brownson sang a pair of songs he had written about growing up Christian, meeting a girl, breaking up and reevaluating his life. This pair of songs came through as being particularly soulful and sincere and was carried by some solid musical talent on the part of Brownson.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Choo delivered a funny, fast and surprisingly nuanced a capella rap about (in part) being Asian in America. Choo showed amazing talent for memory, sense of rhythm and catchy poeticism, putting his lyrics front and center while displaying exactly the right amount of charismatic egoism.
Finally, Shure read a funny, well-crafted poem about growing up and eating in the Oak Room —rendering a surprisingly reflective work of poetry from a dinner conversation centered around too-spicy Cajun food. Shure read well, conversationally drawing the audience into her poem and making its internal discussion part of their own thought processes.
By and large, Off Knox remains an unremarkable paean to hipsterism, but the occasional gem can make it a worthwhile evening for someone willing to slog through the rest of it. There is always talent at Off Knox, and particularly in the Bier Garten, it can be quite accessible in the open mic format.