Okay, real talk: a lot of people at this school have talent. From the outstanding number of people who do theater, dance and music, to the people who can stand on their head and juggle with their feet, Muhlenberg is an exciting and peculiar breeding ground for new talent. Many of our students perform on campus, and we enjoy and appreciate the life they bring to our hallways and grassy expanses. But there are some hidden gems that lie beyond Muhlenberg that can be just as influential for practicing a trade — and making some money along the way. Without further ado I give you five off-campus venues for public, open-mic performances.
The Shanty on 19th Street:
I discovered the Shanty when I was working for the Civic Theater on their production of Sondheim’s Assassins. The Shanty is a bar about a block over from the theater; it’s a treasure of a joint that hides away from the Muhlenberg crowd. However, the walk to the Shanty is worth it because it offers live music almost every night. Thursday is karaoke night, but if you walk in and speak to the managers, they will sit down with you and talk to you about performing. If you have a guitar and a dream, this is the place for you. I went earlier in the semester with some friends, and the managers were so happy to see Muhlenberg students that they bought us drinks and told us to bring more of our people in!
The Bookstore in Bethlehem:
If you can make it all the way out to Bethlehem, you have to check out the Bookstore. It is a 1920s speakeasy literally hidden behind the façade of a bookstore. Enter into a dimly lit, smooth jazz club, with people dressed to the nines and cocktail menus hidden in classic literature. Each night they have a live jazz band that plays everything from covers of popular songs to jazz standards. A few weeks ago I took one of my best friends and one of the most talented performers I know, Kelly Shannon ‘18, there for her birthday. My friends and I convinced the managers to let her sing for everyone, proclaiming that she had the voice of Etta James, so they let her do a cover of “At Last” and the place ate it up! They gave her their contact cards and asked her to come and sing again.
McCarthy’s Red Stag Pub in Bethlehem:
Another secret of Bethlehem, McCarthy’s, is also a haven of performance. It’s a true Irish-American bar, complete with performances every night. There is someone new playing there during each visit. The first time I went, two friends actually took me there for my birthday, and the performer wrote me an impromptu customized birthday song and even got his album some press by giving it to our whole table. Being in Bethlehem also allows for performers to widen their audience beyond a Muhlenberg crowd and to sell their talent to people they may not have met otherwise.
Hava Java on 19th Street:
Hava Java is a cute little coffee shop on 19th street right across from the Civic Theater that actually has open mic nights a couple of times a month. I’ve seen everything from musical performances to people performing poetry to play readings there. It is an intimate little atmosphere where you can grab a cup of coffee and mingle with people from Allentown who want to know about your work.
Café Frais just opened across the street from East Hall. I have only been there once because it opened a couple of weeks ago, but the management team let out that they are going to start having live performances there. A venue that is basically on campus, Café Frais is a New York style café with insane breakfast food and another intimate atmosphere that is perfect for performances. It would be ideal to hop onto this idea if you are looking to perform a cabaret-style show for the public. And because it is so close to campus, I can imagine a performance there will garner an audience of Muhlenberg students and Allentown residents alike.
What I’ve realized in visiting these places is that the key to performing is the art of asking. A performance space does not have to be a big stage; it can be one of these intimate bars where you can affect people just as deeply. I know I would enjoy my dining experience with a little added fun.
And if you feel you need more practice performing before going out into the “real world,” why not do it here while you can?