Step on up pour it out

If you take a seat at The Buzz on any Wednesday night, sounds of coffee brewing, guitars strumming, vocals humming and hands clapping will fill your ears.

People from east and west come specifically for the midweek gathering of local talent and hot beverages because from 6:30-9:30 p.m. the stage is open for anyone with a song, poem or knock-knock joke.

This season opens the fifth year of The Buzz's Open Mic night.

"Any given night, you don't know what you are going to get," said Kelly Thomas, co-founder of the event.

Deb Ferguson, owner of The Buzz, hopes all performers feel invited to perform.

"It's not just musicians. We welcome stand-up comedians, storytellers, magicians and more," she said.

Group therapy

Performers of all ages come to the event, Thomas said.

Three-year-olds, 90-year-olds and whole families have performed.

"Kids started here three years ago, come back later and are extraordinary," Thomas said.

No matter who gets on stage, the atmosphere is welcoming, patrons say.

"The worse you play, the louder they applaud," said Andy Courney of Sequim, who plays Hawaiian slack-key guitar.

Musicians perform at all skill levels, from band members to amateurs off the street.

Richard Terril of Port Angeles, a regular attendee, said he's seen a few poor performances but respects the artists' courage.

"They have the guts to get up there ... I appreciate all performers."

Added Thomas: "For a first-timer, it's a welcome environment and no bias.

"Everyone's even. No tryouts. No belittling."

The format is broad-based with few restrictions beyond refraining from lewdness.

Stage confessions

Participants come for different reasons.

Ron Monroe, a guitar player with the band Acoustic News, likes the sense of community.

"I've made a lot of new friends here, and it's a great place to be entertained."

Dusty Smith of Sequim brought his band The Broken Pick on stage to try a new venue.

"We just formed a band and needed a forum to try some stuff," Smith said.

New residents have embraced the open mic's welcoming atmosphere, too.

Richard Closs, who moved here one month ago, played classic rock songs three weeks ago.

"All the different styles inspire me to play," Closs said.

Thomas attributes such willingness by newbies and veterans to The Buzz's friendliness.

"People network and become friends through this," she said.

"Music is what ties the binds."

Friendly beginnings

The first The Buzz Open Mic was Oct. 5, 2005, when Rebecca Wanagel and Thomas wanted to provide a new avenue for performers.

Thomas admits that pushing for the weekly event was partially selfish.

After taking guitar lessons from Wanagel, she wanted to develop her musical abilities and conquer her fear of performing in public.

It was a learning experience for Thomas and Wanagel, but six months later Wanagel moved to Bellingham.

Victor Reventlow also wanted to perform and found it a good place to deal with a tough time in his life. "Victor considers this place his saving grace," Thomas said. "He looks forward to it all week."

Surprising performance

To the surprise of many long-time attendees, Wanagel returned to perform on Oct. 14.

It had been 31/2 years since she moved away; now she and her fiancé have moved to Joyce.

"I cannot believe I left the Olympic Peninsula," she said between songs.

"This place is magical."

While in Bellingham, she searched for a similar open mic to no avail.

"I couldn't find 'this' anywhere," she said.

"We need to appreciate this."

Reach Matthew Nash at

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