If you place a finger on the pulse of underground poetry in Kansas City, you’ll hear a steady growing beat from One Mic Stand KC. This up-and-coming open mic for poets and musicians has been featuring some of the freshest talent in the area. One Mic Stand KC describes itself as “an open mic committed to providing an inclusive and conducive environment for KC artists and admirers of art.”
Every Thursday in the summer (and every other Thursday in the winter) at 9 p.m., you can find the folks of One Mic Stand KC at Awaze—an upbeat Ethiopian and Caribbean fusion restaurant in Midtown Kansas City. Here, poets can share their work, listen to others’, and network with fellow poets and artists.
River, founder of One Mic Stand KC created the open mic to fill a void in Kansas City’s creative community. “I felt like Kansas City lacked an outlet for young minority artists. We have so many talented people who just don’t have a platform.”
With previous experience working at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art for a program called Teen Advisory Group (TAG), which hosted teen-friendly open mics and events, River knew what it’d take to pull One Mic Stand KC together, but it didn’t happen right away. “I talked about doing an open mic for two years before it actually came to fruition,” says River. “After spending a year in Boston for school, I moved back home and talked about it some more. It wasn’t until November 2017 that I actually wrote out the plans for it.”
When it came to planning, River only had one venue in mind for the open mic. “I had the idea for doing an open mic at Awaze since my senior year of high school,” she admits. “Pablo, the owner and chef at Awaze is my pops! It always felt like the place I needed to be. I think it’s crucial to support local Black-owned businesses because our demographic is mostly made up of Black and minority artists,” River explains.
“It’s extremely important for everything we do to be done out of love… there was no other place besides Awaze that could do just that.”
One Mic Stand KC hosted their first open mic on December 16, 2017. The open mic resonated with many creatives in the area and grew quickly. “Once I realized how much it meant to other creatives, I felt like we needed to expand our audience and our platform,” River explains. “So we partnered with the American Jazz Museum on 18th and Vine to create opportunities for every medium of art and to bridge the gap between the younger and wiser generation.”
One Mic Stand KC has become a place for poets across backgrounds and generations to come together. Budding competitive slam poets like Louder than a Bomb KC and HBO’s New Voices competitor Marjai Neal, and nine-time Kansas City Poetry Slam Champion and 2018 National Poetry Slam representative Darrien Case (@dc.empathy) have shared their work at One Mic Stand KC events.
Case says it’s the inclusivity that makes One Mic Stand KC’s creative energy thrive. “What’s exciting is watching artists break out of their shell and show out!” he says, “The next big name from KC you would most likely hear in that room before they blow up.”
In addition to poetry, One Mic Stand KC often features talented musicians and visual artists, even holding special events and jam sessions outside of their regular Thursday meeting where visitors can perform, watch, network, and even purchase art. As Case puts it:
“Whether you’re a poet, rapper, or musician, people wanna turn up to the real you. Your expression is valued there.”
River plans to expand One Mic Stand KC’s audience and platform in order to provide more resources and support for local artists. “This year, we will be partnering up with some other local collectives to bring out the real culture and flavor of Kansas City!” If you’re in the KC area, be sure to follow @onemicstandkc on Instagram and Twitter to keep tabs on their upcoming events.