A small-town coffee shop in downtown Rockingham transforms into a lively hub of music and culture on the first Friday of each month as local Gen Z teens flock to open-mic night.
The strumming guitars and soulful singing fill the air, but it’s not just the music that draws them in.
For these young musicians and music enthusiasts, open-mic night is a chance to showcase their talents, connect with like-minded individuals, and express themselves in a supportive and creative environment.
With a diverse range of performers, from singer-songwriters to spoken word poets, every open-mic night brings new surprises and highlights the vibrant local music scene.
This cafe is called Nana’s Coffee Rocks, tucked away in downtown Rockingham in the IncSpace building.
(Disclosure: IncSpace is owned by the Melvin family, who also own the Richmond Observer, which has its office upstairs.)
The usual atmosphere of the cafe can be chill and relaxed, but come evening, the atmosphere shifts to a more lively vibe as musicians set up their instruments.
For many, the open-mic night is the month’s highlight. The event draws a diverse crowd of aspiring musicians and enthusiastic listeners, all eager to share in the magic of live music.
Not only does the shop provide a stage for local Gen Z teens to showcase their talents, but it’s also thanks to the hard work and dedication of the open mic night’s host, Cameran McAuley.
He is responsible for making sure everything runs smoothly. From setting up the equipment to introducing performers and wrapping up the event, McAuley is the first to arrive and the last to leave.
“I kind of started it on a whim,” McAuley said. “It was kind of an impulse decision where me and my buddy, we had kind of messed around playing music before. We learned two songs…and we actually came to the coffee shop. … I was like, ‘They used to play music over in that corner right there’ (pointing to the corner where they used to have open-mics).
“He was like, ‘They don’t do it anymore?’ And I was like, ‘No, the guy that used to run the open mics, he doesn’t do it. He moved away.’
“He looked at me and he said, ‘What if we do it?’ I was like, ‘Well, that’s a good idea.’ And so the first open-mic was really small, but every single open mic since then has been bigger and better than the last one.
“We had an open-mic where we got 59 people to come out here, and the majority of them were under the age of 25.”
Logan Watts, a local musician who frequently performs on open-mic night, shares that his favorite performance was the first one he ever did.
“I personally think I didn’t do too well, but it was an experience that I’ll always remember as one of my first performances ever.”
Another performer is Sebastian Yang, a drummer who plays with his brother, Aiden.
When asked how he handles nerves before a performance, Yang admitted, “To be honest, it’s hard to prevent your nerves before a performance, no matter what you do.
“But I would say the best way to prevent it is to focus on how good you are going to play. If you have confidence in yourself, then being nervous is nothing more than leeching off of you.”
Watts and Yang are both in the band The Isles, along with Sophia Razon, Isaiah Wall and E-myahh Goodwin.
The band first performed together at April’s open-mic night and each member switched instruments on the second song.
Both Yang and Watts were asked how they first got into performing.
Yang said he got into performing by watching his friends.
“Whenever they first played,” he said, “I was really amazed by their musical skills and wanted to be part of that environment, so I decided to play on drums since there weren’t many drum players at our open-mic night.”
For Watts, he says his father — who used to play in a band — was “a huge inspiration for me to learn to play different instruments and perform.”
“When I heard that there was an open-mic opening nearby, I was like, ‘Here’s my chance,’ and I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
NOTE: Disclosure statement added after initial publication. 6 p.m. 5-4-23
NOTE: Correction made to name. 4:58 p.m. 5-5-23