September 16, 2019

You Can’t Keep a Good Open Mic Down

by cns2020

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Story by Joey Phoenix

The Triumphant Return of the Son of the Gulu Gulu Open Mic Shindig brings performers of all types back through the café doors to share their talents with anybody willing to pay attention. 

Good news performers, musicians, poets, puppeteers, and people who like to do weird stuff on stage, Salem’s beloved open mic has finally returned home to Gulu Gulu Café. Hosts Brian Donnelly and Lucas Custer are inviting talent of all kinds to come to the Gulu stage on Thursdays at 8 pm to do whatever it is they want to do. 

The original Gulu Gulu Open Mic, established in 2009, was a circus of wonders featuring oddballs who felt comfy doing what they do for their open mic family. 

“They finally found a place to put all the square pegs who don’t fit in round holes – they found us a big square hole!” Local legend and open mic performer Honor Hero Havoc once said of the event.

For most of the of the 2010s, the weekly Wednesday night Open Mic Shindig was hosted by Jeff Savlon – who Brian refers to as the “grandfather of the open mic shindig” – and Brian Donnelly, both talented performers themselves who brought life and energy to the stage between acts. When Jeff moved to New York City in 2017, Lucas Custer stepped in to fill the role of host alongside Brian. 

“People came, it was a machine that was still working,” host Brian Donnelly recalls, “but it didn’t feel the same.” 

There were a number of factors going on behind the scenes that also went into this change of atmosphere, but both Brian and Lucas knew that something had to change, and it did. 

In January of 2018, the original Gulu Gulu Open Mic shindig retired, pushing the nearly decade-old event out onto the streets to fend for itself. The performers scattered to the wind, looking for places to show off their skills, becoming veritable shindig diaspora hoping one day they could return to their native shores. 

Video by Door Eleven Productions
Short “sketch” created for the 2018 Salem Film Festival highlighting the decade long run of the Gulu Gulu Open Mic Shindig

It was then that Opus: Underground stepped in and offered the shindig a place to host the event once a month. 

“It was a small room, a small number of people, so it wasn’t quite the same thing,” Brian said. “But it was good and Opus is full of wonderful people who treated us really well, and they did everything they could to help us fill up that space.” 

In June of 2019, local legend Honour Hero Havoc passed away, leaving the community brokenhearted. Knowing that something needed to be done to recognize and honor her, Gulu owner Steve Feldman reached out to Brian to see if he would be interested in hosting a celebration of her life, a benefit at the café for her family. 

“[Honour] was a character who was lovable and obnoxious at the same time. She was a fixture at the Gulu, at the open mic, and a fixture here in Salem,” Brian remembered. 

After some consideration, and some negotiation about how it would be structured, Brian said yes. 

The event was on June 15, 2019 and Brian and Lucas invited Black Dog Brother, a band which Honour had been a part of, and other performers who knew and loved Honour to play. It was a beautiful and moving evening that raised nearly $1,000 for the family. 

What Brian didn’t know was that, in the background, Lucas Custer and Steve Feldman had been having talks of their own, ones that would involve the Open Mic Shindig returning to Gulu for good. There was a hole that was left when the open mic retired, and only the open mic shindig could fill it. 

When Steve called Brian to see if he would be interested in resurrecting the open mic, Brian was hesitant at first – but he knew in his gut that this was the place that the Open Mic truly belonged. The timing was right, the location was right, so he figured, why not? 

“The way to move forward in this economy is to have a local place where locals can hang out and feel at home,” Brian said, “that’s what Gulu is.” 

So he said yes, and now the Second Coming of the Son of the Gulu Gulu Open Mic Shindig will take over the café every Thursday night. 

“We’re going to be back there every Thursday until the end of goddamned time,” Brian added with a laugh. “We’re so happy to be back though, it’s like putting on a suit that feels like pajamas.” 

When asked what kind of acts are welcome and encouraged at the open mic, he quickly jumped in with “every type of act and performance is welcome!”

Then quickly added: 

“But we don’t get enough puppets or magic. Please come and bring your weird stuff.” 

Joey Phoenix is a performance artist and the Managing Editor of Creative North Shore. Follow them on Twitter @jphoenixmedia. If you have an idea for a story, feature, or pictures of adorable llamas, feel free to send them a message at

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