Friendships and love of music hold Open Mic Night crew together

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Lorcan McCormick

Post Associate Editor

The Open Mic Night Crew, who exhibit at various locations in Weakley County, as well as its neighbor counties, are in possession of an eclectic and humorously typical outward appearance; you could drop them in a Seattle cafe, with their academic credentials and social attitudes, and they’d snap onto the scene effectively. 

Playing at Southern State in South Fulton, with its intentionally Nashville-cultured surroundings, you could believably shanghai a yokel into thinking they were in the bohemian side of town. This is the surface, and it would be a lie to say the surface doesn’t belie some truth, but beneath it is a much more thoughtful and welcoming reality that seeks to form a passionate, but safe environment for expression and taking chances. Their heart is far from typical.

The easiest way to identify this is through Bob Peckham, popularly known as TN Bob, who is not only the colorful personality of the group, but in some ways, its originating member. TN Bob is a burst of energy; like a cloud in pants he shifts effortlessly from a flurry of French, to an imitation of New York hooligan, to careful reflection of life, and then into a sea shanty on the stage. Bob is an effective face for the group because he wonderfully mirrors peaceful contradiction; he is from California but carries the name TN Bob, he is a loquacious progressive who was introduced at an Oxford lecture as a high tech redneck, he shuffles slowly before sitting down before a beer and evoking a passage of Shakespeare with a strong theatrical voice. 

The group’s goal is to create an environment for people of any background, of any level of experience, of any temperament or attitude, to get up on the stage and join in on the joys of expression; in particular, the shared joy which comes so uniquely from a live show. 

“The camaraderie that surrounds live music and the way it enters people’s lives, I would miss it if I didn’t have it,” remarked David Carithers, a foundational member of the group. 

“It’s not about putting on a show, it is about creating an environment where people can be a part of the show,” as Rich Gallagher states.

Rich is the nebulous leader of the group; laid back with an air of droll humor, Rich espouses the avuncular side of the group’s mission. He quotes a friend of his, Kyle Carrao, since deceased, who gave Rich the words, “be the person you needed when you were younger,” which frames some of what the environment tries to create. College students, parvenus, and people just willing to take a chance on being heard are encouraged to take the stage, and while it ostensibly revolves around music, comedy and poetry are additionally available to be delivered on their stage. 

The group finds its origins at the now-closed AB Cheatham’s; a restaurant that was so ill-fated it was largely referred to in town by the property’s former title The Stables. The first open mic night held at Cheatham’s was only attended by TN Bob, who reached out via email to Rich, who then subsequently himself sent an email that brought David into the fold; with this, the Open Mic Night Crew found their first home. 

Rich fell into the role of leader through the happenstance, as he says it, that people just came up to him asking questions of what to do and what to expect. With Cheatham’s demise came the birthing of the Open Mic Crew’s current nomadic structure; humorously, they refer to themselves as an open mic without a home. In 2020, as the world began to reopen from the COVID-19 pandemic, they first played at the Vantage Courtyard and from there were approached to bring their inclusive form of community to various venues. 

“I love music and one of the main reasons we wanted this place was music.” These words belong to Greg Hodges, one of the three owners of Southern State, along with Jessica Mulchy and Tyson Babb. Southern State aggressively pursues a musical focus to craft the Nashville atmosphere they desire. It is a spacious building in possession of accommodating acoustics for the instruments and voices of the musicians; sitting at the long center table on both nights observed were the Open Mic Crew. 

The first night, Jordan Skoda, popularly known for his performances with his group Jordan Skoda and The Dam Rights, as well as Nicole Gallagher, Rich’s wife, were present. Skoda is a performer with the group, while Nicole is an extroverted ambassador for the group. 

She enjoys clapping first, “when you hear clapping it makes you react and clap also,” she has observed, and bringing an immediate sense of reward to whichever performer has finished is a goal of her’s when she is in attendance.

On both nights, glimpses of what the group strive for were exhibited; from lay musicians playing in front of a receptive crowd, to passionate discussions about art and culture from a diverse set of viewpoints. TN Bob always begins the shows, part as an honoring of his role as the man who spearheaded the group, and part due to his writing an original song to commemorate each venue. From there, Rich, David, Skoda, and others will play before giving way to anyone, anyone at all, willing to take the microphone for a whirl. David and Rich both veer strongly into Blues and Folk, while Bob has an aged quality to his songs which lean on the history of ballads and barroom lamentations. 

Skoda can be a hodgepodge, known predominantly with his group for rock covers, but just as likely to whip out a freshly-written Country themed tune. At the table, where a few beers are imbibed and food consumed, you may come across a friend such as Michael Busbee, who will deliver a sharp musical opinion before segueing into an anecdote about how he is often misidentified with a different Michael Busby with a less than loved reputation. 

When asked what these five years have meant and what it means in the present rolling forward, the unanimous response was what the friendships and opportunity to frequently see each other mean. For Bob, there is an additional aspect of respecting a familial vow which permeates it, “before my sister died she made me promise that I retire and become a songwriter. She knew it because I had written some songs by then, so this part of making good on my promise to my sister. She was the last part of my family that was alive. So that was important.” 

To learn more about the group and where they are playing next, they have a public Facebook group, Weakley County Open Mic, to visit and follow.      

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