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Budapest’s vibrant open mic scene reopens


  • Gretchen Kessler

10/06/2021 11.03am

The guitar is tuned, the amp is buzzing and the musicians of Budapest are vying for the opportunity to get back on stage. Gábor Bihari, the man behind Open Mic Budapest, sits down to discuss the organisation’s history and the exciting plans for a reopened Budapest.

Photo: Gretchen Kessler - We Love Budapest

Gábor sits at one of the many eclectic tables in the courtyard of Pótkulcs, a shaded open-air bar near Nyugati station, whose brick-wall exterior and unmarked metal door make it nearly impossible for the uninitiated to guess at the leafy oasis behind. It is here that Open Mic Budapest has recently relaunched its “open for all” musical nights, inviting anyone with a song to sing to enjoy once more the luxury of public music gatherings.

Open Mic Budapest was started seven years ago, inspired by Gábor’s experiences abroad, where open-mic venues were abundant. “I had a bunch of musician friends here in Budapest,” he explains, “and I noticed there weren’t any regular spots where people could come and perform in the city”.

Gábor stands inside the entrance of Pótkulcs

Photo: Gretchen Kessler - We Love Budapest

What started as once-a-month gatherings soon turned into once-a-day, and as the popularity grew, so did the sophistication. “We’ve had musicians meet and start collaborating,” says Gábor, pointing to the recent viral success of one Open Mic regular, Nigerian student Zubi, whose song Sugar (featuring Anatu) has nearly 30 million views on YouTube.

It was at an Open Mic that he met producer Matthew Davies, who went on to professionally produce his songs. And it doesn’t stop there – an open-mic night at Lámpás introduced Zubi to Hungarian pop star András Kállay-Saunders, and just earlier this month they performed at an album debut concert together at Akvárium as the opening act.

Still, Gábor is quick to point out that neither fame nor prestige is a prerequisite for performing at an Open Mic night. “Our motto is ‘Everybody gets a chance’,” he says. “And the community here is completely supportive. It’s truly open – anyone is welcome.”

Photo: Gretchen Kessler - We Love Budapest

The community as a whole is eager to see the Open Mic nights become regular occurrences again, as the pandemic restrictions made gatherings all but impossible. “We tried having streaming events,” says Gábor, “and we met whenever we could in parks. We also wanted to have an Open Mic Festival – featuring the cream of the crop from the Open Mic nights – but that was cancelled”.

Now that Immunity Certificates are allowing small-scale inside gatherings again, Gábor hopes to see the Open Mic nights return to their former glory. “We are re-establishing contact with old venues, and looking for new venues,” he says. “One performance at an Open Mic night is worth ten practices at home,” he adds, hoping that new talents will come and sign their name despite any stage fright.

Ordering at the bar still requires a mask, but in the seating area guests can sit mask-free with an Immunity Card

Photo: Gretchen Kessler - We Love Budapest

Photo: Gretchen Kessler - We Love Budapest

Search for “open mic Budapest” and the top results will be Gábor’s organisation. Open Mic Budapest refreshes its Facebook page and website with upcoming events and venues, although Gábor stresses that Facebook is probably the quickest to update. Depending on the host of the night, sign-ups can be arranged in advance online, or simply on a first-come-first-serve basis on the night. A house guitar, and in some venues also a piano, are available, in case of foreign visitors or spontaneous arrivals.

Open Mic Night schedule

TUESDAYS: Open Mic at Udvarrom21, 8pm-11pm
WEDNESDAYS: Open Mic at Pótkulcs Budapest, 8.30pm-11.30pm
THURSDAYS: Open Mic at Hoff House, private event, registration mandatory for all attending, contact Hoff House for more information
FRIDAYS: Open Mic at Lámpás, 8pm-11.30pm Information

For more information, check out:

Open Mic Budapest Facebook page or the Open Mic Budapest website

Photo: Gretchen Kessler - We Love Budapest

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