It’s gig night again: open mics and live performances return to Chennai venues

Laughter, head bangs, sing-alongs… Chennai venues are cautiously bringing back everything you missed about live performances

“It’s okay that more people didn’t show up; their safety is important,” says Chennai-based singer Adil Mohammed, discussing his recent live performance at Goddy’s in Nungabakkam, Chennai.

It was an invite-only event, but he didn’t push anyone to attend. “We encouraged people to watch the Instagram livestream instead, and around 35 viewers did,” he says, adding, “But, it was nice to see real people before me and hear them singing along — I could tell when they were smiling, even though they had masks on. Even if there had been just one person sitting there, I would have been happy to complete my set for him or her.”

Adil’s last line sums up just how much the city’s performers have been missing their live audience — the chemistry, the camaraderie and the emotional reactions to the very first notes of a favourite song. Which explains why, as a few of the city’s gig venues cautiously begin reopening post the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, artistes are raring to get back on stage.

After a seven-month gap, a TIGOM (The Internet Generation’s Open Mic) was held at their usual rooftop in T Nagar last week. The session, which saw about 10 participants — including rappers, poets, freestylers and standup comics — was a result of days of deliberation and planning.

Says TIGOM organiser Jaytesh Calpakkam, “We bought a bunch of extra face masks, just in case someone walked in without one, but thankfully everyone had their own. We capped entries at 30 people based on the space and did temperature checks. We sanitised the mic after every performance and had to remind people from time to time to keep their masks on, but it was all worth it. Because it looked like the audience had missed these performers as much as they had missed their audience.”

Standup comic Anusankari U inadvertently backs this up when describing her Psychedelic Hues (PH) Cafe spot: “It felt like a therapy session. Their fee was my jokes and my cure was their laughter.”

Not everything can be planned, of course — a sudden bout of rain during PH Cafe’s maiden open mic after lockdown meant that their carefully distanced and sanitised performance venue had to be abandoned and the audience shuttled indoors. “All our spaces are properly sanitised, but when indoors, people had to sit much closer than we would have preferred,” explains PH Cafe founder Rashmi Nandita.

Maintaining distance can be a continuous errand, and not just because of vagaries of weather. “There was a huge integration during the event as well, so we kept playing games to keep one-arm distance, and reminding people ‘if you aren’t able to clap freely, it means you need to move further away’,” says Jaytesh.

And then there are the brass tacks, including everything from seating arrangement to equipment. Goddy’s owner Godwin Roy breaks it down: “For our open mics on Mondays, we brought participation down to 10 people, instead of 30-40. We start at 6.30 pm now instead of 9 pm, and close early. Mics are what are used most frequently, so we remove and clean them regularly. Our amps are digital and operated from a smartphone, so the need to touch them doesn’t arise at all. Our speakers are on the ceiling, far from contact.”

During his gig at Goddy’s, recalls, Adil, “All groups that came together picked their own corner, two tables away from other parties.” Of these, one table was more special to him than the rest. “When at home, I used to go live on Instagram at 1 am. A doctor, returning home around midnight from his hospital shift, would always watch — he said it helped him sleep. He came to my gig that day and brought a friend; I got to meet him for the first time.”

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