Lizard Lounge Open Mic Challenge: Judge’s Seat View

I should preface this by saying I have no place being a judge. I have played Tom Bianchi’s Lizard Lounge open mic challenge many times. Truth be told, I prefer to be on that end, being judged rather than judging. It was tough for me because I saw such talent across the entire evening…which happens every Monday night. Musical preference is incredibly subjective, though I tried to be as unbiased as possible and take all things (songwriting, playing ability, stage banter/presence, etc) into account…this isn’t about who won or made it to the final 3 though, its about a night of incredible music where 21 diversely talented musicians played for a crowd. A crowd that perhaps should be much larger for the entirety given the scope of this evening…lucky for you it happens every single Monday. So get there.


The first musician to really knock my socks off this evening was Ryan Sweezey. The songwriter was a bit reserved at first, and I didn’t know what to expect, but as he eased into his first song I saw his humor and his huge stage presence. Solid guitar playing and a great voice, he is reminscent of what I guess I would call “folk-pop” in a way. A genre defined by catchiness in it’s overall presence, but delivers really well. I thoroughly enjoyed his 2 songs and this was just a toe in the water of what was to unfold the rest of the evening.

Alec Hutson…holy sh*t. I reviewed Alec’s last record and the reverberating thought from that review was “it’s really something of splendor”. The guy just has such a unique and soulful voice and a groove to his playing that is phenomenal. He had the foot percussion thing down to an art form and his two songs left everyone in the audience wanting a bit more. Soon enough I am sure.

Steve Nardone immediately followed and he had this travis picking, blues style that was truly great. Really impressive young player and singer. I think he will go real far in the upcoming years and by the looks of it, he attends the LLOMC quite often, so I am very hopeful that I will catch him again soon. A real presence on stage, power.

Mary Casiello should be a famous songwriter for Disney or Pixar or something that inspires people, especially the young folks. Positive energy in spades from his gal. Her closing song for her daughter called “Superhero” was excellent. She had a wonderful voice, obviously knew her way around the ivories, and was just plain likeable. I hope to see more of her soon.

Michala Garnder…this is my first time singing in front of people as a solo performer. Would never have been able to tell. This girl was just a force of nature. Beautiful singing voice, played the heck out of the keys like a seasoned pro. Her two songs were really something else…so I asked her to come back up and play us all a third. Tom Bianchi summed up her set as being “why he keeps running this open mic”. It was a wonderful, wonderful testament to how great this community around the open mic is…and how much incredible talent it uncovers.

Sarah Fard took home my vote for the overall night. She had a way of drawing you in with a quiet confidence, but it was pure confidence. Funny and quick on the wit, but serious once the playing started…and this girl can play. The quiver in her voice coupled with the warm tone from her archtop guitar and jazz stylings won me over immediately. I looked into this gal and it seems as though she plays with a full band as well…something I will have to check out soon and urge you all to do so to. For now, the solo thing knocked my socks off and I am just fine with that.

Bethel Steele has this indescribable confidence and natural feel about her. As much as she is a great songwriter, I just want to be friends with her. She just seems comfortable being on a stage and exudes this light and humor that draws you in. Her voice is great, she plays wonderfully and her songs are just heartfelt enough that they don’t cross the line to being overly personal…so you know, everyone can relate to them. I have seen her a number of times at the LLOMC and look forward to seeing her many more times. Great folk with hints of country and acoustic rock.

Sheez Late was a good shake up from the typical “one person, one instrument” and they had a good chemistry and great humor to them even busting out an old school boombox for some sound effects flavor.

Cory Allen Staats has that pop sensibility about him that is just so goddamn infectious you are singing the songs before you even know them. Incredible vocal control, interesting chord patterns, and really great and catchy songs. It was a really hard decision in the end, but he was a given for my final 3 performers from the first note he played (hence the 4 or 5 stars I scribbled next to his name in my notes).

Kevin O’Neil may be the most entertaining guy on the planet. His dry wit and “lets just do this…this is music” attitude were a great presence in teh dim lit hue of the Lizard. Hell, everyone knows this guy even singing along with him. A cool way to close out the evening before the final 3.


The most important part of this evening is the community is has fostered. There is no other place in Boston…possibly on planet earth…where you can show up, pay 3 bucks (if you are playing) or 6 bucks (if you are just listening) and take in a night of 20+ artists and witness such incredible talent, possibly find your favorite new songwriter. The Lizard Lounge Open Mic is one of the best things going for music. You all should be there on Monday nights…plus they got tater tots. I mean, come on!