Once a month, for the past three months in Madison, the Coal River Artists Musicians and Performers (CAMP WV) have been hosting an Open Mic Night at the Boone Arts and Heritage Center, next to the Coal Heritage Museum on Main Street. They've been holding it the last Saturday of each month at 6 p.m.

Terry Bartley, the leader of CAMP WV, is happy with the way things have been going.

"It is so important for any community to provide a space for local artists to express themselves," Bartley said. "I'm really glad that we are able to create that environment for performers and writers in Boone County."

Last month, CAMP WV added something different to its Open Mic Night - a free ice cream social to celebrate the end of summer. Bartley said part of the new strategy is to pull in non-performers with these types of promotions.

"For the first couple of months, we only ever had about 10 people attend these things; one time we only had two performers. We want to make sure this is something the community supports and that local artists know about, so they can take part in it," Bartley said.

Because of the ice cream social and a hard marketing push, they were able to attract over 30 people to attend their most recent open mic. They had seven different performers, each with very different styles. Musicians ranged from a country act, some old-school rock, a few covers of modern pop music and even one performer that sang along to jazz standards.

"That's what it's all about," Bartley said, "Open mic nights are about giving local creative folks that chance to meet each other and figure out if they can finds ways to collaborate. We first tried this two years ago, with less success, but we found out two of our young performers became great friends and regularly play together. That's the sort of thing that makes it all worth it."

CAMP WV was formed through the West Virginia Community Development Hub's IAS program, which created community teams based around different economic sectors. Through that work, the team earned a mini-grant, which they used to pay for a visit by Lori McKinney's Create Your State program, based in Princeton, West Virginia. Create Your State renewed the team's interest in open mic nights.

At this point, CAMP WV does not see an end of the Open Mic Nights in sight. Their next one, which will feature an old-time malt shop, is planned for 6 p.m. on Sept. 29 at the Boone Arts and Heritage Center, the building right next door to the Coal Museum on Main Street in downtown Madison.

Dan Taylor will periodically write about Community Matters for the Coal Valley News.

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