Periodically at the Conaway Center in the 1104 Center, 1104 S. Wabash Ave., dozens of students get a chance to show off their skills and perform at Big Mouth, an open-mic night produced by and for Columbia students, and express their art on stage in front of peers.
Typically at about 6:30 p.m., kids are tuning their guitars, murmuring lines to themselves, pacing around or setting up amps before show time at 7 p.m. Usually an audience of a few hundred people attends the event.
Students working the event said it often fills to capacity-almost 500 people-and the night of Feb. 12, the first Big Mouth of the spring semester, was no exception.
“We always pretty much sell out,” said Ayisha Jaffer, president of the Student Programming Board, which manages Big Mouth. “Usually people line up around the door to try to get a slot into Big Mouth to perform their talent.”
That featured talent crosses a wide range of both musical and artistic genres. Some students do spoken word poetry, while others may perform with a band. Some students do dance or perform hip-hop, while others sing acoustic songs on the guitar.
Any Columbia student can perform, as long as they get a slot on the list before it’s full.
“We’re always trying to make it more diverse,” said Kate Kennedy, a student worker at the event. She said there are many different genres that students can sign up to perform, and they rotate through the night.
Some students at the event played songs in the spirit of Valentine’s Day. Some were optimistic while others voiced a more bitter tone about the lover’s holiday.
Big Mouth kicked off with a student, Ross, playing the acoustic guitar, followed by Mr. E, who did a spoken word performance. At one point during the night a full band with a trumpet player backed a student vocalist, Tori, who sang a ballad and interacted with the crowd, getting off the stage and walking in front of the audience.
Vice president of Student Affairs Mark Kelly attended the event on Feb. 12. Kelly said he thinks Big Mouth has an underground community that the majority of the college is oblivious to.
“This is the soul of what we’re about,” he said, referring to the community, diversity and arts at Columbia.
Big Mouth has been happening since 1999, and in the past, there have been themes such as Women’s Night and Band Night, but the organizers try to keep it open to all student performers.
Kennedy said at some special competitive Big Mouth events, the Student Programming Board has given away prizes such as microphones and studio time to the winning performers.
The next event the Student Programming Board will host is in conjunction with the Department of Cultural Affairs and African Heritage Month at Columbia. “Big Mouth Extended: Featuring Saul Williams,” will be held on Feb. 19 at the Hokin Annex in the Wabash Campus Building, 623 S. Wabash Ave., at 6 p.m.
The respected spoken word and slam poet will perform for the audience after the student showcase. It is free for all Columbia students and a $3 donation for non-students.
“We like to have feature artists,” Jaffer said. “It’s perfect for Black History Month and all the values and the importance of it, especially at our school with our huge diverse community.”
It will be different than the normal Big Mouth events, not only because it will have a famous artist perform, but also because it will be “unplugged.”
“There will be spoken word performances only,” said Sharod Smith, programming director at the Office of Collegewide Events. “There will be no bands, just acapella performances.”