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Celebrating ten awesome years of ‘the best open mic night in the UK’

The Whiskey Jar's open mic night has become a Manchester staple for young and established bands alike. 

Manchester is a great place to see live music, no doubt about it.

From bars, venues, open mics and more, this city has it all.

Today, we’re celebrating the Whiskey Jar’s open mic night.

This year in November, they celebrate a monumental ten years of giving budding Manchester performers a stage to perform and get their music out there.

The Whiskey Jar’s open mic nights have provided a venue for people to showcase their art, transforming it into a staple of the city’s creative landscape.

Under the guiding hand of Joe McAdam, the man who puts it all together, this unassuming venue has evolved into a safe sanctuary of musical expression and creativity, helping artists hone their craft and find their voice.

We sat down with Joe to discuss why the night has gone from strength to strength over the years.

The Whiskey Jar Open Mic Night

Joe McAdam in action at The Whiskey Jar

Joe, the mastermind behind The Whiskey Jar’s open mic nights, reminisces about the origins that unfolded by chance.

“It all happened by accident! I was a bass player in a band in 2013, the year it opened.

“We were looking for somewhere to put on an EP launch, and we happened to be in there having a drink.

“And we thought yeah this would work, I wonder if they’d let us do it here.”

The management was interested to see how a live music event would go, and they were away.

Joe’s band performed a sold-out show that set the stage for something extraordinary and lit the fire for more live music at the Whiskey Jar.

He continued: “We did that in May that year, sold it out with all the furniture out. It was amazing and I think the owners were happy with the show we put on  that they contacted me within a day or two and asked if I would take over their open mic show.”

Since then, 1000s of incredible performers have been through the doors showcasing an amazing high-quality night of sounds from the city.

Bands come from all over the country and even overseas for the evening, as the word spread by mouth about how good the night is.

Manchester’s Ever-Changing Music Scene

Since then, The Whiskey Jar’s open mic night has gone from success to success.

The appeal of the night extended beyond Manchester’s borders, drawing bands from the Northwest, thanks to the buzz created through word of mouth.

“Bands come from all over for the evenings, as the word spread by mouth about how good the night is.

“Weirdly, it hasn’t changed all that much over the years.”

He admits that initially, the concept didn’t receive the serious consideration it deserved.

“My feelings towards it have changed a bit, like most people, when it started, I think most people don’t have a very serious view of open mic nights, they don’t take them that seriously.

“There’s a bit of a reputation for open Mics of them maybe not being the kind of thing you’d go to if you wanted to go out and catch some tunes.

“Even from the artists’ perspective, sometimes they can feel a bit like cattle. We try and avoid that here, it’s completely democratised and everyone gets a fair crack.”

Yet, this evolving perception has highlighted the event’s significance.

“My perception of the night started to change because I started to see the value it has to young musicians and people who are new to performing.

“It provides a secure space for musicians to experiment with new material – by ‘secure,’ I mean they have the confidence that their voice will be heard – the essence of their expression and message.

“This holds significant value for many musicians who invest their heart and soul into their craft. It helps them hone their stagecraft, and their performances and push themselves through the creative processes.

“The brief five minutes you witness on stage could represent days, weeks, months, or even years of work.

“At times, it involves navigating mental turmoil in order to articulate their thoughts. However, it’s not always an introspective journey; it’s often quite enjoyable!

“The night encompasses a remarkable spectrum of diversity, featuring a myriad of performances spanning dance, spoken word, hip hop, and even string quartets. While the image of a sad guitarist in the corner occasionally fits, the variety extends beyond that – and that’s perfectly fine.

“It has evolved into a cornerstone for creative people in the city.”

Whiskey Jar Performers who’ve made the big time

The open mic nights at The Whiskey Jar have been a strong breeding ground for catapulting talents onto global stages.

Joe beams as he recounts success stories.

He mentioned the vocalist Hayla, and Jamie Lawson as some of the artists who’ve made it big.

Hayla’s unparalleled vocal prowess and Jamie Lawson’s remarkable journey from The Whiskey Jar’s stage to supporting Ed Sheeran’s tour attest to the venue’s magic.

Joe said: “It’s a heartwarming sight to witness musicians who’ve graced The Whiskey Jar’s stage achieving the recognition they rightfully deserve.

“Whether it involves performing for thousands or making waves in the realm of online streams, the privilege of contributing to their journey is truly fulfilling.

“Among these success stories stands Hela, a towering figure in the world of house and dance music. Her past performances at The Whiskey Jar were nothing short of awe-inspiring.

“Her vocal skills consistently left audiences in awe, each note resonating with power and emotion.

“In my book, she’s unequivocally one of the top five vocalists I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing. Watching her ascend to the stratosphere of her career has been a privilege.

“Another remarkable tale is that of Jamie Lawson, a musician whose journey to success began at The Whiskey Jar.

“A genuinely kind soul, Jamie would often request to play every week, a request we couldn’t decline due to his undeniable talent.

“As his residency culminated in a final performance, the audience was stunned when he announced a significant milestone – performing at the prestigious AO ARENA and supporting none other than Ed Sheeran himself!

“I was fortunate enough to be invited to this incredible show, where Jamie openly mentioned the Whiskey Jar’s open mic in front of a crowd of 10,000. ”

A casual chat after the performance revealed an astonishing revelation – he had known all along about his impending tour with Ed Sheeran during his time at the open mic night.

This experience marked the catalyst for Jamie’s journey to stardom.

A signing with Ed Sheeran’s label followed, leading to a global chart-topping hit with ‘Wasn’t Expecting That.’

Since then, Jamie has made five exquisite albums and welcomed a beautiful baby boy into his life.

“His authentic and genuine approach to music, devoid of industry pretences, is just amazing to see.”

How to Play at the Whiskey Jar’s Open Mic Night

If you’re a budding band, or creative that would like to perform you can message Joe on FB by clicking here.

“In a lot of cases, performers who are new to the area, this will be the first gig they get in town.

“We’ve currently got quite a long waiting list of between two and three months, but we try our best to get everyone involved at some point.

“One of the best parts about it is we’ve created this massive family where musicians can come down and play, or watch people play and have a drink and catch up.

“Everyone supports each other, it’s a big family.

“I’ve seen so many relationships and creative partnerships flourish from meetings that have occurred at the Whiskey Jar, it makes me really proud to say I’ve been part of it.”

Joe said there’s no vetting process to perform, he just tries to sync up bands on each night so the audience will get a great night’s entertainment whenever they come on down.

“We schedule the show really on when people get in touch.

“We’ve usually got a pretty long waiting list. I think currently it’s about 2-3 months so it’s pretty big.

“There’s no vetting process. They get in touch via Facebook and send a little clip or some links to live performances online or stuff they have recorded and we go from there.

“I just want to see what style, and their set up and how we can work that.

“That helps me to put together which bands will work for each show, keeping them as diverse as possible to it’s interesting for everyone in the room.

“A nice spectrum and spread of things to listen to. That’s about as deep as it gets!”

The Next Ten Years at The Whiskey Jar

I asked Joe about his future aspirations for the Open Mic Nights, and whether he had any plans for it looking forward.

He said: “I never planned for this to be something I’d do for ten years, and it’s not something I’ve planned to do for the next ten years!

“But knowing me, I probably will be doing it ten years down the line.

“It’s become a huge part of my life that I don’t think I could live without it really.

“Every week, It puts me in such a wonderful place of comfort and excitement and creative discovery.

“I think my hopes are that it just keeps growing and developing and the musical community around us keeps connecting musicians and flourishing.

“I hope more people in Manchester hear about the show and that it continues to evolve and grow as the city changes around us.

“It’s now very metropolitan and expensive, and that changes culture and creative expression and opportunity.

“I hope something as homegrown and honest still has a place in the city, and you know what…I’m gonna make sure it does.

“Well keep our little corner of Manchester safe and keep encouraging people to come and get involved.”

You can find Joe and the Whiskey Jar’s Open Mic Night every Tuesday and Wednesday from 7 pm, at 14 Tariff St, Manchester M1 2FF

Check out their website here.

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