Since 1999, Jay DiPaola’s Tuesday open mic at the Great Northern Bar & Grill has been a staple of the Whitefish music scene, but probably not for much longer.
The acts have varied widely, from dead-on Roy Orbison covers, to metal bands, to yodeling and spoken word performances, and the bar was usually packed with enthusiastic patrons.
But according to DiPaola, “It hasn’t been like that in a while.”
Last year, he says, Flanagan’s Central Station began featuring bands on Tuesday nights, and a chunk of DiPaola’s audience disappeared. Now, even with Flanagan’s closed due to alcohol violations, the crowds haven’t returned. And it appears that after December 18, open mic might not be back either.
“It’s up in the air for sure,” DiPaola says. “Officially we’re going to take a break, whether or not there’s a resurgence depends on feedback from the people.”
The drummer for the Whitefish band Connoisseurs of Chaos, Sarina Hart, recently played a packed show at the Great Northern and says she’ll miss the venue. She says open mic night was the first place she played for a live audience and the first gig her current band ever played.
“It’s been this safe place to leap off from,” she says.
Exactly why the open mic crowd dried up puzzles Hart, DiPaola and the Northern’s owner, Doug Rommereim.
“For several years it was a wonderful night,” Rommereim says. “There were lots of young kids who came out and sang and did poetry.…Maybe they’ve moved, maybe they’ve grown up, maybe they just don’t want to come in anymore.”
The Northern isn’t the only venue to pull back from the music scene. This year the downtown Whitefish Coffee Traders and The Great Northern Brewery (which is not affiliated with the bar) halted free Friday night gigs that featured local musicians.
Dawn Stratton, who managed Coffee Traders during that time, is as hard pressed as anyone else to explain the drop off in attendance she saw.
But whatever the reasons, DiPaola is optimistic that the local scene will live on.
“Live music is a holdover from Shamanism,” he says. “It’ll just rise somewhere else. It just will.”