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Sandy Journal

Open mic night at Sandy Amphitheater showcases local talent in professional setting

Sep 21, 2018 02:21PM ● By Jana Klopsch

Band Grey on Blues claims they have a combined 100+ years of experience. They covered the Grateful Dead. (Heather Lawrence/City Journals)

By Heather Lawrence | heather.lawrence@mycityjournal.com

The Sandy Amphitheater hosted a first-ever open mic night on Aug. 29. The night was arranged by Molly Morgan, who works as an event coordinator for the venue, and hosted by local singer/songwriter Whitney Lusk, who has performed at the amphitheater before. They both said the idea of a night highlighting local talent with no competition attached has been in the works for a while, and was met with enthusiasm by the public. 

Open mic spots were posted online this summer and filled up within two weeks. Most were music performances, but there were comedy acts as well. Many played their own instruments and performed original songs. With the support of the venue’s tech team who ran the lights and sound, the night was a chance for local talented unknowns to feel like stars for a night. Many are hoping it becomes an annual event. 

One of the highlights was Summit Academy seventh-grader Lydia Oakeson, a young vocalist with a YouTube channel and a resume a mile long. Currently singing in the One Voice Children’s Choir, she sang two numbers from the musical “Tuck Everlasting.” Her voice and stage presence were polished and confident. (See m.youtube.com/c/lydiaoakeson

Local ABC news anchor Rick Aaron moonlighted as a comedian. He did a set of well-received jokes that had fun with the local culture without ever belittling or making fun of it. When commenting on the tendency of most Sandy residents to be married, he joked, “When you get pulled over in Sandy, they ask for your license and registration — your marriage license and gift registration, that is. ‘Crate and Barrel, eh? I’ll let you off with a warning.’” 

Lusk, a country musician from Spanish Fork and the host of the evening, performed three of her original songs. She dedicated one to her fiancé, and all are available for purchase (see www.whitneyluskmusic.com for more info). Her band, which includes guitarist Dan Featherstone and percussionist Trevor Espinoza, were tight and well practiced. Espinoza played a cajón, a type of drum box that doubled as a seat. Lusk, who writes and performs original music, said the idea of hosting a night of local talent appealed to her. 

“I’ve been doing this since I was 14, and I love it. It’s all I want to do. (Tonight) is a bunch of local acts, which is really cool because I feel like not very many towns do things like this unless it’s a competition. This is just ‘come sign up and show us your talent.’ I feel like every town has secret, hidden talented people that no one knows about. So this is a way for people to show us what they’ve got. We just let people sign up. There’s a very big variety and we just let them do whatever they want,” Lusk said.

The Sandy Amphitheater relies on a strong group of committed volunteers to serve as ushers during events. John Young, who works as a volunteer, performed with his friend Scott Lukes as Who Are Those Guys, with Young on guitar and Lukes on keyboards. They did a rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s “If I Should Fall Behind” with an Irish flair, and proved that sometimes there’s just as much talent running things backstage as there is onstage. 

Though the seats weren’t as full as one might have hoped for (it was a school night!), those who attended were rewarded. The weather was perfect and as the sun went down the magic of being in an open-air theater was evident. Four-man band Grey on Blues took advantage of the summer concert feeling and covered the Grateful Dead song “Friend of the Devil.” The crowd was engaged and supportive, mostly made up of family and friends who had come to see the performers they knew.  

One performer who appreciated the support of his family was 18-year-old musician Jordan Caswell, a recent graduate of Hillcrest High School who has a full-ride scholarship to Snow College. “My family has been amazing. The violin I play is very expensive, and what I do is really different, but they have supported me 100 percent. I couldn’t ask for a better mom and dad,” said Caswell of his parents Tom and Camille Caswell, who were there to watch him.   

Jordan Caswell’s performance was unique — a gifted violinist who began to play piano and violin mostly by ear, he also loves to dance. So he decided to combine all his loves. He pre-recorded a backing track on the piano, then on stage used a loop pedal to record several violin tracks live. Then, thanks to his portable body mic, he danced around the stage while playing the electric violin over the tracks, even walking into the audience at one point. He played his own arrangements of well-known songs. The crowd loved his musical technique, physical flourishes and energetic performance.

Other performers included guitarist and singer Tamara Bailie, comedian Johnny Washington, guitarist and singer Ben Reneer, keyboardist and singer Megan Hansen, guitarist and singer Swenson, and keyboardist and singer EJ Sanderson, who is also a member of local band Ruby Go Pearl. Several of the performers are trying to make a name for themselves as musicians, and have songs for sale on iTunes or Spotify and videos on YouTube.