Open Mic Series: Gulu Gulu Café’s Open Mic Shindig

by Joey Phoenix 

The open mic at Gulu Gulu is eclectic.  It's wild.  It's this Dionysian blur of color, art, loud music, and the warmest, kindest characters you'll meet. It's remarkable. It's not to be missed.” - Molly Pinto Madigan 

Since 2009, the Open Mic Shindig at Gulu Gulu Café has been a fixture in downtown Salem, enticing legions of musicians and performers to spend an evening in the lively hall. Combining award-winning brews, cozy atmosphere, and an ample crowd, it’s no wonder this mic is as popular as it is. 

Gulu Gulu opened up their current location in Salem, MA in 2008, and owner Steve Feldman wanted to host a community event that would become a gathering place for Salem performers. Thus the Gulu Gulu Open Mic Shindig was born, with hosts Jeff Savlon and John Nicholls at the helm. After a short stint, Nicholls moved to Vermont to pursue creative opportunities, and Brian Donnelly took over. Jeff and Brian have been hosting ever since. 

“The open mic became popular pretty early on and I think that was owed to the setting.”
 Jeff explains. “In addition to the location being very central, the Gulu is also a very comfortable and fun place to hang out for a few hours.” 

Prior to running the Gulu Open Mic, Brian hosted an open mic in Teele Square, but for him, it didn’t have the sense of community that he really wanted. 

“Although Teele square was a good experience, the format was way off and it didn’t last. When Jeff invited me to host I agreed immediately.” Brian says, “It also gave me an excuse to really express myself and be crazy on stage. It gives everyone that opportunity.” 

Both Brian Donnelly and Jeff Savlon are remarkable local performers. Jeff’s unique and soulful sound can be heard around New England, and Brian’s band, The Found Objects, has been a favorite in Salem for some time. Their combined experience and lighthearted attitudes make each mic night an evening worth remembering, and the event certainly wouldn’t have as much excitement without them. 

One of the best things about the Gulu Mic is that it appeals to a diverse group of people. Over the years, the mic has played host to not only all genres of music, but to an eclectic circle of performers as well. Jugglers, tap dancers, actors, puppeteers, Burlesque troupes and more have all spent time on the center stage, providing their own particular brand of entertainment. 

“Open Mic night at the Gulu is like watching a mockumentary about open mic nights - in the best way possible. “ Says Cary Chandler, a server at Gulu. 

“They finally found a place to put all the square pegs who don’t fit in round holes - they found us a big square hole!” Exclaims open mic performer Honor Hero Havoc.

“The Gulu is an incredibly ‘open’ open mic. We’re in the business of encouraging all the arts, and not turning people away. If you have something to perform, we’re going to let you perform it.” Brian remarks. “Jeff and I really try to foster an atmosphere where people can really find their zone.” 

“I think open mics are great for the community.” Jeff adds. “It's just about the best way to have your music or poetry be heard in a live setting without having to get a scheduled gig, which can be difficult to get when you're just starting out.”

Jon Waterman, a well-known Salem-based musician agrees. “Open mics are a good opportunity for performers to try out new material or work on developing their stage skills in front of other artists. They can also make for an entertaining night out for non-performers.”

The Gulu open mic has also seen its share of rising stars over the years, including Black Dog Brother and local award-winning chanteuse Molly Pinto Madigan 

Madigan remembers her first time playing at the Gulu: 

“The Open Mic Shindig at Gulu-Gulu Cafe was the first mic I went to in Salem.  My sister, Hannah, and I teamed up and played Nirvana on the bass and banjo (respectively). I remember being nervous, being glad that my sister was with me on the stage, and I remember the overwhelming kindness and support of the two musicians who host it, Jeff Savlon and Brian Donnelly.  Since then, I've been back countless times.  The open mic at Gulu Gulu is eclectic.  It's wild.  It's this thrilling blur of color, art, loud music, and the warmest, kindest characters you'll meet.  It's remarkable.  It's not to be missed.”

The Gulu Gulu Open Mic Shindig takes place every Wednesday night from 8:00PM to close. Sign up starts at 7:30. 

“I feel very fortunate to be one of the hosts,” Jeff continues, “and also, it’s very fun working with Brian.” 

With the hosts’ bright antics, eclectic acts, and a wide selection of some the best beer in the area, this mic is definitely an adventure worth having.