I met Chuck Britton while attending Open Mic Night at MoMo’s BBQ & Grill located on Market Street in downtown Harrisburg. Open Mic Night is every Wednesday from 6-9 p.m. Chuck also plays at Flinchy’s Bar on the weekends.
During open mic night, I love hearing Chuck and others play, but I really wanted to know the story behind this down-to-earth, easy-going guy who really supports local artists and encourages anyone who wants to, to get up and test their skills at singing, playing guitar, or even telling a joke.
So here are some questions I asked him today about his love affair with music and how he got involved in hosting Open Mic Nights.
Q: How did you get involved with music in the beginning? Did you pick up the guitar at an early age, or is this something you started doing later in life?
A: ” I come from a musical family and there was always a guitar around. But about 10 or 11 years ago I wanted to get serious about learning to play the guitar and I took lessons from Mike Morrison, a local guitarist. He really encouraged me and hooked me up with other musicians including Jerry Urquhart, another guitarist who I performed within the beginning.”
“I really picked up a guitar and started to play for the same reason most guys do, to meet girls. The truth is I did meet my current girlfriend through music and she would attend open mic nights and hang out after the gig and we would talk for a long time.”
Q: How did you get involved with Open Mic Night at MoMo’s?
A: “I had done open mic nights at other places before, and they approached me and said that either I could perform or I could do an open mic. They had never done it at MoMo’s, so we decided to try it, and I think it’s been pretty successful.”
Q: What do you really like about Open Mic?
A. “I prefer doing an open mic night versus doing a setlist because you never know what’s going to happen, each time is unique. I also think I really like open mic because of the camaraderie between the artists. It’s also becoming pretty popular locally, other than MoMo’s, there are two other open mic nights on each Wednesday, one of them being later in the evening at Stage on Herr. That is run by Mike Banks, and he is the blueprint of how the open mic should be run. He’s always encouraging people to play and there’s not a whole lot of rules. He doesn’t have bands, but it does get close to that sometimes. I think it is awesome that there’s a mesh of people who have been playing for 30 years who come out and kids that have never played in front of people, a great diversity.”
“Years ago you would go to the music store and hangout to meet other artists or musicians. But sometimes those stores can be an intimidating place if you are just starting out. It isn’t like an open mic, where there’s a great vibe of the artist who encourages each other. The only way to get better is to play in front of people, you can sit at home and play, but you are not going to get better unless you are out playing for people.”
“Live music comes and goes, maybe it’s just my perception, but I think it’s going upward, people would rather hang out in places where there is live music then locations that don’t. I’ve also had people tell me that the live music sounds great, and say ‘ so that’s what a guitar really sounds like’ and I think that music sounds completely different life than when listening to it on an iPod.”
Q: So what are the benefits of open mic night to you and those that attend?
A: “Well I think the acoustic thing is very interesting. It’s kind of a tightly knit community of artists. Rhyne (McCormick), Jerry, and many other local musicians really are a good mesh of one or the other. We all kind-of steal from each other, learning and improving by playing. It’s like sports when you play a different sport you might not consciously think of it, but before you know it, you realize you are using your thumb like someone else. It’s a cool thing about music, I like to see how others play to keep each other well rounded. That’s the biggest benefit for me.”
“Funny thing about playing and performing, it’s hard to get feedback all the time and sometimes you can’t judge the crowd. Just because people aren’t necessarily giving you their full attention, they may still be enjoying the music in the background. I see some local musicians get upset if people aren’t paying attention to them. But that’s not what it’s about, it’s about playing the acoustic gigs and being good enough to do that at an appropriate volume. The main thing is keeping people around and you don’t want to see people go out the door because the music is too loud. I think acoustic music allows for something that bands don’t; you can be 20-years-old or 60-years-old and enjoy acoustic music. We’ve got that kind of diversity at MoMo’s all the time.”
“I would say that I play music at home to help me process things, but getting out and playing really helps increase my social circle a bit. I work for an IT company and would tell coworkers to come out and invite clients to the shows, it gets them to see me in a different light.
Q: What musicians/music inspire you?
A: “That’s a great question. It varies a lot, sometimes from week to week. I think locally I really started to enjoy Jeffrey Gaines. He really blew me away with his stage presence. Sometimes you see someone and they look like they are a movie star on stage. I listen to a ton of music, I grew up on the The Beatles and the Rolling Stones and I was really into Rock & Roll, in the 80s I liked the Police and in the 90s I was really into Nirvana. Now I listen to all kinds of things, the blues for one. As for guitarists, many would say the same; Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix. I like funky bands like Cracker, Weezer, and I tend to like fun bands like the Barenaked Ladies and some pop bands, I’m not afraid to admit that. I gravitate towards happier music, maybe slightly aggressive rock-and-roll when I get in that mood.”
“I was in Toronto [Canada] and went to this well-known place called The Reservoir Lounge, a good place for jazz and blues bands to play. I was blown away from the musicians that were there that night, I had to research them. That kind of musicianship is what’s cool about live music. You can find people playing music anywhere, it’s the little pleasures in life and I love going to cool places when I travel to Philly or Memphis, or anywhere.
Q: Do you write your own songs?
A: “Yeah I have about 20 or 30 songs that I’ve written, but I don’t play them so much. When I first started writing, I think they are all good, then you learn that most of them suck… [laughing]. I did do a CD with Glen Smith, Tony Perry, and couple others, which was nice, I’ll have to get you a copy.”
“Steve and I play, and I’ll throw in two or three originals and you know they are ok when somebody asks ‘Who wrote that?’ during a set. That’s pretty cool.”
“I write most of my songs in the shower, I start off with a few words and the next thing I know, it’s a song. I used to write songs while mowing the lawn, but now that I live in the city, I don’t have one.”
Q: What are your songs about? Do you – like most artists – take your life experiences and put them into your work?
A: “I’ve written a couple of the really good songs, mostly about the woman in my life at the time. Most songs are inspired by being really happy or really pissed off. Music is always about some kind of relationship. I would rather listen to happy music than music that makes you feel bad.”
Q: Have you ever wanted to make music into a career?
A: “I don’t have any aspirations of being a singer/songwriter at this point in my life. At a young age, I fiddled with the guitar, maybe in my 20s, but I never took it seriously. When I finally decided that I wanted to learn how to play, Mike taught me how and was very encouraging to me. He said that I should start playing out and about. I have respect for the musicians that make a living at music, it’s really hard and a lot of work, you have to keep learning new music, keep instruments and equipment maintained when it needs to be replaced or breaks, it is a real business, and for me it was too hard to do it as a living.”
“When I was playing in a band it was a lot of fun but there’s more to it than that. You have to get people together and the more people that are in the group, the more the money is split up when you start performing and it isn’t about the money because there just isn’t that much. I really enjoy playing by myself or with one other musician, it’s less hassle and less equipment to carry around.”
Q: What venues would you love to play in?
A: “I always thought it would be cool to play in a casino, but you have to really be organized and more like a band, to do that. It’s nice that I can do smaller shows, but that’s something I’ve always thought would be cool to do.”
Q: What’s your favorite venue you have played in?
A: “I’ve been pretty lucky to have played most of the places around here. Stage on Herr, getting up on real big stage at the open mic, that’s kinda my thinking at an open mic at MoMo’s, you can warm up, before heading over to Stage on Herr, or if you just aren’t ready, you can practice at MoMo’s. I love Flinchy’s the most, during the summertime when we play on the deck. When there’s perfect weather, a nice crowd, and I’ve got friends there, I sit and think ‘Wow, I’m getting paid for this, it is ridiculous!’ and to me that’s awesome. I’m a fan of the non-smoking establishments as well, it’s great to come home and not have that smell when I open my guitar case.
Thanks to Chuck for sharing some of his stories with me and make sure you get to either Open Mic Night at MoMo’s or Flinchy’s to see Chuck in action!