Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Community Treasure

It didn't happen overnight. It took a lot of determination, effort and hard work. It all began back in about 2005 when North Platte hosted a Literary Festival. The organizers needed some place where local writers and poets could share their work. Sharon Owen at A to Z Books thought it was a good fit and graciously rearranged her business so it could be hosted there.

It was fun. It was successful. It accomplished what everyone wanted in the perfect atmosphere. Why not do it again? Several more "Open Mic" events were held sporadically for awhile. They were opened up to musicians. It got to be so much fun that about four years ago Sharon and the Gang (Yes, that's what the email invitations say) decided to schedule them regularly.

Every second Friday and fourth Saturday at 7:30pm, local performers of all kinds gather at A to Z Books at 507 N. Jeffers in North Platte to share their talent. And believe me, it is amazing talent!
I have to confess right here that I had not attended a performance for a couple of years, but Sunday afternoon they hosted a Valentine Eve Variety Show. It was perfect timing for me, so I spent a VERY enjoyable afternoon being entertained by the best of the regular Open Mic performers.

George, one of the Gang told me that during the evening performances as many as 60 people may gather. Now granted, A to Z Books is the largest used book store between Omaha and Denver, with more than 50,000 titles and a large selection of local interest new books, but 60 people is a lot. It takes effort to rearrange your store to accommodate entertainers and audience twice a month, and they tell me they are interested in branching out to another show. That is dedication and community spirit in action.
I had the opportunity to interview three of the performers for my Blog Talk Radio show that I did live on location for the first time. One had only lived here in North Platte for about four years, one was a traveling musician recently returned to town, and one was a high school student. All three are great performers. All three independently mentioned how the Open Mic performances had solidified their relationship with the community and become a second home for them - complete with family!

In Destination Development, we talk about "third places". Our home is first, our work is second, and where we go to hang out is third. A to Z Books is definitely a third place, but obviously a first place in the hearts and minds of the loyal performers and audience.
But truly, A to Z is just a building. The heart behind the store is Sharon Owen, and her hospitality and generosity. Everyone is greeted like old friends - which they either are or will become - and made to feel welcome. That spirit is shared by George who acts as the emcee. Not only does he keep the performances entertaining and moving along, he's like a big protecting brother up there at the microphone. You can just feel the spirit of protection and encouragement he extends to the performers. And he is rewarded for his efforts. A woman who was so shy she asked him to read her writing aloud when she first started attending Open Mic performed an amazing solo acapella, a duo with George, and she regularly performs as the lead singer in a favorite local band. Now that is a testament to how much the Open Mic means to the community.

Thank you Sharon, George and the Gang for all that you do. Here's to many, many more events.

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

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