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Fall Arts 2016: A Changing of the Guard

In Culture, Music


'Mighty' Mike McGee

‘Mighty’ Mike McGee

“Mighty” Mike McGee
“Stand-Up Poet” Host of The Kitchen Sessions, The Burning Tale at Studio Bongiorno and Go Go Gong Show at Café Stritch

“Mighty” Mike McGee is a Johnny Appleseed of sorts. But instead of planting apple trees, he travels the country starting what he calls “Kitchen Sessions”—potluck art shows in which local artists gather in a house and perform for each other. After stopping in Western Massachusetts, Portland and Vancouver, McGee returned to his hometown and started the quarterly meetups to incubate a welcoming artistic environment.

“There’s a difference between a public venue and someone’s private sanctuary,” he says. “You can make yourself comfortable in a way that you couldn’t do in a venue. Especially when you’re invited to bring food, there’s this new level of welcome. You want to contribute in any way you can, either by singing a song or bringing a casserole.”

He says the shows usually provide a “who’s-who of poetry, music and comedy” in the South Bay. McGee also hosts two monthly shows at Cafe Stritch and Studio Bongiorno. But unlike other venues, where performers stand in front of strangers with high expectations, Kitchen Sessions invites attendees through word of mouth. The loose web of social ties between the artists breeds a highly attentive performance space.

“At most shows, you’re not sure if everyone is listening,” he says. “But there’s no question, at a Kitchen Session, every single person in the room is listening to every word you say. And people are straining their necks to get closer to hear you better. It’s just your voice in a still room.”

And that attentiveness is rewarded, as McGee pushes for writers and performers to debut material that’s in its final stages of completion. The sessions provide a low-stress laboratory for the area’s talent to experiment creatively before bringing their work to the general public.

“I really push for new,” he says. “I want new poems. I want new songs. I want new stories. People are being very vulnerable, and the whole room knows it. It’s almost like AA for artists. It’s very welcoming and emotionally purging. And there’s hella food.”

Email Mike McGee at [email protected] to find out about the next Kitchen Session.

— — —

Leslie Patron.

Leslie Patron.

Leslie Patron
Founder, Cheers from the Wasteland Zine

Leslie Patron grew up in Alum Rock Park. Like many creative types, she moved to the East Coast for college, earning an MFA in creative writing. She dug the collaborative writing culture she encountered on the East Coast, but ultimately decided to move back to the city where she was raised. Her artist friends were not exactly enthusiastic about her choice, telling her that San Jose was a “wasteland.” But instead of getting down on the place that raised her, she took inspiration in that derision—founding a digital zine, which she calls Cheers From the Wasteland.

“It’s a play on the double meaning of the word,” Patron says. “The journal is like a greeting, like ‘Hi, we’re here. We’re doing stuff.’ And also ‘Cheers!’ Like: exclamation, excitement. I’m interested in work that engages the idea that San Jose is a wasteland, but also that counters it.”

In the two issues of the zine she’s published so far, Patron showcases poetry and other short works, alongside photographs that depict San Jose’s unique beauty. She encourages contributions from writers with backgrounds that she feels are underrepresented in traditional journals. In doing so she provides a megaphone for voices that might otherwise not be heard.

“You don’t have to be an established writer to write something beautiful or worthwhile,” she says. “You don’t have to have a particular level of education. And so I want to consciously work outside of those kind of structures that have a tendency to make it so that only certain kinds of people’s work gets praised.”

She’s also working on a project exploring the history of St. James Park, site of the last public lynching in California. In the same vein, a running feature of her site is the “Inspiration Map,” where contributors describe the importance that certain places in San Jose play in evoking distinct memories.

“The arts are on the cusp of flourishing right now,” she says, noting that while San Jose may have a reputation of being a “wasteland,” plenty of beauty can still be found here. “The stories change how you see the place that you’re rushing through everyday.”

Read On: Fall 2016 Literary Events

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