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The Scenestress: pretty voices at the Cock & Bull open mic

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Kenra Whyte was an indefatigable open mic host, lending multiple sets to an evening of multiple eargasms.

Kenra Whyte was an indefatigable open mic host, lending multiple sets to an evening of multiple eargasms.

I'm almost reluctant to write about a Monday night I enjoyed at the Cock & Bull Pub (975 Cattlemen Road, Sarasota). An open mic night popped up there, hosted by Kenra Whyte, and it's like a delicious secret that I jealously want to keep for myself lest it somehow be spoiled. But here goes.

I took my laptop and an evil case of writer's block down to the pub, looking for a change of scenery. In the hours between dinner time and drinking time, the place felt cozy and subdued. Owner Howie Hochberg chatted quietly with a customer at the bar while the beertenders restocked coolers and checked tap lines. I staked my territory at a corner table, ordered up a strong beer, plopped down and waited for the words to come. My block was wedged in there good, but this turned out to be a lucky thing.

While I wrote and erased sentence after sentence, Kenra arrived with an entourage of young, good-looking bohemians and a brown dog, the latter of whom gave me a friendly sniff while the kids settled in front of the small stage. I began gathering my things together, ready to throw in the towel on an uninspired day, when a haunting falsetto melody filled the room. A fuzzy-chinned boy was testing the microphone as Kenra dialed in the PA. My hands stopped what they were doing, and a little voice in my head told me calmly but firmly that I shouldn't go anywhere just yet.

Once satisfied with the sound, Kenra took up her guitar, and wistful fingerpicking wrapped around her sweet singing voice. I leaned back in my chair, soaking up the sounds, the warm lights on dark wood, the glow of good beer in my belly. The music put a balm on my case of the Mondays.

I was content to listen to Kenra all night, and after half an hour had lapsed with no volunteers stepping up, it looked like I might get my wish. Kenra wasn't as pleased.

Kenra finally got a break after coaxing some very fine talent out of their shells and onto the open mic stage.

Kenra finally got a break after coaxing some very fine talent out of their shells and onto the open mic stage.

"I'm just gonna keep playing sad, slow songs," she said, as if that could possibly come as a threat. A girl with a short blonde coif took the hint. With a self-effacing preamble, she picked out sparse lines to accompany her richly modulated voice. She claimed not to know what she was doing, but there she was crooning in what sounded like Russian. The lamps went off and a red light suffused the stage. The room fell hushed and languid. I got the peculiar sensation that I wasn't in Sarasota anymore -- instead, some underground coffeehouse in a European metropolis, maybe.

Later a cute, scruffy guy named John took the black guitar for a Black Keys cover, strumming with one knuckle and sounding every bit like Dan Auerbach. More young folks drifted in and started up card games. The mouth-watering smell of pizza joined the music in the air.

My favorite moment came after Kenra's third set, once she lobbed good-natured curses at the musicians holding out on her. John and the blonde came back up and gamely launched into a rendition of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." They didn't know many of the words, but where they faltered, the dozen or so kids in the room bolstered them, sending up a chorus that made my arms ripple with goosebumps. Everyone could really sing! I slipped away right after it was over, knowing that it doesn't get much better than that.

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Last modified: May 28, 2013
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