On Wednesday nights, Heartland Cafe (7000 N. Glenwood Ave.) transforms from a healthy neighborhood restaurant to a creative haven that is home to an open mic tradition.
The weekly event, called “In One Ear,” started more than 30 years ago at a Rogers Park cafe called No Exit. Although No Exit Cafe closed in 1999, the open mic night continued thanks to Pete Winninger, a long-time patron at Heartland Cafe’s Buffalo Bar. By 1998, Winninger had started running “In One Ear.”
The event is the third-longest-running weekly open mic in Chicago, according to Winninger. Other staff at Heartland Cafe are largely responsible for allowing all kinds of artists to perform. When it started, only performers reciting poetry were allowed to showcase their talents, but now the cafe hosts anyone from individual musicians and bands to poetry recitals.
Originally started as a way for people to come together to discuss social issues and express opinions about them, the Heartland Cafe serves as a home for those who don’t feel they typically have a voice. Billy Tuggle, another co-host and friend of Winninger, said the cafe’s origins are in tune with the nature of the open mic night.
“The Heartland Cafe is an old hippie hut. It’s always been about peace activism and social justice. It is open to art that questions social norms, and ‘In One Ear’ tries to reflect that,” Tuggle said.
The open mic takes place at 10 p.m. each week and features a number of local performers and a feature act. Tuggle usually introduces the show with politically-charged slam poetry and shortly therefter, performers take the stage one after another.
Heartland Cafe’s open mic night fosters a casual, genuine relationship between the audience and the performer, and after visiting on Feb. 1, this was evident.
The first performer, a young man who didn’t say his name, read a poem addressed to his late brother. One line of his piece said, “I could never fill those shoes.”
The second person to go to the stage had never performed before, but the regulars along with Tuggle showed their support for her with loud cheers and claps.
In order to properly introduce the newcomer, Tuggle engaged in a fun tradition to make her feel at home.
“She is here for…” Tuggle starts and the regulars quickly chimed in on the joke, shouting, “the very first time.”
After some laughter, the young woman took to the stage and nervously read her piece that was followed by thunderous applause and laughs from all corners of the room. In total, seven people performed at “In One Ear” that night before the closing feature act, Hillary Kobernick.
Kobernick, who is a Mennonite pastor by day, had bright pink dyed hair and quickly launched into spoken word about American Detention Centers for immigrants. Her feature performance included a series of poems that addressed issues including immigration, abortion, LGBT stereotypes and dysfunctional family problems.
Kobernick’s poetry was an effective and summative conclusion to a creative and critical investigation of the social problems that plague the country.
Winninger said he believes the Heartland Cafe hosts an important weekly event and that all Loyola students interested in drama, comedy, music and other forms of self-expression should come.
“[It’s] one of the friendliest open mics anywhere,” Winninger said. “We want people to share and we think it’s very important that people who have things to share have a safe place to do it. You only get better with practice.”
The weekly event provides a space where like-minded individuals who share the same passion for improv, comedy, music, poetry and more can have fun and be themselves.
“In One Ear” is open to all ages and sign-up to participate is located at the cafe Wednesday nights at 9 p.m. The open mic event starts an hour after sign-up, at 10 p.m.