On Sunday mornings, the large wooden doors of the St. Luke’s Espiscopal Church open for their Holy Eucharist and worship with Rector Dana Corsello. But, on Sunday nights, they open for a different reason: so the people of San Francisco can rock out with musician Roem Baur.
Baur hosts the weekly Sunday Night Mic event. Anyone who wishes to get on stage and share their musical talents with the audience is welcome into this historic church that has been around for more than a century.
“It’s just like your typical open mic,” Baur said. “The difference is that you’re standing in this beautiful sanctuary on this tile stage with five-story ceilings and these gorgeous stained glass windows that the sun sets through while you’re playing. It’s unreal.”
The musician and the rector crossed paths when Baur was working at Tacolicious on Chestnut Street. Corsello sat at one of Baur’s tables when out of the blue, she asked him if he was a musician. He responded with a yes, and she told him that she was looking for musicians to play at her church.
After a couple of months, Baur visited the church. He was so impressed with the beauty and acoustics of the venue that he pitched and explained the idea of an open mic night to Corsello, who had never even heard of such an event.
“There can’t be any sort of pretense. There can’t be any pitching of the religion if you really want to provide a service to the musicians of San Francisco,” Baur said. “If you really want to change the way that people look at this space and the way that people view you as caretakers and owners of this space, then offer up your venue as an open mic and sponsor this, and I promise you that people will come.”
Baur does not attend church at St. Luke’s, nor does he practice the Episcopal faith. The same goes for the majority of people who get on stage or sit in the church pews on Sunday nights.
Besides providing the venue with bottled water to the performers, the church has no actual affiliation with the weekly event. The church is a unique setting for an open mic. Its high-vaulted ceilings provide great acoustics and a feeling of reverence in the audience.
Dean Harlem is a 20-year-old traveling musician who has been living in San Francisco for the past year and a half. He said the first thing he did when he moved here was Google “open mics,” which is how he found out about Sunday Night Mic. He came to check it out one Sunday evening and was struck by the beauty of the church and the feeling he got while on stage. He has continued to be a regular performer ever since.
“It’s a really cool feeling. It’s something really spiritual. It’s a mystical kind of feeling, very heavenly,” Harlem said. “You could stand up there all day and sing to yourself. It’s a really nice experience.”
Along with the beautiful setting of Sunday Night Mic, the stillness of the room adds to the unique experience. While a performer is up on stage, the audience scattered throughout the church pews remain silent as the music echoes throughout the chapel.
Rachel Shahvar, who performed two of her own original songs on the guitar last Sunday, appreciates this different kind of audience from what you get at your typical open mic nights, which makes it one of her favorites.
“The acoustics are amazing so everyone sounds really good, and it’s really mellow,” Shahvar said. “Most open mics are at a bar and it’s a really big event with drinking, but this one is just super low key. It’s really nice.”
Sunday Night Mic is held most Sundays from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the St. Luke’s Episcopal Church on the corner of Van Ness Avenue and Clay Street. Performers of all kinds are welcome to sign in and play two songs of their choice. A sound system and grand piano are provided.