Musicians came from out of the woodwork when Cape May's Pilot House began its open mic night three years ago.
The first open mic, in October 2010, was quiet. However, by the second week, J.M. Kearns, of West Cape May, said the musicians, including him, came out in droves. From then on, the weekly event just "took off."
"It's kind of a mix of regulars, the people from out of town and some surprises," Kearns, who considers himself a regular, said. "You're not sure who will show up on any given night, but there are people that do show up on any given week."
Deirdre Hineline, of Cape May, who owns the Pilot House with her husband, Frank, had the idea of starting an open mic in the wintertime when the summer rush had passed.
"It just kind of evolved, it was spectacular, it was incredible," Hineline said. "I did not even know there was so much incredible talent in Cape May."
While Hineline thought the open mic would be a nice event to offset Cape May's sluggish winters, she didn't consider that the Friday nights in winter would become some of the restaurant's busiest.
In the summer time, many of the Pilot House's open mic regular performers lock up gigs while summer-dependant businesses are booming. In the winter, when some businesses close, the regulars return to the Pilot House on Friday nights.
Barry Tischler, of North Cape May, has hosted the evening since its inception. In 2012, Kearns joined him as the event grew. Now, Tischler opens the show and takes care of the lineup, while Kearns handles the sound.
"People come in, and they have different needs," Tischler said. "Some people play the harmonica and some play the violin, so the sound is (important)."
Kearns said that the night has evolved in that performers used to play solo, and now they've begun to play together all while becoming more familiar with each others' styles of music.
"(The open mic) brought people together and became a way for them to meet each other," Kearns said. "Very quickly people started jamming together. Somebody would jump up and start singing harmonies with somebody else."
Kearns mentioned violinist Tom Naglee Jr., who started playing on stage with anyone who would have him.
"Everyone started doing that," Kearns said. "So after a while you didn't have just individual performers up there, but three and four up there at the same time. It became very collaborative."
The open mic attracts performers of all ages. While Kearn said there are many musicians that credit the Pilot House for kick-starting their singing passions after hiatuses, Hineline said that the open mic also draws in younger performers who are "embracing the culture of Cape May."
"I think Cape May is the hub, just like the Nashville of New Jersey," Hineline said. "We have singers and songwriters, and they're just absolutely amazing."
Contact Devin Loring:
If you go
What: Open mic night at the Pilot House
When: 8 p.m. Fridays
Where: The Pilot House, 142 Decatur St., Cape May
More info: First-come, first-serve, each singer performs three songs.