The first time I went to the Hotel Utah open mic night was to see a friend perform. In the bar area, the Warriors were taking on the Thunder in game seven of the 2016 Western Conference finals. In the performance area, friends were casually enjoying beers, huddled around someone clutching a guitar. Others I took for regulars.
Then, the call for the next musician and the warning for whoever was “on deck” and “double deck” came. The charismatic man delivering this news was Brendan Getzell, the host of one of the most popular open mic nights in San Francisco.
When I meet Getzell later, I am immediately struck by his enthusiasm. He is bursting with passion and his voice booms as he speaks about his history with Hotel Utah’s open mic night. “I used to go, I’d say, about 40 times a year,” he says of his early days at the Monday night event, back when it was run by singer-songwriter, J. J. Shultz. Getzell praises Shultz for building an environment that allowed him to flourish as a musician. “He really did a lot to foster a collaborative spirit,” says Brenden of Shultz. This spirit drew Getzell further into the musical community, and he’d often find himself backing other artists with a variety of instruments. Guitar, mandolin, bass, piano, backing vocals — whatever they needed, he found himself contributing.
Then one day, Getzell remembers, Shultz gave him a call. “I’m out of ideas, can you take over for me, man?” It was a simple message, but it passed the torch from one enthusiastic singer-songwriter to another. “I took over in June 2011…and I’ve been having just a wild, amazing time doing it,” he says.
Taking over the open mic night was an opportunity to nurture the community Shultz had built, and it was an opportunity Getzell relished. “I love the cross-mingling from different backgrounds, whether they be cultural, social, or economic,” he shares. “There is a mutual understanding and a love of art, expression, and building that art,” he continues. “This is a community that is not greedy, avaricious, or anything like that. It’s a community that’s built first on the ground floor. It’s