Highlights from Bill's (Open Mic), (c) 2003 by Peter Orozco
Highlights From Bill's (2002-2004)
"Highlights From Bill's" was the name of a two year long project of mine to photograph local poets and performance artists. Formed partly in response to the recent takeover of Deep Ellum's Insomnia coffee house by owners less friendly to the free expression of the spoken word, the readings were organized and originally hosted by Karen X with the contributions of co-host Josh Lewis. One of the stated aims of the readings was to provide a setting where poets recently banned from the soon-to-be defunct readings at Insomnia could express themselves and give voice to their work in a safe, uncensored atmosphere. The readings also sought to be free of the rigorous censorship imposed by such corporate-run venues as Borders and Barnes & Noble, and from the rigid stylistic restrictions imposed by format-based readings such as the many slam poetry vehicles around town.

With space generously donated by Bill Wisener, owner of The World's Most Awesome Independently Owned Record Store, the inaugural reading was held during the late spring of 2002. Over the next several months, the open mic evolved into one of the most diverse and eclectic around, with a dedicated group of regulars and occasional newcomers. Many of these would go on to have their work featured prominently in other venues.

In the fall of 2003, Karen and Josh stepped down as hosts and passed the torch to Desmene Statum and Jolee Davis, who continued the tradition of open, totally uncensored freedom of expression that had long since come to characterize the very spirit of the readings at Bill's. However, time marches on, and many of the original regulars and most dedicated contributors eventually went on their separate ways - some moved away, others left to go to college, and some simply moved on to other things, no longer feeling the need to let loose the voice within. In very early January 2006, final host Alex P. called it a day, and declared a formal end to the first open mic series at Bill's.

From the earliest days in the summer of 2002 until the first part of 2005, I was a regular attendee, and the unofficial photographer and documentarian of the performers and contributors. I compiled many of my photos into a semi-regular series of circulars titled "Highlights From Bill's," which were featured online on a makeshift website and also in printed versions for those regulars who lacked internet access. When the open mics began, I was just learning how to use a "real" 35mm camera, and the photographs in the very earliest of those circulars demonstrated very clearly my then lack of experience with scanning and printing photographs, and with using an SLR camera indoors under less than ideal lighting conditions.

The gallery below showcases photographs from the run of the first open mic at Bill's, taken between 2002 and 2004. The photos are presented in random order.

In May 2010, a new generation of open mics began at Bill's, this time at Bill's new location off South Lamar in downtown Dallas. During its thirteen month run, the Lost Art Open Mic served as a renewal and continuation of the spirit of the earlier days at Bill's, featuring some old faces and a new crop of regulars. Although that too is now a thing of the past, the spirit of the earlier series of readings is preserved here, and in the memories of those who were a part of them.