Professional and amateur poets will perform in front of hundreds during HomeBase Poetry’s monthly open mic show at the Renaissance Phoenix Downtown Hotel Sunday.
“The name ‘home base’ comes from the old games we played as kids: games with home bases — baseball, freeze tag — where you had to run, and if you made it to home base you were safe,” said HomeBase founder Harold Branch. “So the whole point was to have a safe place where people could come and enjoy themselves pretty easily, without challenge, without dealing with any drama or garbage or anything like that.”
HomeBase Poetry will be 5 years old in January. Branch said he founded the Phoenix organization with help from his cousin, sister and best friend after multiple requests to organize an open mic.
“I wanted an open mic that I could enjoy,” he said. “And a lot of people were asking me to put something together because I used to run open mics at ASU when I was in college, and they were pretty big.”
HomeBase Poetry open mic nights are held on the third Sunday of every month. The organization found a permanent home at the Renaissance after moving from location to location in its early stages.
“It’s been a journey, but we’ve been there ever since,” Branch said. “We’re one of the biggest open mics in the country.”
Branch said the best part of the open mic nights is the way they bring people together.
“They’re best people in the world,” he said. “Great people, loving people, positive. You’re working around negative people all day long; you just want to be around some positive folks.”
Sunday’s open mic will feature Choklate, a soul and R&B recording artist, as well as Darnella Ford, a spoken-word artist, inspirational speaker and author of five best-selling novels.
“Choklate is a neo-soul artist from Seattle and has performed with every Grammy-award-winning artist you can think of,” Branch said. “She’s traveled the world on her own and is just an amazing young lady.”
Darnella Ford, who now lives in Los Angeles, is originally from Phoenix. She decided to perform at the open mic after she was scheduled to perform at the event Journey to Worthy Saturday at Playhouse on the Park, she said.
“Being a spoken-word artist is being able to captivate people in live performance,” Ford said. She said her art is inspired by everyday events and her journey through life.
“You can expect an honest, strong, heartfelt performance — a truth that is my own,” she said. “And you can expect to be entertained as well as inspired to think about your place in life.”
The shows usually bring in around 300 people. It is a diverse crowd as well, Branch said, with an audience ranging from 17 to 70 years old.
“We have everything from high school dropouts to professors in the crowd,” Branch said. “We have stockbrokers and people that took the light rail when they could have (driven) their Mercedes. We have people who deal with the law and have people who own law firms in the same room.”
Branch said part of what makes the open mic night unique is the show’s lineup. Even on nights when big names will be performing, the remaining slots go to “anybody who gets there in time to sign up.”
“I’ve had people get up there and cuss everybody out,” Branch said. “I’ve physically escorted people off my stage. We’ve had some pretty intense dancers come up there and do their thing. We’ve had Hawaiian dancers. We’ve had Brazilian dancers wearing outfits similar to lingerie, too.”
Besides the monthly open mic nights, HomeBase also produces compilation CDs of poets who perform at the hotel, Branch said.
Being on one of the CDs helped 17-year-old Garrett Pauli get a full-ride scholarship to the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“Basically it’s a scholarship for spoken word, hip-hop, theatre and community activism,” Pauli said. “I’m able to major in anything I like, and I’ll be able to go to college and be debt-free and loan-free.”
Pauli said he was introduced to HomeBase Poetry when his poetry group, Phonetic Spit, attended the international youth poetry slam festival Brave New Voices, which HomeBase hosted.
Since then, Pauli said he has performed in about 25 HomeBase shows.
When Pauli was compiling work to send with his scholarship application, he decided to send the CD, he said.
“I think that helped show a more dynamic side to me,” he said. “And HomeBase has really helped me get comfortable performing in front of art audiences and diverse crowds.”
Doors open at 6 p.m. and shows begin at 7 p.m. On regular nights, admission is $10 and 17 slots are available for performers.
Sunday’s performance is $15 per person, with approximately 10 first-come-first-serve slots. HomeBase Poetry reserves the main ballroom of the hotel, Branch said.
“We’ve done standing room on multiple occasions,” Branch said. “But we always find a way to squeeze people in.”
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