Emerge gallery's monthly sharing sessions are a place for community and recovery

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Emerge gallery's monthly sharing sessions are a place for community and recovery

Colton Rasanen photo
Open mic host Sam Rowland

On one of the longest days of the year, I meet Sam Rowland at The Crown & Thistle Pub in downtown Coeur d'Alene. He's just finished his shift there as we sit at a wobbly wooden table to talk about the open mic night he hosts each month at the nearby art gallery Emerge, and which starts in less than an hour.

As Rowland sips from a teacup half full of black coffee, he talks about the open mic's origin, which was really driven by his desire to fill the city with music. However, as Emerge's music coordinator, he realized implementing live music on a regular basis wasn't feasible.

"We were coming up with new ideas to incorporate music more at Emerge," Rowland says. "We have a stage in there and a really nice sound system. But it's kind of hard in the city, because we're not really an event space, we're an art gallery."

He and Emerge's executive director, Jeni Hegsted, needed to find a middle ground to fill that musical hole without pushing beyond the venue's boundaries. Thus, the Third Thursday Open Mic night was born in 2020.

In the time since, the event has changed a lot, Rowland explains. This includes a handful of different hosts who bring their distinct personalities to the stage. But the biggest difference is a shift in mediums from mainly music to poetry and spoken word.

"I'm very much in the soul of letting it be organic," he says. "I let the community create the event, we are just providing a space."

"Definitely growth is ideal, but there's just something I'm really finding magical about this group as it is," he adds.

That community isn't very big though. Rowland says there's a core group of fewer than 10 people who show up every month.

Then, a few months ago, Rowland found out that everyone in that core group, including himself, was engaged in some form of addiction recovery. Understanding the gravity of that moment, he told the group his own struggles and how he's been sober now for more than five years.

"It was that moment we all just were like, 'This is it. This is us,'" he says.

While a monthly performance event doesn't quite make up for addiction recovery groups like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, Rowland thinks something like what Emerge's open mic has become could be vital for anyone's recovery.

Third Thursday Open Mic

Third Thursdays at 7 pm, free, all ages

Emerge, 119 N. Second St., Coeur d'Alene

emergecda.com, 208-930-1876

"I mean I'm a human services student. I'm a veteran. I have addiction issues. I've gone through the process [of recovery] so many times. And this is something I wish everybody had on the side of their recovery," he says.

His coffee finished, we walk about two blocks to Emerge.

"The most important part of recovery, in my opinion, is keeping your mental health in a constantly good environment," Rowland continues. "Anytime you have an opportunity to build or provide a space for community, you're providing a space for mental health... and that's the ticket for these guys."

Rowland and I mosey into Emerge just a few minutes before the open mic is scheduled to begin. The gallery is empty aside from a few workers. As I wander the space taking in its LGBTQ+ Pride collection, Rowland pulls out about 15 chairs and sets them up facing a small corner stage.

"I would say the key to a successful open mic is our venue," Rowland says as he begins fidgeting with the sound system. "It's an easy, intimate environment allowing for this unraveling [of emotion] within this core group."

As soon as the clock hits 7 pm, a few people begin to wander into the gallery. A couple more come in about five minutes later, bringing the night's total attendees to nine.

Even with such a small group, the gallery swells with chatter as everyone catches up with each other. When Rowland begins slowly plucking his acoustic guitar, the group grows silent.

"Are you guys ready to start this thing?" he asks. They respond with head nods and some quiet whooping.

He responds back by jumping straight into an upbeat, folksy song reminiscent of Mumford & Sons' second album, Babel.

"That's one of my favorites, Sam," one audience member yells as he finishes the song.

Rowland performs another, sonically similar to the first, and then passes the mic to the group's poets. One person delivers a two-minute piece of slam poetry filled with slick rhetoric and a fast-paced tempo. They're followed by another poet who shares an intensely personal poem about self-harm, followed by another about heartbreak.

After a brief lull another pair of musicians, Amberle and Tony Madden, take the stage together for the first time in a long time. If they hadn't told us, however, no one would've known.

The musical mix of Amberle's immaculate voice and Tony's accompanying guitar resembles a traditional-sounding folk rock song. After the first song, Amberle tells the audience she's still so nervous.

Someone yells out to her, "You're killing it!" Two songs later and the entire group is cheering louder than they have all night.

Finally, another poet closes out the night with two original pieces she says will be in her soon-to-be published book.

The open mic ends about an hour after it started, but nobody's left yet. Instead, they're all gathered to swap compliments and ask questions. Everything Rowland has said about the group is reflected in this small moment of joyous community. ♦

Heathers: The Musical @ Spokane Civic Theatre

July 24-26, 7:30-10 p.m. and July 27-28, 2-4:30 p.m.
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Colton Rasanen

Colton Rasanen is a staff writer for the Inlander covering education, LGBTQ+ affairs, and most recently, arts and culture. He joined the staff in 2023 after working as the managing editor of the Wahpeton Daily News and News Monitor in rural North Dakota.