OLD NORTH ST. LOUIS – With incense burning and a DJ table-turning, a crowd begins to fill the UrbArts center in north St. Louis for their weekly dose of Lyrical Therapy. The cover charge is $5. One can choose to spectate or participate as a clipboard begins to circulate, and jotting down your name means you’ve signed up for the open mic.
Rich “Just Rich” Washington takes the floor at 7:30 p.m. to welcome and inform attendees that the open mic will begin in 10 minutes. Washington created Lyrical Therapy nearly a decade ago, and this week’s crowd is a testament to the growth of his brainchild.
“We started in 2010 in a very, very small library with about 10 people,” Washington explained. “After the first show, someone was like, ‘Yo, when is the next one?’”
Answering the call for a robust spoken-word platform, Washington spent the next nine years building Lyrical Therapy into one of St. Louis’s largest weekly open mics. Now, UrbArts, at 2600 North 14th Street, hosts 20 performers every Sunday with just as many people coming to watch. Larger turnouts mean more opportunities for artists to share their work and realize the vision behind Lyrical Therapy.
“I’m very dedicated to the dream that everyone needs a place so they can be heard,” Washington said. “Lyrical Therapy is a platform for you to come out, connect, show off your skills and most importantly, network.”
By 7:40 p.m. the open mic has begun. Each participant is introduced and received with applause before and after their performance. There are shy first-timers with their feet planted firmly behind the microphone, reading from a notepad. There are seasoned lyricists who move fluidly throughout the open floor, speaking with their hands; their voices are powerful and in no need of amplification. There is one performance from a guitarist, one performance from a keyboardist, and one performance from a University of Iowa hip-hop professor.
At one point, a young man in his 20s steps up to start his piece. He declares, “I’m not a poet. I’m a rapper.”
The crowd quickly responds, almost in unison, “It’s the same thing. It’s the same thing.”
Midway through the night, this week’s headliner, Amauri Garner, performs a piece titled “Insecure.”
“I opened up to you, wanting nothing more than the reciprocal energy in the physical, mental and spiritual. So here I stand wide open, full of emotion,” recites Garner.
Garner has been writing poetry for only two years, but she quickly made waves in the local spoken-word scene, performing and hosting at various venues throughout the city.
“For the city of St. Louis, I believe that poetry is important because it provides people with an outlet to express themselves,” Garner said.
The self-expression lasted for three hours, culminating in a joint thank you from Garner and Washington. Local art vendors packed up their merchandise. The DJ stowed away his turn tables. Event staff cleared out the chairs. The audience walked away from yet another successful therapy session.