"It's been an overwhelming year for me," says Josh Rifkind, host of the sixth annual Open Mic Madness competition. The creator of the wildly successful talent showcase barely had time to rest up after executing another impressive undertaking, the massive 500 Songs for Kids event in May.
"I started this marathon Open Mic Madness six years ago," the musician/activist says between calling bands to remind them of their performance times. "But then there was the '500 Songs' show, the biggest event in history in terms of [the number of] musicians involved. And now this is almost anticlimactic. I almost have guilt about it like, 'Why is Open Mic Madness so small?'"
He's joking of course, because the weeklong event featuring more than 100 acts is one of the largest of its kind in the country, and the winner – to be crowned Saturday night – receives a cache of prizes and a slot on the Rock Boat. But the inspiring variety of acts at the happening is the main thing that keeps the optimistic Rifkind entertained.
"Are you kidding? I have the best seat in the house," he says. "It's truly amazing to see the first artist come on, then fast-forward to six nights later and you're watching the whole show unfold and meeting all these great new artists."
Rifkind started the event to support the fertile Atlanta music scene in the wake of post-9/11's lackluster club attendance. "The first year I did this, you'd see a band that didn't advance, and they'd disappear," he laughs. "I mean you wouldn't even see them at the gas station. They were gone. Now I see bands from the first few rounds hanging out on through to the final night. Even if they don't win, they stick around, watch the other bands, and they network. So really they do win, because it's just good for everyone involved.
"It's nonstop, controlled chaos," Rifkind says. "Everyone is looking for an opportunity – and that's what this Madness is all about."
Open Mic Madness continues every night through Sat., Aug. 18, at Smith's Olde Bar. $12 each night. Thurs., 6:30 p.m.; Fri., 7 p.m.; Sat., 8 p.m. www.openmicmadness.com.