The In One Ear Open Mic Night Celebrates 30 Years

The In One Ear Open Mic night was founded in 1987, and celebrated 30 years of the weekly tradition this past March.

(In One Ear logo. Courtesy of PeteWolf Winninger)

Origins of In One Ear

The open mic hosts poets, musicians and anyone else who would like to stand up and express themselves. Previously at the No Exit Cafe, it is now housed at the Heartland Cafe and has been since 1999.

(The Heartland Cafe, located at 7000 N. Newgard Ave. in Roger’s Park Chicago.  Photo by Annie Kate Raglow)

“In One Ear has been going on for approximately 30 years,” said Peter “PeteWolf” Winninger, owner and host of the open mic. “The show originally started as a poetry show… when I got the show I decided to make it more about all creative sharing, however that happened to be.”

(“PeteWolf” Winninger. Photo by Annie Raglow)

The show features poetry, spoken word, acoustic music, full band sets and comedians. But all are welcome to perform at the show! This is as long as they do not use the stage as a weapon, according to Winninger.  

(Information graphic by Annie Raglow)

Loyal Staff and Loyal Regulars

The Staff of In One Ear is minimal, composed of Winninger, Sara King, Billy Tuggle and sometimes Gregory Curry (who also runs the Heirloom Open Mic). Many of them cover more than one position.

“I am the cover collector slash stage technician slash basic sound engineer slash bookkeeper of the In one Ear open mic,” said Sara King. “Oh, I forgot assistant photographer too, it’s my other title. Yeah, I wear a lot of different hats.”

(Sara King. Photo by Annie Kate Raglow)

King said she started coming to In One Ear in 2007. She and Winninger are now married.

Billy Tuggle is a host of the open mic but also a poet and vocalist.

“I have been a co-host since 2007, so 11 years now,” said Tuggle, “and started coming to In One Ear in the mid-90s, early to mid-90s.”

A small community of regulars formed and now attend each week.

“I started coming to In One Ear in 2010,” said poet Mike “M.C.” Rydel. “When you come all the time, you’re with regulars.”

A Typical Show at In One Ear

“Take a pen and stab them in their subconscious,” reads Tuggle.

(Billy Tuggle. Photo by Annie Kate Raglow)

Tuggle usually opens the show each week with a cold read of slam poetry. He then introduces the open mic and goes over the rules: sign up to perform, order is randomized, and each performer gets roughly 5 minutes.

A $3 cover fee is charged at the door to the open mic, and this is for upkeep and also to pay the feature performer, according to Winninger. He said the weekly feature performer is what keeps the show afloat, because they bring in an audience other than regulars.

The sign up sheet is available at 9 p.m., and the show begins at 10 p.m. It typically last until midnight, but the length fluctuates due to the amount of performers.

At the end of the show, Winninger typically gets on stage to talk to the audience.

“We are remembered by those who remain,” said Winninger, the first time he performed since the death of his father.

And with that, the audience paid their bar tabs and went home.

(The Heartland Cafe bar stage. Photo by Annie Kate Raglow)

“The show is all inclusive,” Winninger said. “We want people to feel welcome, we want them to feel like they have a place that’s home.”