When it comes to music, York is punching well above its weight. No other English town or city of comparable size has anywhere near as many gigs and music events.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the city’s lively open mic scene.
If you are a venue or open mic host and your night is not listed below, sorry we missed you out. Please send us details of the event and the organiser’s email and or phone contact details.
There are at least 22 weekly, one fortnightly and seven monthly open mic events. And those are just the ones we know about.
Our listing below is organised by day (weekly events first, then the monthlies). Some organisers ask performers to book a time to play, but for most events it is just “turn up and hope to get a slot”.
If you are a performer
Don’t expect every venue to have a spare guitar. Most do, but it’s worth checking. If there’s a big queue of players, don’t expect to play more than three songs or 12-15 minutes.
Of course, sets sometimes last much longer than this, but the organiser is boss. A couple of the events listed below are regularly over-subscribed, and you might get just one song or two.
If you’re a band with a drummer, check with the host, as some venues are in residential areas and a noise policy applies.
There are some good etiquette tips for performers here.
If you are a member of the audience
Give the acts a break. Some will be playing in public for the first time or trying out new material.
And if you like what you hear, buy a CD. The acts are playing for, at best, just a beer and sometimes not even that. Buying their music helps support this vibrant scene.
If you want to talk to your mates through the music, fine, it is a bar after all. But, please, move to the other end of the room and give the musicians a chance.
We strive to make these listings as accurate as possible; but it’s a fast-moving scene, and venues and organisers often make late changes to their schedules. You are advised to check with the venue or click the links to see their latest updates.
Folk, stand-up, spoken word, juggling dancing, singer-songwriter.
On the night YorkMix checked it out, one of the acts found a guitarist playing jazz chords while his colleague solved a Rubik’s Cube!
Original material preferred – or significantly different interpretations for cover versions.
Where many open mics are determinedly acoustic singer-songwriter events, The Spread Eagle’s Spread The Jam night breaks the mould by welcoming full bands, and encourages this by providing ‘full back-line gear’.
Even drummers are welcome!
As if that’s not enough, Jamaican street food is near at hand too.
The Three Tuns
Another of Vinnie’s popular nights, there’s a free drink in it for performers.
Chris Helme hosts this open mic known as Ruby Tuesdays in addition to his Turn the Tables vinyl night.
The intimate subterranean venue (beneath Kennedy’s bar) lends this night a distinctly intimate vibe.
The former Seahorses vocalist’s eclectic taste in vinyl (deep soul, psychedlia, Sixties pop and blues played between performances) adds to the sense of occasion.
A great showcase for the cream of York’s musical talent.
If you’re lucky, you might be there on a night York legend David Ward Maclean is dropping by.
A regular fixture on York’s music scene at a cosy bar with comfy cushions and corners to hide in.
The Golden Fleece
16 Pavement, York YO1 9UP
Organiser: John Yates 07583 279202
Known as one of York’s most haunted pubs, perhaps the ghosts will join in too…
Welcomes all, just turn up on the night to the Merchants bar.
They also run a second night every Thursday at 8:30 in the Shambles bar, free for anyone to perform.
There’s a decidedly jazzy, non-conformist, almost beatnik feel to this little jewel of a venue.
With regular jazz nights featuring Ian Chalk’s FireBird Quartet (first and third Sundays), the open mic opportunity comes on Wednesday with a friendly Jazz Jam.
The pub’s other jazz quartet of James Lancaster (trumpet), Chris Moore (keys), George/Christian (bass) and Trevor King (drums), invite other musicians and vocalists to sit in.
Everyone who is anyone in York music has played this long-running open mic gig, hosted originally by the unique Mark Wynn and now by David Ward Maclean, living legend of the York music scene who has earned fans such as Benjamin Francis Leftwich.
It can be a crowded and bustling all-ages night with regular drop-by performances from the widest range of genres in town, in a venue that promotes a relaxed folky and blues vibe.
Acts usually get three songs at most, so it is a fast-paced evening. The Elderly Brothers (Ian Ravenscroft and Ron Chalkley) can often be relied on to deliver some classic Sixties covers… and it’s a great place to spot the city’s up-and-coming talent trying out before a lively and supportive audience.
The Nags Head
The Nags Head is the newest of Vinnie Whitehead’s open mic nights. With a free drink for every performer, there’s always a friendly atmosphere.
The Woolpack – First Wednesday of the month
This open mic night is taking a summer holiday but will be back in the autumn. A welcoming night open to all styles and abilities, just turn up and they’ll find a time for you.
When the acts aren’t performing, there’s always a relaxing game of bar billiards to be had.
Ye Olde Starre Inne
You might have caught host Robert Loxley Hughes (of We Could Be Astronauts) downstairs at The Graduate open mic in the past.
3 Museum Street, York YO1 7DT
For those who don’t mind very late fun on a school night, Toy (Thomas’s of York) Open Mic boasts a full back line, including bass and drums.
It pulls in many of the city’s instrumentalists looking for a lively jam session on one of the city’s busiest music nights.
The night is mostly dominated by musicians but comedy acts are welcome too. There’s a free drink in it for the first five performers who sign up.
Three Legged Mare
Co-run by singer-songwriter Dan Webster and pianist Alistair Lawrence.
Here’s one of the few places in the county with an open mic that can accommodate pianists. There’s a free pint for those who perform.
Artful Dodger – First Thursday of the month
Johnny Gill brings his engaging brand of acoustic folk/pop to the hosting duties of this monthly regular.
With the promise of lots of tea (specialty and iced varieties too!) as well as free toast, it’s hard to resist this unique night of tea, toast and tunes.
Bishopthorpe Sports and Social Club – Last Thursday of the month
New in 2019, this Bishopthorpe event is very inclusive – any talent welcome, singing, dancing, instrumentalists, drummers, poets and comedians.
The Nook Café and Bar
Amiable Toby describes his own music as “scattershot pop” and he hosts this night at the intimate Nook. Everything from gangster rap to didgeridoo performances are welcome.
Volunteer Arms – First Friday of the month
First Fri of the month, 8.30pm
The very affable Habitual Drunkards, a.k.a Rich Tull and Tony Rogers, are the hosts of this humorous and relaxed evening.
They also run a traditional music night on the last Thursday of each month which takes the form of an open folk ham session.
Inquiries via the pub: 01904 541945.
The Basement – Last Saturday of the month
Elsa Cloud (aka Elle Nelson of Honeytone Cody, and online interior design emporium, The Velvet Egg) works with organiser Toby Burras to highlight this eclectic monthly open mic, in the chilled surroundings of the City Screen.
The night is designed to ‘showcase those with the creative buzz’. In practice, says Elle, this means any kind of performer: “Poetry, comedy, musings, music, monologue and miscellaneous!” Everyone from guest headliners to first timers are welcomed.
Slots are no longer than 10 mins and are allocated on the night. It is recommended that performers arrive in time for doors at 7:30 to avoid disappointment.
The Bootham Tavern
29 Bootham, York YO30 7BW
Organiser: Joska de Langen & Anthony Falkenburg
Called The Sunday Jam, this is hosted by Joska and Anthony who say: “Come show us what you got!”
The Red Lion
2 Merchantgate, York YO1 9TU
Organiser: Craig ‘Vinnie’ Whitehead
The Red Lion’s weekly Sunday night entertainment is back.
Craig ‘Vinnie’ Whitehead curates this well-established weekend regular that promises a free drink for every performer.
Jim (or Jimbo Doomface) and Taz’s Open mic at the Mount is thriving regular night for the acoustic and electro folk lovers.
Toby Burras’s other open mic (see Friday, The Nook, above), with the added advantage that Prosecco is on tap and pizza is not too far away. All are welcome and a variety of acoustic sets are performed.
In addition to their weekly Sunday night music, The Hop also has Local Wednesdays, allowing local artists to perform their own songs or catchy covers throughout the night.
8 New Street, York YO1 8RA
When most sensible folk are getting into their jim-jams and aiming to hit the hay, well, that’s when this exceptional end-of-the-weekend gig just starts to get into its stride – and the not-so-sensible folk turn up in droves. Kicking off at 10:30pm, the music and bar remains open until 2am.
Helmed by GT Turbo (aka Dan Lucas of Boss Caine renown), acoustic musicians with original songs are particularly welcomed (but the host is broad-minded and forgiving, except when it comes to anyone wanting to playWonderwall; he has standards, after all).
Where do all the city’s great musicians and open mic organisers go when they fancy a night off? Look no further. The night never starts early and remains as packed, weird and wonderful as always.
The Black Horse
For anyone who doesn’t fancy a late night but wants some afternoon tunes, look no further than Suzy and Jez’s chilled out open mic.
With a friendly and intimate vibe they run the open mic with the possibility that it turns into a relaxed jam session. Dancing and improvising with others encouraged.