Cali Bulmash founded the Rock the Mic event, which returns to the Moab Arts and Recreation Center on Thursday, Sept. 8, at 8 p.m. [Photo courtesy of the Youth Garden Project]

In the dance room at the Moab Arts and Recration Center, an elderly man in a long pigtailed wig recently stepped up to a microphone, introduced himself as “Emily” and told a story about the desert’s fragile cryptobiotic crust.

A young woman with a guitar followed, filling the space that held “Emily’s” story with acoustic song and rhythm. For two hours, artist after artist took the microphone, much to the amazement of the person who made it all possible: Cali Bulmash.

Bulmash founded and now directs the monthly Rock the Mic event, which returns to the MARC next week on Thursday, Sept. 8, at 8 p.m.

“I don’t know if Moab has a style, but it blows my mind how many creative and talented people we have in this town,” Bulmash said.

Almost a year since its inception, the event draws full audiences of all ages and lineups of diverse expression, ranging from classical cello performances to improvisations on a Native American drone flute, Bulmash said.

Local educator and professional drummer Sock Beachum said he enjoys the revelatory nature of art shared through open-mic events.

“A lot of entertainment is this product, which is often this thing that doesn’t go very deep, to the depths of what I want shared,” Beachum said. “I feel nurtured; I feel validated, connected, excited and interested when I’ve heard someone express their stories.”

Bulmash began attending slam poetry festivals and events in her teenage years, and found her own story and voice in the process. She said that poetry was a way to process her own life experience with queer gender identity and to make her truth accessible to others. Then, a friend invited her to join a musical tour as a poet.

“Through sharing what I had to share over and over again, I just became a performer,” she said. “By the time I realized it, it was too late.”

As Bulmash’s open-mic events grew in participation and popularity over the last year, Moab Arts and Special Events Manager Meg Stewart attended one standing-room-only event at the Community Rebuilds intern house. She then approached Bulmash about using the MARC to more comfortably accommodate growing crowds.

“It was meant to be,” Stewart said. “The MARC is an amazing space for community to come together and create … In my six months (here), it has been exhilarating to see so many faces come through our doors. I look forward to more and more events at the MARC that bring our community together and shine a spotlight on the incredible talent we are so lucky to have in Moab.”

Over time, Bulmash hopes to be able to cultivate a local music and spoken word performance scene in Moab robust enough to provide opportunities for exposure and financial compensation to help artists further their careers and impact.

“The art I create now is a little more radical and political,” Bulmash said. “That’s what’s on my brain and that’s what I think about. Before it was about being a queer person. But with spoken word, you’re really growing a community of people who want to create a world where we’re all accepted. The music and the poetry help me find common ground; I think it builds connections. People are more likely to listen to a message via a story than just yelling at them.”

Rock the Mic is actually the most low-maintenance of Bulmash’s many activities, she said. As she grows her own career, she will always consider the connections and community in Moab to be her nourishing center, she said.

Also exposed to spoken word poetry in high school, Stewart shares Bulmash’s hopes for Rock the Mic to continue encouraging deep and meaningful artistic expression in Moab, she said.

“Spoken word brings me to tears – of joy, sadness, truth, realization, compassion and understanding – more reliably than any other art form,” she said. “I am so excited to see Cali bringing slam poetry out of and into Moab! I hope her positive influence will spread and encourage us all to try our voice at spoken word.”

Artists share music, spoken word at monthly MARC event

“I don’t know if Moab has a style, but it blows my mind how many creative and talented people we have in this town.”

Where: Moab Arts and Recreation Center, 111 E. 100 North

When: Thursday, Sept 8, at 8 p.m.

Cost: Free; donations welcome. Sign up at the door to perform

All ages welcome, but explicit content is possible