Wednesday nights, the Wisconsin Union hosts an open mic night for singers, songwriters, comedians and poets alike to showcase their talents in front of a live audience. Nicolas Rojas Ceron is a Terrace After Dark regular and a stand-out act for the way he uses his time on stage to push himself out of his comfort zone and share a part of himself with the audience.
Ceron, who uses the stage name Nico Rocer, moved to the U.S. just five years ago from Colombia. At the time, Ceron knew no English and had no idea where his career was headed. One constant through all these changes, however, was the presence and influence of music.
“I always wrote music and played guitar, but I never had a great voice, and I had a big issue with singing in front of people,” Ceron said. “I would write music and then throw it away. I think a lot of that stuff would have been great if I pursued it more, but it’s never too late.”
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Ceron started attending the Terrace After Dark’s open mic nights over the summer when the terrace chairs were still out and when Lake Mendota served as his backdrop. Today, open mic is hosted in the dimly-lit Rathskeller, almost a better fit for Ceron’s acoustic melodies and deep vocals.
Ceron performed two original songs during his set, incorporating his Colombian roots and his guitar, both featured on his EP to be released later this month.
Ceron poked fun at the inspiration for his EP being similar to many other musicians before him, as it was, inevitably, about love.
“I started writing for love, just laying my emotions down because a big shocker for me was understanding relationships in America,” Ceron said. “It’s not the same as in my culture … here, it felt different, and it didn’t fit with what I thought of love. I started getting really upset about those failed situations.”
Ceron’s EP is named “Stories of Love” and focuses on dealing with the frustrations associated with love lost.
“My music is feelings and most of my feelings have been feelings of love or wanting to,” Ceron said.
Mental health is another theme Ceron incorporates into his music. This came about after Ceron was trying to figure out who he was and what he wanted to do with his life, while simultaneously wanting to help people.
“My main goal is to be able to be genuine about it and be able to have people actually enjoy and like my music and relate to it. … ” Ceron said. “When I compose, I put my whole heart into it rather than just needing to get a song out,” Ceron said.
According to Ceron, open mic nights have always been a safe place for him to express himself, test out new sounds and meet other hard-working artists.
“It’s an open space for everybody to be able to be themselves, and in the sense of music it’s important to connect with people,” Ceron said.
Having a live audience started becoming invaluable to Ceron after he realized it forced him out of his comfort zone. The audience then also became another inspiration for Ceron’s music.
“I used to love the idea that every time I go out, my goal is to get one person — one person that hasn’t heard my name — to like one of my songs,” Ceron said.
The audience is receptive to this open mic regular, but performing in front of an audience wasn’t always as second nature as Ceron makes it look when he swayed on the stage Wednesday.
“I started doing a vocal performance major, which I didn’t expect because I didn’t like my own voice,” Ceron said. “This summer, I realized maybe I can write more music and make my feelings into instruments and words and see if people like it.”
Part of what gave Ceron the confidence to perform was, put simply, an open microphone.
“It’s called open mic because it’s open …” Ceron said. “That’s one great thing about America, there is a scene for everybody. … People won’t really judge, and if they do, it doesn’t matter.”
Terrace After Dark open mic nights are put on every Wednesday night from 8-11 p.m. and operate on a first-come, first-served basis.