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The Opener

By Carter Melrose
Photography by Gabby Estlund

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Let’s do something different –

let's pretend for only a moment, that the opener was just as important as the headliner, and work backwards from there.

Technically, this was a Skizzy Mars’ concert. He graced the stage in a get-up that resembled a cross-over between what Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak might wear while headlining. Like a songbird, he crooned his most popular bops as everyone witnessed the performance with infectious excitement. Skizzy Mars put on a strobe-heavy, colorful show that mesmerizingly encompassed his music. A backdrop sifted through various colors, lighting up the words, ‘Are You Ok?’ A live band added a jarring element to his traditionally electronic style.

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Skizzy Mars

Skizzy Mars

However, something particular caught my attention in the first half-hour of the show, an hour or two before Skizzy Mars’ chants even rang out Wednesday at the intimate Blue Moose Iowa City. The opener of the show, Kid Quill – or Mitchell Quilleon Brown, as is printed on his birth certificate – closed his there-and-gone set by playing a song poetically titled, “The Opener,” that perfectly surmised what it is like to be a talented after-thought in the pursuit of your dreams.

“I'm just the opener, no one came to see me. Singing all my songs and nobody know ‘em.” Kid Quill rapped while climbing down the stage wall into the audience below.

Being an opener is a tale of sniffing your dream from a distance.

It is about being on the right path but not quite being within arms-reach – this is territory not usually rapped about. In a genre that is filled to claustrophobic with artists who would rather flex on their fans than relate to them, Kid Quill is a different species.

“My thought process with that song is simple, I am no different than the people in the crowd.” Kid Quill said. “I walk and eat and breathe and live. I want to get down and show you guys that no one starts in arenas.”

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Being an opener is not all bad. He is able to showcase his craft on stages observed by music-lovers each night who, if they know it or not, are paying his salary. Since he is the opener and many do not know his name or his songs, he is forced to pander his set choices – like singing a rendition of Mariah Carey’s “Touch My Body,” dubbed over with heavy rap vocals, strung together with Kid Quill’s live hornist. Kid Quill doesn’t despise these blatant gimmicks, but would much rather be playing the songs he spent years writing.

“If it was up to me I’d be playing all the cuts from my album. All the original songs.” Kid Quill said. “But I only get 25 minutes.”

After having descended to eye-level, Kid Quill walked deeper and deeper into the cluster of Skizzy Mars fans. By the end of his set, he was still tightly enclosed by concert-goers. He paused for a bit, breathed, and then preached eye-to-eye about his belief in everyone, about how one day everyone might reach their dreams.

“Believe in yourself,” he finished.

The song and moment ended and Kid Quill left the stage to the sound of clapping Skizzy Mars fans who seemed to have connected with his message if only for a second, while the stage-managers changed around the stage for the main event. Kid Quill knows what it’s like to be a side-show, to be at a stand-still on the path to a dream, to be the person that wonders if his hard work will ever pay off. This is why he raps – to encourage those who are simply openers in their own lives.   

“I have a lyric in a song of mine that goes, ‘the hardest part of writing your story is knowing you are worth the ink.’” Kid Quill said. “And a lot of people don’t realize that they have it in them.”

So, for a moment, let’s pretend that everyone came to see Kid Quill, the opener. Since all an opener really is, is a visual reminder of the dreams we strive to reach.

“Next time I’m in Iowa City, I’m gonna sell it out.” Kid Quill said with unwavering confidence.