Nestled high up in the San Bruno foothills, Bethany Presbyterian Church easily blends into its surrounding suburban landscape. But on the third Saturday of every month, something sets it apart.
From within the sanctuary, between 7pm and 8:30 p.m., Bethany's halls are filled with music, laughter and an energy that trickles down into the valley below.
It's open mic night, where lovers of the arts, writers and musicians of all kinds are welcome to get up and perform in whichever way they feel moved.
"This night isn't just for performers. It's for everyone," said Roberta Henry, the secretary at Bethany. "Anyone can come on in. You can even just be learning an instrument or trying something new, and we'd support you. We're here to encourage you."
Having cast its net far and wide for more than a year and a half, Bethany's open mic night has survived simply on community donations and active participation, bringing in performers from San Ramon to the South Bay.
Its free, public, laid back and friendly atmosphere make it a great place for those who are new to the open mic space and don't really know what to expect.
"I've never done an open mic night before," said Charlene, who traveled all the way from San Ramon to take part in this month's event. She didn't want her last name used for this story. "I saw their ad on Craigslist and drove out here just for this. I said, 'Why not.' "
As the lights dimmed and the unifying flame of lit candles flickered in anticipation, the sets began.
Choosing to perform "Alabaster Box," a gospel song made popular by CeCe Winans, Charlene was the first of many surprises.
After performing two sets to outstanding applause, Charlene quietly took her place in the audience with a gentle smile.
"How do I feel right now? I feel much happier," she said afterward.
She was not alone in her sentiment.
Performing everything from original compositions to songs of worship, the obscure to the mainstream, talented artists and musicians got up to sing and perform in front of an audience of about 20 guests, ranging from Bethany regulars to newcomers alike.
Nate Stein, an aspiring music therapist from San Jose, showed up to showcase his own lyrics and musical style, which draws from many different genres and influences.
"I've played music most all of my life," Stein said. "Mostly drums and percussion, but now I like to use all kinds of music to help those with clinical disabilities."
He seemed at peace as he breezed through the lyrics of one of his original songs.
"I sit in silent reverie/at the life that's been given to me/I wonder how all this could be/sometimes this life amazes me," he sang.
The Bethany Prayz Band, who brought the evening to a close with gusto with a selection of praise music, encouraged all who knew the lyrics of their songs to join in.
"If you know it, sing it! Come on!" the band shouted as they sang "Amazing Grace."
And in the spirit of the evening, everyone chimed in and sang along.
The open mic night at Bethany Presbyterian Church is held from 7 - 8:30 p.m. every third Saturday in the sanctuary. For more information, call 650-589-3711.