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Weird Stuff in Austin, Followed by Stompin Open Mic at the Stompin Grounds

November 20, 2013

stompin grounds austin

stompin grounds austin

AUSTIN, Texas – I wrote quite extensively during my visit to Austin last year about how this amazing city really does live up to its “weird” name sometimes. So last night’s open mic adventure added another little chapter to that impression….

I set out for an open mic at a place called the Waterloo Ice House, which is a bar in a mall in south Austin, an open mic that has existed for around five years and is hosted by a woman named Julie. So first of all, par for the course, the car’s GPS decided that it did not want us to get to the correct address and did all it could to prevent us from getting there, as it seemed to have done last Friday when I wrote on this blog about getting lost in Austin and never finding the open mic we set out to find.

So the lesson having been learned, my friend who was driving decided to turn off the car’s GPS and use his own knowledge and his telephone’s google map. Bingo! We found the Waterloo Ice House. My immediate impression when I entered, though, was that there was no one there in the way of either musicians or spectators. But my friend told me the open mic was taking place in the garden in the back. So we went to the garden in the back and there found that the open mic was indeed going to take place there, as all the equipment was set up: A couple of speakers, mic stand, the usual stuff. Looked really professional.

Still, there was a table of about three people, and that was it. And there was music from speakers from the bar and music coming from the inner park of this mall structure, too. Julie approached immediately, and I was relieved to see her hospitable attitude and she said immediately that her feature band had not shown up, so if I wanted to play, I could.

I agreed, sat down, took out the guitar and waited for Julie to return, since she said she’d gone off to turn off the above mentioned music. She was gone for around 10 minutes, and when she returned she bore bad news: “Sorry, but we can’t turn off the music, so I’m afraid the open mic has been cancelled.”

I told her I’d come all the way from Paris, France for this open mic, and so she offered me a beer and an apology. It turned out, she said, that the owner or manager or something of the mall had changed and they suddenly realized they did not have access to the room wherein they could turn off the music in the park outside, and so they could not very well hold the open mic with background music on top of the performer’s music. As I was the only performer, and my friend by then the only audience, it didn’t ultimately matter that much.

I accepted the beer, and spoke a while with Julie. It turned out that not only has she been hosting this open mic for around five years, but she also hosts another on Tuesdays in Austin at another location. And as with many other open mic hosts, she knew about the other open mics in town. In fact, she told me that there were something like 5 to 10 open mics every night of the week, although they were not always easy to find….

She then asked if I wanted to go to another that very night, and when we found out there was another one about 10 minutes drive away, we jumped on it. Julie then actually sent an SMS to the host of this other open mic to ask if it was going strong and if I could still take part. The answer – from Raul – was positive, so we set off to the other open mic, at a bar called Stompin Grounds.

So I left the Waterloo Ice House feeling ever more like Austin really is weird… but I was enjoying it!

So when I arrived at this very cool and warm bar called the Stompin Grounds and I introduced myself to Raoul, he was ready for me. I got to go on within a half an hour and listen to several other acts. The only downer there was that the Stompin Grounds, last night, anyway, was one of those places where the audience listens to its friends, and then when the friend is not on stage, the audience goes outside on the terrace so not to hear the other musicians, and so to smoke cigarettes and consult laptops etc.

So it was that even at the Waterloo Ice House I ended up playing for an audience of two: My friend and a woman who stayed for one song, and when she left there was this other musician who had played before me…. Now I will refrain from saying that is weird, because it happens all over the world from time to time. I was simply happy to get behind a nice mic and sing my heart out in weird Austin again, finally!

In a conversation in the car as we returned home, my friend and I discussed about how Austin is chock full of open mics, but because it is also chock full of professional musicians doing gigs all over town in a city with more music per square mile than probably anywhere else on the North American continent, the open mics are not necessarily the biggest winners in all that. There is just no real huge need to seek out the open mic to play or hear live music….

That said, I hope I get another chance here next year….


  1. Brad : if there is one guy you want to hear performing in Austin, his name is Ramsay Midwood. He is amazing. His stuff is laidback (to say the least) bluesy country rock. Simple but penetrating music, astounding lyrics. He usually performs at a remote joint somewhere in or near Austin called the White Horse. I did a cover of his song “Esther” at La Tireuse a couple of months ago.

  2. Hey Brad, I met you last year at an open mic at Flipnotics on a night that even veteran Austinites thought was weird. I was checking in to see what you found this time around in Austin. I was probably inside at the Mockingbird Cafe the night you got lost. It’s not really a cafe — more like a clubhouse. I think the name is homage to the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville. I followed your list of open mics in Paris last summer to go to an open mic at the Tennessee which was great. I’m grateful to you every time I go to Paris.

    • Hi Christy, sorry it took a million years to get back to you! I was coming down to earth from my year of travel, and taking care of loose ends, etc. I was so busy in Austin, in fact, that it was the first time this year that I didn’t have a chance while there to put up my open mic guide. I finally did, but it’s one of my weakest guides, in fact! And that is despite Austin having so many locations to play…. But more to do with my lack of relative experience playing there in the only two years I’ve been going. Hope all is well for you.

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