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Three Open Mics in Austin on Monday Night – Mixed Reviews – And An Update of My Thumbnail Guide to Austin Open Mics

October 28, 2015

stompin grounds austin

stompin grounds austin

MEXICO CITY – I’m now writing this from Mexico City, my next step along this particular foray into the open mic world … or the world of the open mic… or the world of F1…. In any case, before I move on to talking about doing open mics in Mexico City, I want to just put the final touches to the visit to Austin, Texas. Monday night, my last night there, I managed to let loose and make up for all the lost time on the first night there: I performed at B.D. Riley’s on 6th Street, then dropped over to the Speakeasy, just around the corner, but found the usual open mic there had been moved to Ten Oaks, around the corner from that; then finished off at the famous, “Stompin Grounds” on South Congress.

But I’m running way ahead of myself here. The visit to B.D. Riley’s confirmed my feeling about this mainstay open mic in Austin: It is a lot of fun to play in front of the open window looking out onto the sidewalk on 6th Street and seeing if you can attract passersby into the bar. As far as trying to attract the attention of the pub crowd itself, well, it’s hit or miss. B.D. Riley’s is a massive pub that has a large section in the back behind the bar where people tend to go to eat a meal. But it also has tables, bar and chairs in the front of the pub, where people go usually to drink, carouse, maybe listen to music, maybe eat, maybe contemplate life.

There was a lot of all of that going on while I played, No. 5 on the list, and not really sure how well my sound was reaching the rest of the establishment. But the temporary fill-in host, Jake, did a great job, and I was really pleased and flattered to be asked to do a fourth song, since it had been three songs up to then. I was surprised a lot because at one point, in my frustration at feeling that I wasn’t reaching people – for one reason or another – I decided just to enjoy the situation, the location, the unique moment, and I turned my back to the audience on my second song and looked up into the sky and out into the street, almost playing IN the street, out that huge front window that borders the stage.

Anyway, from there I moved on quickly – after my fish and chips and Kilkenny meal – to the Speakeasy, which is located just around the corner, on Congress, down the street, and where I had noticed earlier in the day that there is an open mic every Monday at 8 pm. But when I got there, I found a private group of tourists or something heading into the place and I asked the concierge if there was an open mic.

“Not tonight,” he said. “We have a private event. It is moved around the corner to Ten Oaks for tonight.”

So off I went to Ten Oaks, to discover that I had already played in an open mic at this bar either last year or the year before – and had not put it on my open mic guide list, because I was just too lazy to update and then forgot! – and that it was the same MC. The guy recognized me too, in fact, and said he is a subscriber to this blog. He said that he used to run the open mic there, but had dropped the work and was now just filling in since it was not running at the Ten Oaks.

It was already 9:30 at night, and he had a list of at least eight people, and he was only just setting up. So I was worried about my timing, and the possibility of getting on to do the Stompin Grounds open mic. So I told him that, and he suggested that I must NOT miss the Stompin Grounds, and he decided to send a text message to his friend, Raoul, who runs the Stompin Grounds open mic, to get my name on the list!

This was such amazing service, such a great way to feel welcome in the Austin music scene. I took a video of one of the musicians setting up at the Ten Oaks, and then I moved on to the Stompin Grounds by taxi.

When I got there, the place was just full of musicians, someone was playing, and the feel was one of the best I’d had all week in terms of a turnout at an open mic, and in terms of the quality, the vibe, the youthful enthusiasm… the hipness of the place, the presentation by Raoul… everything was just so RIGHT at the Stompin Grounds.

Until I got up on stage. In fact, until a guy before me got up on stage and half the people cleared out to take a cigarette because their friends had already performed. And by the time I got up, well, that huge audience of hip ‘n cool people had cleared out almost entirely to all the various places that are provided in order to escape the performer. (I’m talking about the terrace, the bar in the other room, another part near the door….)

So, yes, there were actually two people who remained for my second song: The guy due up after me, and the girl who had performed just before me. She may have seen that I was watching and listening to her closely, and taking videos, and maybe she felt the need to support me. Or maybe it was because she found it a better place to stay to send messages on her phone. Not sure why. I stopped singing my song for a moment and told her she was welcome to leave the room like everyone else, but I’m not sure she understood….

But what I realized when I looked back at my report about this place last time I played, is that now I can confirm that Stompin Grounds may be one of the coolest, hippest places to play in Austin, but if you don’t bring your fans, get ready for feeling pretty alone….

Of course, maybe I just sang and played total crap. But that’s not the way it felt.

Anyway, so ends my week in Austin, and I’m now also going to update and add a link here to my Thumbnail Guide to Austin Open Mics, Jam Sessions and Other Live Music.

PS: My internet connection at my hotel in Mexico City is too slow to upload the videos I took on my last night in Austin. So those will have to wait until I get a faster connection. Keep posted.

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….

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