Open mikes as a form of entertainment might strike you as attractive as an international flight seated next to a broken-down drunk whose life story must be told, because you, my friend, have a friendly face. True, in both cases, you're doing some sort of a public service by listening, but it can lapse into the kind of drudgery that makes shoving a sharp stick in your own eye seem preferable. Given the caliber and sheer number of musicians in Austin, though, hearing something refreshing and inspiring, or witnessing the baby steps of Austin's next big thing, could very well come in the next 15-minute set ñ and often does.
For aspiring performers, open mikes are perhaps the only way to conquer performance anxiety while also learning from other musicians. These typically no-cover musical hodgepodges are as individual in musical terms as the clubs that host them (although the stereotypical solo acoustic folkie singing wistful songs about his or her ex seems to pop up at almost every open mike), but they share in common a supportive, friendly, rumpus-room atmosphere that's more driven by a desire to make music and get used to the spotlight than by the performer's desire to "be discovered." Definitely better than a sharp stick in the eye.
At a recent installment of the Electric Lounge's regular Monday night open mike hosted by Wes McWhorter, the audience was sparse and performances were all over the map: German folk songs, an enthralling improvisational math-rock/hip-hop trio, an incredible jazz-blues singer-guitarist. Across town at the Speakeasy's Jose Cuervo tequila-sponsored open mike, the theme was more straight-edged blues rock, each set introduced by a charming confessional of why the performer was there ("We're in a real band, honest, but we just wanted to try out this new stuff," etc.).
A spiritual sibling to open mikes ñ and certainly more fun for audiences as well as less intimidating for amateur musicians ñ is the Jam, and they too are plentiful and diverse around town. Artz Rib House provides Austin with all-too-needed old-timey weekly bluegrass and fiddle jams; Michael Mordecai holds a jazz jam session at the Elephant Room every Tuesday; and Fadó hosts a traditional Celtic tune and dance session on Sundays. What follows is a list of the regular, weekly open mikes and jams around Austin.
ñ Kim Mellen
Sunday: Ego's (OM); Artz Rib House (Central Texas Bluegrass Association Jam); Fadó (Tune & Dance Session).
Monday: Cactus Cafe (OM); Electric Lounge (OM w/ Wes McWhorter); Shaggy's (OM w/ Jimmy Lee Hannaford); Speakeasy (Cuervo Courage OM); Elephant Room (Michael Mordecai's Jazz Jam).
Tuesday: 311 Club (Drummin' Dan Blues Jam); Artz Rib House (Olde Time Texas Fiddlers Jam); Ruta Maya Coffee House (OM).
Wednesday: Gino's Italian Grill (OM w/ Rusty Wier).
Thursday: Cafe Mundi (OM) Hilltop Bar & Grill (OM w/ Louie Long, Judy Mauldin, BB Morse); Texas Bar & Grill (OM w/ Henry Craft); the Saloon (OM w/ Alan Stewart);
Friday: Chesapeake Cafe (OM w/ the Tres Hombres); Polvo's (OM).
Saturday: Water Tank (Thumper & Co.'s Open Jam)