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Sounds Like a Winner!

1996 Houston Press Music Awards

Best rock venue
The Fabulous Satellite Lounge

You can't always credit (or blame) music for the crowd it draws. Sometimes you have to credit (or blame) the venue. Still, there's no use bitching and moaning about having to go to the Fabulous Satellite Lounge just 'cause you need to see some really badass band, as some of the hip in Houston have been known to do. Sure, it might appear a bit pushy to build the "fabulous" right into the name, so that papers can't even list the club without seeming to applaud it. And you might even argue that the sound can get muddy bouncing off those warehouse-style walls, or that the swirly, trippy light show that fills those self-same walls doesn't appear to have any connection with anything else that's going on in the place -- with the music, the atmosphere, the crowd, the surroundings. You might even complain that there's always some drummer trying to cut in the urinal line. But the fact that you know what you're bitching about means you've been there, and for the obvious reason: the Satellite books the best shows their size in town and, for my money, most of the best shows of any size in town. So shower cash on them. Good money for good product, I always say. Just don't get hung up on calling it fabulous. The Satellite's only a rock club -- a good one. (B.T.)

Best traditional/ethnic
The Gypsies

It's been more than 20 years since Greg Harbour, then living in Atlanta, found himself exploring the cultural aspects of his Russian ancestry by teaming up with three gypsy musicians of Hungarian, Russian and Ukranian descent. Traditional Central European folk music, played lovingly and well, proved to be more popular than one might imagine and led to long-standing, lucrative gigs around Georgia's capital city. After Harbour met the future Mary Ann Harbour -- and discovered that her skills as a violinist included an impressive range of fiddle styles -- the couple moved to Houston and continued the Gypsy tradition. For their more intimate gigs, the Harbours often perform as a duet, with Mary Ann on fiddle and Greg selecting the occasion's appropriate instrument from an impressive array that ranges from accordion to guitar to hammer dulcimer. For occasions requiring a more extensive lineup -- the Gypsies are the wedding orchestra of choice in the local Lebanese, Russian, Greek and Jewish communities -- the Harbours draw from an extensive collection of fellow trad-music enthusiasts to create an ensemble of a dozen or more musicians.

"We need to be able to do both pop and traditional music for most of the weddings we do, so there's a fun give and take between us and the rest of the band, who might be a little more up on what's current than we are," explains Greg, who also makes participating in everything from the Mucky Duck's Irish Session to Django Reinhardt-inspired acoustic jazz jams at festivals in Holland a part of his unending study of the art of music. It's such unending -- albeit enjoyable -- labors that make the Gypsies a band in demand for a list of audiences that reads like a United Nations roster. (J.S.)

Best jazz venue
Cody's

Ovations' brief closing last summer for renovations may have benefited lesser-hyped clubs more than Houston jazz insiders could have imagined. For the second year in a row, Cody's has come from behind to snatch the Best Jazz Venue honor from the Big O's mighty grasp. It seems, perhaps, that once jazz lovers were forced to stray from habit and sample the alternative, they liked what they tried.

Despite a lower profile than Ovations and less of a highbrow reputation than Cezanne, this second-floor Rice Village sanctuary at the intersection of University and Kirby continues to rule weekends. Friday and Saturday nights, no-frills jazz and R&B (courtesy of New News), an impressive free buffet and drink specials combine for just the right hip and affordable urban atmosphere -- cozy, but a far cry from rustic. And with a pair of ringers such as guitarist Tod Vullo (he hosts a jam Tuesdays) and Norma Zenteno (she's a regular on Thursdays) locked into the club's schedule, it's unlikely the club will soon fall out of favor. The new Cody's may not have the tradition-rich ambiance of its former Montrose location, but it's making up ground at a fast clip. (H.R.)

Best latin venue
Elvia's Cantina

If you find yourself at Elvia's Cantina waiting for a table -- or a friend to emerge from the restroom -- not to worry; there's plenty to keep you occupied. The clutter of framed customer photos (celebrities, dignitaries and the like), family mementos and bizarre keepsakes continues to grow, swallowing up the entrance hall of one of Houston's most popular Mexican nightspots in a colorful collage of kitsch.

Elvia's has been through some remodeling in recent months. The new furniture, floor coverings and platform for the bands are all welcome improvements. Also, the bar was repositioned and booths added. Typically, the good times reach their peak at Elvia's on weekends. Houston faves Walter Suhr and Mango Punch! (who had a strong write-in showing in this year's Music Awards) hold down the Friday spot, while Oro y Plata serves up merengue and salsa music Saturdays. Weeknights, Roger Rodriguez continues his lock on Tuesdays, hosting a live flamenco show, and for aspiring dancers, salsa lessons are still a part of Wednesday's festivities. The Latin Connection is a Thursday night regular. So if you're wise, you'll venture beyond Elvia's initial entranceway barrage -- and wind up all the more entertained for your decision. (H.R.)

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