Sounds Like a Winner!

1996 Houston Press Music Awards

Best folk/c&w venue
McGonigel's Mucky Duck

The main reason many new clubs -- no matter how cleverly conceived -- shutter their doors soon after they open is that the owners don't understand that the nightclub business is a business, not a hobby. Rusty and Theresa Andrews, by contrast, carefully aligned their passion for Celtic, folk and acoustic music with a vacant niche in the local entertainment industry, structured an environment that would attract a specific clientele and wound up with a popular, unique and successful live-music venue that has prospered (or at least survived) while countless other places have premiered with a bang and closed with a whimper. This may draw sneers from many too-cool scenesters, but there are a great many music lovers who don't find a high-decibel, cheap-drink, meat-market environment conducive to live music -- and frankly, those people are willing to pay for their enjoyment.

So go ahead, kids, wave off the notion of a place where listening to music is more important than seeing and being seen, and where the prices for a glass of imported draft beer make drinking secondary to listening. Someday -- sooner than you think -- the lyrics will be more important than the drum solos, being surrounded by drunken idiots will be a detriment instead of an asset and your ambitions for a night on the town will relax. At that point in your personal evolution, you will probably find yourself with the Mucky Duck's calendar taped to your fridge, right next to the baby-sitter's phone number. (J.S.)

Best cd/record store
Cactus Music & Video

True story. A short while back, one of our staffers was breaking the monotony of a late Houston evening by cruising the interstates and soaking up the heat, the humidity, the seemingly endless Texas sky when he decided something was missing. He needed loud driving music. In particular, Phil Spector Wall of Sound loud driving music. A side trip to one chain CD store proved fruitless; it was closed. Ditto the next chain store, and the one after that. Then he peeled off 59 up Shepherd, and there it was: a musical oasis shining in the night. With Spector's Back to Mono ready for purchase. Soon "He's a Rebel" was blaring out of the stereo, and all was right with the world.

Okay, so being open until midnight may not be the most important factor in determining the city's best CD/record store, but it doesn't hurt. Factor in a staff that (most of the time, anyway) is pretty knowledgeable about what they sell, live in-store performances and a commendable selection of both local product and off-the-beaten-track national selections and it becomes clear why Cactus has swept this category for the last couple of years. There are other stores that can beat Cactus in particular areas (used CD selection, average price), but readers seem to be in agreement that when you consider the whole package, Cactus comes out on top. (M.J.S.)

Best blues/r&b venue
Big Easy

Local talent, live music seven nights a week and no cover charge has proven to be a winning -- for two years in a row -- combination for Tom McClendon's blues and zydeco cubbyhole on Kirby Drive. The at-least-a-couple-of-times-a-week jams at the Big Easy, hosted by the likes of suave Leonard "Low Down" Brown and consummate wild man Rick Lee, have established the club as a premier spot for up-and-coming musicians to hang out, cross-pollinate and learn from one another. More established musicians such as Pearl Murray, Pete Mayes and Joe "Guitar" Hughes can be found on-stage on weekend nights on a frequent basis, doing the blues the way the blues is done best -- up close and personal, in an intimate room with considerable ambiance and panache.

Of course, when someone mentions ambiance and panache in relationship to a blues club, it's just a way of saying it's cozy and has a low ceiling, that it's the sort of joint where newcomers feel welcome and regular patrons feel at home. The Big Easy is also notable for being the only bar in town with an on-premises record store, one that specializes in blues and zydeco. The ever-growing popularity of the Big Easy, and its dedication to the roots music of the Gulf Coast, could serve as a lesson to other clubs that have tried to mix a few blues acts in with their regular bookings and were disappointed with the results: there's just no such thing as being a part-time blues club. Them ol' blues is powerful music; don't jump in unless, like the Big Easy, you're ready to swim the distance. (

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