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At SRO, some of the best players are on stage, not on screen

Don't worry, sports fans. When SRO goes "unplugged," all the big-screen TVs don't blank out. Just some pretty cool acoustic music happens.

Every Friday, SRO Sports Bar and Grill (2517 South Gessner) hosts "SRO Theatre," an acoustic open-mike night that features local talent. And every Sunday, SRO/Gessner brings in well-known singer-songwriters -- folks such as Jack Saunders, Selia Qynn, Christopher David, Melissa Adams and others -- for "Texas Songwriters Live." In a novel move, some of the performances are documented in two different CD series, SRO Live and Standing Room Only. They're sold for $15 apiece only at the restaurant, one of three SROs.

Norman Clark, who handles marketing, promotion and booking for the Woodlake SRO, is the man behind the scene. "It's something that I haven't seen in Houston," says Clark, who also owns SKE Presents production company, "but something that I heard about in Nashville."

SRO/Gessner resembles NASA mission control, but with a bar. In addition to the enormous wall of TVs, palm-size boob tubes occupy each and every plush diner-style booth in the place. The performance space is, by comparison, modest.

"I thought it was a great idea," performer David says. "I thought it was a great way to get music out." David, a former Nashvillean who is familiar with the Music City gigs Clark mentioned, thinks other clubs should get on the recording bandwagon. "It's pretty simple to do," he says. "It doesn't take a lot of equipment to get nights like these started. It would certainly bring in a lot of people, a lot of young performers."

Acoustic open mikes are relatively easy to find. They happen regularly at places like P.J.'s (614 West Gray), Anderson Fair (2007 Grant) and Travis Cafe (208 Travis). But open mikes that are taped for posterity and sale? That's another thing entirely. Other club owners have taken notice. "It's not a bad idea at all," says Michael Phelan, Travis Cafe manager. "It helps to get the word out. Flyers only do so much."

With both the CDs and the nights they promote, Clark, a guitarist who also is featured on the discs, is looking to show local audiences that there is more to the Richmond-Westheimer club scene than lackluster cover bands. "My original music is very blues-based," Clark says. "We have people that are very folk-oriented, very John Denver, James Taylor-oriented. We have people that have a rock sound. So I would say it crosses all of those styles of music. Country, folk, blues, pop."

So far, three CDs (two of SRO Live and one of Standing Room Only) have been made. Clark personally assembled the best performances for the former discs, while the artists get to choose the songs for the latter series. Clark produces only a limited number, about 200. Once they're gone, it's on to the next album. Artists who end up on the discs can reap an extra benefit: They can earn money from sales. But rather than accepting the usual paltry fee (approximately seven cents for each unit sold, as is often the case with major labels), artists can buy copies and sell them for instant profit.

Of course, it's not like these folks are in it for the dough. Some are happy simply for the chance to step up to the mike. "Any promotion you get from someone like Norm is better than any proceeds you can get from it," says humble songstress Qynn. She adds that if she ever received any profit from an SRO album, she would "give it to Norm."

New SRO Live and Standing Room Only discs will be available in the coming months; they'll offer further proof that fine Texas music can come from a testosterone-dripping venue that caters mainly to sports junkies and beef eaters. "When the performers are performing at the "SRO Theatre,' you can hear a pin drop, even if the house is packed," Clark says. "Because everybody that is in that room is there to listen to live music."

Just like halftime at the Super Bowl.

Last Call

Well, it looks like the usually grungy Numbers (300 Westheimer) is still dabbling in eclecticism. The club already has begun a new Tuesday-night affair called "Swing Night." And this Sunday the club welcomes French electronica artist Rinocerese. The ad for the show says that the guy is "the ultimate live electronic experience." Damn. Can't one French person come to the States without being so full of himself? San Diego turntablist Miles Maeda and Houston's own Kung Fu Pimp also will be performing. For information on both events, call the club at (713)526-6651 or go on-line at www.numbersnightclub.com.

 
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