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Christmas in July

One of Houston's most popular '90s bands, 30FootFALL, reunites for its 20th anniversary.

It's 9 p.m. on a Tuesday and Andrew Hoskins is tuning his resonator guitar in AvantGarden's courtyard. His buddy, Sean Fink, is running through songs with him on the guitar resting in his own lap. They're talking music, work, kids and beer, and they're waiting.

"So, I've played so many open-mike nights that it's a bit difficult to remember my first one. I believe it was in Las Vegas at my local library when I was in high school," Hoskins recalls. "I probably played some worship song and maybe some emo song I wrote that I don't remember."

Normally Hoskins plays acoustic folk-punk-bluegrass and gets regular gigs in town with his solo act, Radio Flyer, as well as his bands, Spilling the Beans and Stay at Home Mom. Tonight, though, he's one of two dozen local musicians waiting to take the stage at AvantGarden's open-mike night.

"The great thing about such a forum is that everyone comes to see honest expression," he says. "They know that some presenters may go over better than others, but as long as you go out there and share, then you've made a contribution."

For the uninitiated, an open-mike event is an evening set aside by coffeehouses, bars and like-minded venues that gives musicians a forum to play — unbooked and unpaid — for a live audience. The rule is usually first-come, first-served. Sign your name on a list and hope the place doesn't shut down before you get to perform. The venues set the parameters, but it's usually something like three songs or ten to 15 minutes, whichever comes first.

Meet Mike Perkins. Another night, he's busily manning AvantGarden's PA for a classically trained guitarist named Roby Deaton, who was using the open mike to practice for a competition in Canada. Later, Perkins would work a crackling spotlight so it shone just right against a rap act calling itself Love Lifted. His most important job was keeping the evening taut, attending to that list of artists all waiting to perform.

"We're happy to have anybody," says Perkins. "If they have a new song, or something they want to try to play, a new song or a different style, we certainly encourage that."

He too is a singer-songwriter and figures he's played more than 1,000 times at AvantGarden alone over the past 15 years. He has guided the evening's events four years now and says the venue's biggest open-mike success story is probably Robert Ellis. Recently, Perkins adds, talent scouts from the TV reality contest America's Got Talent stopped by to soak in Avant's musical atmosphere.

"People need a place to play," he says. "If you're a singer-songwriter and you're trying to start out, you've got to have an audience to play for. There's got to be an outlet for that, and I try to encourage singer-songwriters to express themselves.

"If there weren't places like this, they wouldn't have a place to do it."
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Nightlife

Scenester Central
Houston's Top 5 hipster bars and clubs...whatever 'hipster' means.

Matthew Keever

5. The Petrol Station

985 Wakefield, 713-957-2875, facebook.com/PetrolStation

Featuring craft beers only in a no-frills setting, Petrol Station, cozy as ever, is a favorite of beer enthusiasts. The selection of brews on tap is eccentric and constantly in a state of flux, minus a few staples, and, coupled with a solid kitchen, this former fill-up station is a local favorite for those in the know.

4. Moon Tower Inn

3004 Canal, 832-266-0105, facebook.com/bigweeniestyle

Pretzel buns, sausages and beer...Need I say more? Just outside downtown (though far from the Midtown area) in Second Ward, Moon Tower draws a clientele hungry, thirsty and in good spirits. They'd better be, or else they get charged extra for being jerks. Seriously. Its open-air setup is filled with patio seating, though there is a bit of covering for those looking for shelter from the sun.

3. MKT Bar (Vinyl Night)

1001 Austin, 832-360-2222, mktbar.com

Every Wednesday, this downtown restaurant/gastropub hybrid becomes scenester central as local-music luminaries put on their DJ pants and spin their favorite vinyl records. Sponsored by Heights Vinyl, this is just one of many "theme nights" MKT Bar throws for its customers. As if the drinks and Lebanese pizzas weren't enough reason to visit.

2. Double Trouble Caffeine & Cocktails

3622-D Main, 713-874-0096

As its name suggests, this full bar and coffee shop is a double threat. Espressos are served in polished wooden cups alongside craft cocktails and beers in a swanky yet mildly upscale environment. The Wi-Fi is complimentary, making Double Trouble a great spot to enjoy a cup of joe during the day.

And when the sun sets, patrons can close their laptops, ask for a full menu and enjoy an adult beverage. The brews aren't the only local option, either; the beans, of the Greenway Coffee variety, are too.

1. Bingo in the Heights

1435 Beall, 713-869-5767, lodge88.org

SPJST Lodge 88 isn't a bar per se, but once a week it's inundated by young people, bottles of liquor and pizzas. The venue's popularity has grown exponentially over the past few years, so much so that people show up hours early to secure a spot.

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