Houston's Five Best Venues for Up-and-Coming Acts

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"It is good medicine to go to a concert hall and forget the harshness of what's going on. It can be a very positive thing."

— Itzhak Perlman

There was once a Houston music venue called The Doctor's Office. In a former life, the infirm gathered there for antidotes and remedies to what ailed 'em. As a music venue, it did more or less the same. That venue came and went, as they are wont to do in a bustling, growing city like ours, but not before helping to give many a local musician a leg up when gigs at more established rooms were hard to come by. Since then, other places have emerged to fill the musical prescriptions for fans whose spiritual aches and pains are best salved by the sweet, healing music of your friends and neighbors perfecting their craft. Consider the following venues the friendliest of these musical urgent-care centers, where the doctor's orders are always correct and your co-pay supports hard-working musicians.

In addition to having easily one of the best cold brews in town, Bohemeo’s is the coffee shop/bar/venue that had the genius idea to host a very specific weekly open-mike night. That's right, every Wednesday the casual crowds at this pillar of the East End are treated to renditions of songs by the greatest band of all time (scientifically proven), the Beatles. Everyone's favorite John & Paul (and sometimes George) hits and B-sides are accounted for. The venue’s two stages allow for events like Jealous Creatures’ recent Scorpio Party to play host to several young bands in addition to the heavy hitters.

Less a venue, in the normative sense, than a portal. It could be music. It could be puppets. It could be a recitation of beat poetry or a congregation of performance artists throwing shapes over the inexhaustible succession of chess players. Do you only travel by fixed constellations? Good luck with that; strange lights govern the proceedings at Notsuoh. For example, the alien band from Star Wars? They’ve played Notsuoh. Jack Kerouac’s reincarnation as an old shoe? That, too, has graced the stage. There is room for you, too, among the ballet troupes, the singer-songwriters singing songs they wrote, the outsider artists, the physical comedy, the inevitable tragedy awaiting all living things, the sundry ars dramatica, and the rock and roll.

Scroll back through the Facebook photos of any Houston band and you will almost assuredly see the faces of scrappy young musicians in front of those colorful letters. Dig into those letters and you’ll find yourself deep in a Russian nesting doll situation of Houston’s punk-rock history with old show posters from local legends like Riverboat Gamblers and The Dwarves. Rudyard's, thanks to the tireless efforts of people like booker Punk Rock Stacy and Joe the sound guy, has it all — punk pedigree, fresh new indie voices, newly touring bands, and a truly kickass burger.

In a vast psychic desert like Houston, any place wherein a few lost goats can gather could safely be called an oasis. While many watering holes fall victim to the predations of the corporate horde, monetized and weaponized and festooned with sports TV, Walters remains both independent and welcoming, doors open to all manner of desert creatures — punks, rappers, button-smashers, wastrels, silverbacks and newbloods alike. Inside you’ll find a custom mural by local artist and musician Jon Read, the record store Deep End, a bar, and a stage. Out on the back patio you’ll find the rest of the party, where the long-suffering staff; regular clientele of artists, musicians and other outsiders; and the night’s performers go to tell jokes and behave badly.

Satellite Bar is the ideal venue for an up-and-coming local band looking to cut its teeth. Its intimate, rugged stage is the right size for groups that are still building an audience, and the open-air patio window ensures that nobody will miss your set. Diehard local music lovers know that they can see a lineup three to five bands deep on some nights, all for a cheap or nonexistent cover. Plus, the bar has more than 60 beers available to try, which means folks will likely stick around to hear you play, even if they happen to be listening from under the table. This place is already fostering Houston's next generation of great local artists, and us music writers love coming here to find this city's next gem of an act. All of that shows Satellite Bar's tag line to be an absolute truth: "a music venue run by musicians."

The awkward appeal of performing is that you’re stuck by yourself. You can have a support group, whether they be ancillary or somewhere far, far away. You could also say forget it and go all-out by your lonesome. There’s no perfect way to lay down a performance, no essential step-by-step guide to win over a crowd. It’s a thing you can quantify only by effort and the off chance that maybe, maybe what you do can lead to more people telling people about you. There used to be venues that specifically catered to the process. They’ve been renamed, torn down, rendered as memories of the past. Showcase nights? Forget it; they occur all over the place.

The lone stage for rappers that lets them cut their teeth while also feeling important? Warehouse Live’s The Greenroom. The geometry of the room forces an artist to be seen. A fan can’t hide for too long in a corner or hug the bar without being aware of the rapper onstage. It’s not as large as the Ballroom or as cornered off as the Studio. It’s a small stage and everyone is packed upwards. Most major artists of today — see Kendrick Lamar — have cited this room and that stage as a launching point. If you can win over the 100-plus people who can fit inside, you can push further to the Studio and, eventually, headline the Ballroom. But it doesn’t happen unless you navigate the smallest space of one of the nation’s more important music venues.

Written by Brandon Caldwell, Tex Kerschen, Jesse Sendejas Jr., Eric Smith and Katie Sullivan

Satellite Bar celebrates its one-year anniversary this Saturday with a free show featuring Young Girls, Mikey and the Drags, Vodi, Whit, Get a Life, Dollie Barnes, Camera Cult, Clean Teens, Whale Bones, Cool Moon, the Wealthy Beggars, Hammer Party and Thrill. Free show; all ages; doors open at 12 p.m.

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