MKT Bar: Tale of an Unexpected Hot Spot, Acts 3-4

CHARACTERS Katy (the server); our narrator

ACT 3, SCENE 1 Outside. 9:15 p.m. As we pass the lineup of chairs placed outside MKT's front doors, we realize: It's quiet. Too quiet.

The quiet doesn't stop once we get inside; there are only a few evening eaters, and the Christmas/Kwanzaa setup remains -- but there is no music. Are we too late?

There's Katy!

SCENE 2 9.16 p.m. Inside a nearly empty MKT Bar.

Katy: Hello again! Rocks Off: Hi. Um, isn't there supposed to be a DJ here tonight. Katy: Yes there was. They didn't show up! Rocks Off: Oh! Rocks Off:: See you tomorrow then. Katy: Alrighty! See you tomorrow!

Out into the cold again.

CHARACTERS Kristine Mills; Mike Owens; waiters; bartender; Priscilla

ACT 4, SCENE 1 8:08 p.m. We're back at our first table, underneath the television, which we finally learn is tuned to TCM. Two other televisions play simultaneously in opposite corners; both show sports stations.

We arrive just to see a long-haired DJ walking out the door, and a sunny blonde taking his place onstage. A waiter rushes to her aid, providing a chair; she provides a guitar. Soon, she is joined by a gentlemen, also carrying a guitar.

SCENE 2 8:31 p.m. We learn that the pretty woman in the flowing grey dress is Kristine Mills, one of our very own Houston Press Music Award winners (Best Female Vocalist in 2009; Best Songwriter in 2010).

The guitarist joining her is Mike Owens. Mills continues setting up, the Christmas/Kwanzaa stage now a pileup of songbooks, amps, Starbucks coffee cups and guitars. Owens strums out test chords, chords turn into progressions, progressions turn into a song.

Kristine Mills: Hi, I'm Kristine, and I'll be playing...

It's hard to hear her voice, thanks to the chattering of the "audience." Some people are talking. Some people eat. Some people look around, surveying the scene. Undeterred, Mills starts in, playing a series of folk songs, jazz standards and what she calls "Texas blues."

8: 35 p.m. Mills finishes her first song. Somewhere, someone claps, starting a wave of recognition. She has their attention.

SCENE 3 9:01 p.m. Mills has the nearly full audience's attention now. There are still a few folks more preoccupied with their meals, mouths and Motorolas, but the singer forges ahead, giving listeners a taste of songs from her old and new albums -- some extremely personal.

Mills This next song is called "Bump in the Road."

She starts into a song about a friend stricken with breast cancer. As she sings, emotions peek through a high soprano that is both youthful, like a little girl, yet mature in its control of runs and key changes. Her voice is pretty in the purest sense of the word.

By the time she finishes a country-fried version of Etta James' "At Last," the crowd is rapt with attention.

Mills: If you guys have any requests, let me know. Waiter:: Someone requested "Mr. Postman." Mills: I need a trio for that! Bartender: I'll be your background singer!

Suddenly, a woman named Priscilla walks up.

Priscilla: You have a beautiful voice! Mills: Thank you.

Priscilla walks up to the stage and whispers into Mills' ear; Mills nods.

Mills: Priscilla, baby, this is for you.

Mills begins singing Tina Turner's "Proud Mary," to the delight of everyone, including a giggly man who has taken up a spot near the stage. She follows the song with "Chain of Fools."

Mills: Impromptu Motown. I haven't done that song in years. That was fun!

Mike Owens: And they didn't even dance!

SCENE 4 9:30 p.m. Things have quieted a bit. Most of the crowd has gone home; there is, after all, one more day of work to complete. Mills mellows out by singing the Beatles' "Blackbird," once again showcasing that delicate voice of hers.

It's a good night.

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