Miller Outdoor has hosted amazing events for 98 years now, and always at no cost making them the largest free theater in the country. Shut down along with most venues for the majority of last year, this spring they reopened and have been hosting a steady stream of diverse live events.
Though the theater is almost 100 years old, its administration and members of its board are not afraid to try new things. This week they will host their first ever Miller Summer Mixtape Series featuring nine local acts with three performances each night from Thursday, July 29 through Saturday, July 31.
Each evening will highlight multi-genre local artists grouped together with visuals provided by Input Output for the entire series. The shows will kick off Thursday with three artists representing hip-hop, reggae, jazz and R&B with performances by Dende, King Baby Familia and Everlasting Vibez.
Friday will host a range of our city’s best country, folk and Gold Coast Sounds with The Broken Spokes, Nick Gaitan and the mesmerizing harmonizing of Ancient Cat Society. The three days will end with some rock and roll and synth pop from El Lago, Swimwear Department and Raycheal Winters.
“The majority of what's on stage are Houston and Houston area performers,” says Miller Managing Director Cissy Segall of the theater’s traditional lineup which ranges from theater to dance and music performances from a wide range of cultures.
“This particular series, which we had named originally the Emerging Artist Series, was an opportunity to help showcase some of the local music groups who don't perform at Miller all the time. We knew that leading up to our hundredth anniversary, which is in 2023, we want to really start building a younger audience. We want people who came here with their parents to recognize that this is their place too.”
During this time, typically the theater is hosting the Houston Shakespeare Festival but since this year that annual event is being staged as a film series August 3-7 due to COVID-19, the theater was available for the new programming.
“It was like okay, this is a great spot to try a new series,” says Segall who hopes the event leads to a yearly series. “It’s giving exposure to Houston performing artists, bands and mixing the genres so it really is a showcase of all kinds of diverse talent that’s here in this city and there's nothing wrong with shining a spotlight in that way. Houston’s got great talent and we'd like to show it off.”
To create the lineup, the theater created a planning committee including Marissa Saenz of Rukaz Kultura and Madness On Main who describes the selection process as everyone putting names into a hat and then seeing which artists were named more than once to create the lineup.
"It really is a showcase of all kinds of diverse talent that’s here in this city and there's nothing wrong with shining a spotlight in that way. Houston’s got great talent and we'd like to show it off.”
“It worked out interestingly enough organically, but that's the makeup of our music scene because every band member, they are from all different backgrounds so you can’t classify or categorize them just by genre and you can't categorize them just by race or ethnicity.”
Saenz credits her ability to stay connected with the local music scene during this past year with her work with Madness on Main and the bands who frequently rehearse in the space where her office is as well as tapping into the bands performing online with Wonky Power.
“Wonky was definitely a big one where I felt like live music is back; we still exist, we are still alive. So many things have changed, but the creation has not stopped,” says Saenz. The planning committee not only looked at who the majority of the group selected, but also the experience of the artists mentioned.
“You can see that trajectory with these artists because they do stand out. We do interact with a lot of local acts but the ones that rise to the surface, you have to stop in your tracks and recognize that,” says Saenz.
It’s no secret that the performing arts suffered major losses during the pandemic, and though luckily the Miller Theater survived, they weren’t unscathed in the process.
“Everyone’s been hit so Miller is pulling off this amazing showcase on lean budgets, but that's typically what we work with in the music scene anyway,” says Saenz.
Since reopening, the theater has made some adjustments to help keep patrons even safer and avoid the further spread of COVID-19. Though the entire theater is outdoors, Saturday's performance of the Mixtape Summer Series will also be live streamed.
Also, whereas previously patrons who wanted to sit closer to the stage and in a seat had to show up early in the morning the day of the event for tickets, now they can apply for tickets by going online starting at 9 a.m. two days before the performance.
No tickets are required for seating on the hill which s open as always for blankets and chairs. Although there food and beverages are available for purchase on site, visitors can always bring their own.
“What’s fun is watching people who might never cross paths sitting next to one another having a wonderful time,” says Segall. “It’s just an opportunity to bring people together to enjoy whether it's the performing arts, great music or dance. It's just a chance for people to get outside of their homes where they have been stuck for so long and to feel alive again, nothing wrong with that.”
The Miller Summer Mixtape Series will take place from Thursday, July 29 to Saturday July, 31 at The Miller Outdoor Theatre, 6000 Hermann Park, 8:30 p.m, Free