Want To "Support The Scene"? Avoid Open-Mike Nights

Let Lonesome Onry and Mean see if we've got this straight. Because we've written an article about how bad an open-mike night at Salt Bar was, we are tearing down - or not supporting - the Houston music scene? Well, that's bullshit.

You want to know what's wrong with the music scene? Here it is in a tiny nutshell: Mark Rubin and Silas Lowe, who bill themselves as Fat Man & Little Boy: The Atomic Duo, played an amazing set of old-time string tunes last night at Under the Volcano and nobody came.

Meanwhile, so called "music scene supporters," open-mike lovers and critics of music critics were all about a mile away at Blanco's open-mike night supporting a motley crew of wannabes and (most likely) never-will-bes.

Rubin, whose former band the Bad Livers did much to keep old-timey string band music alive and well, and Lowe laid down a torrent of hot licks, soulful vocals and acerbic wit for the smattering of listeners who deigned to sally forth on this muggy Wednesday night. LOM is willing to bet that no one at Blanco's said, "So, what's the most dissonant song we know?"

"Standing on Jesus"? Lowe replied.

The U of H music major sitting on the stool next to us leaned over and whispered behind her hand, "You know they're talking about major/minor harmonics in Western scales, right?"

"Thought they were talking about bluegrass," was our meager reply as the duo blasted through a version of "Standing on Jesus" that would have brought a tear to Ralph Stanley's eye, and followed with a gorgeous rendering of "My Deceitful Heart."

At that point, Rubin, who played in New York City last week and will be touring in Poland next week, joked that we were entering "the Marxist polemical portion of the show" as the banter, music and history lessons turned toward Woody Guthrie.

When Lowe said, "This one's in D," Rubin quipped under his breath, "the other C." Their rendition of "Dallas Rag" sounded like two ancient Scott Joplins sitting around a pint of cheap whiskey without a care for the problems of the world.

Rubin waxed historical and didactic again as he schooled the tiny crowd on country legend Floyd Tillman, who, according to Rubin, "used to work with a steel player named Bob Dunn, who had a studio right here on Bissonnet." [Googling this morning to check Rubin's accuracy, the first link that popped up was a photo of Tillman and Dunn at the Rice Hotel in 1939.]

The duo followed with a wistful, whiskey-soaked version of "Sittin' On Top of the World" that would appeal to fans of Jimmie Rodgers and Carolina Chocolate Drops.

And suddenly, the night tripped fantastic as a woman who had been lurking near the edges stood directly in front of the Atomic Duo and their Gonzales battle flag ("Come and Take It") with her hands on her hips and began to heckle and prod. LOM sat gawking as Rubin matched every smart-ass comment she made with equal sarcasm. She finally sat down and glared at the musicians as they tore through a jug-band traditional, "Blues in the Bottle."

But she wasn't finished by a long shot. Deciding to kiss and make up, she walked onto the stage and began to interact with the players. While she rubbed the top of Lowe's head, Rubin smirked, "Don't interrupt his chi, don't interrupt his chi." She stayed long enough to mug for the photographers in the crowd.

They brought the evening to a close with a stellar Texanized version of "The John Deere Tractor Song," and we wished our father and Johnny Gimble and Fred Eaglesmith could have been there to hear it and share a chaw of tobacco, because this was as Texas as it gets.

After the show, we asked Rubin if he knew the woman who was heckling him, who had since stormed out to the parking lot. "Don't know, don't care," he said. "What, have we been introduced? Yeah, that was weird, huh?"

So, for all of you who claim to support the music scene, or that you want to build a music scene, who whine if a music critic pans an open-mike night you or your buddy played last week, let's cut the crap.

Going to open-mike nights is not supporting "the music scene." And going to see tribute bands is not supporting "the music scene." You don't build a music scene, by dumbing it down.

Think about it, Darlin'.

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William Michael Smith