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Washington Avenue Open-Mikes: What Would Townes Think?

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Ed. Note: The Houston Press' style is to use "open-mike" instead of "open-mic" unless quoting outside material. The recent Houston Chronicle puff piece about trying to create a music scene at Washington Avenue's Salt Bar presents Lonesome Onry and Mean with another example of why the Chron is our top source for news we can use. Writer Mike Morris' This Week (Heights) article on the Tuesday songwriter/open-mike night (he's not really sure which) is filled with pearls of logic and by-the-numbers writing. Try this gem from event host Brant Croucher, who told Morris "the value of such an event is easy to find." "It's more personal. It's people telling their story," he said. "To me, the song is the most powerful song form of conveying emotion." Yeah, that sounds good, even if it has zero meaning. Go ahead, read it again; it doesn't make any more sense the second time. We wonder if these really are Croucher's exact words, a fabricated quote, or a copy-desk miscue. Whichever way, it's not good. Later in the article we come to find that, in spite of a headline that claims "Open-mic Night Gives Songwriters An Audience" - and boy howdy, what a zinger that one is; at least it doesn't say 'Open-mic Night Provides Exceptional Music' - the event is partially a by-invitation affair. So does this make it an open-mike night or an unpaid songwriters night? Local roots-rocker Mitch Jacobs (left) also weighs in, although he doesn't make much sense either. "It's been too long since we've been without a scene like this," Jacobs is quoted as saying. (Yeah, read that one again too. Earth to copy editors...) We suspect Jacobs is more correct than he knows, but not according to Lizzie Dannemiller, who recently played the event. In a Facebook thread wherein Lonesome Onry and Mean opined that we would rather go to the dentist than attend open-mike nights, Dannemiller retorted that becoming a professional is:

"A long, upwards, difficult process that INCLUDES playing your so-called 'amateur hours' in order to gain recognition. I'd LOVE for every gig to be high-paying. Reality check. And fyi, it is an INVITED songwriter night...and NOT just any old joe smo off the street."

No, not any old joe smo [sic], but we'd bet that if they are aware of the event, many members of the Houston Association of Acoustic Musicians - in the parlance of the day, the HAAMsters, who used to control the open-mike at the old Cosmos - have tried to get on the "invitation" list. And for us, that's inbreeding on a par with some of the royal families of Europe. We'd also bet that some of the joe smos [sic] might be more interesting than some of the 'invited' so-called songwriters. At least that's always been our experience at open-mike nights, although we must admit we don't frequent them anymore. LOM ran into Mike Stinson at one of his post-gig watering holes Tuesday night, and he noted that open-mike nights do serve one good purpose. "An open mike is a good thing if you're, say, three guys who've been playing in your living room for a while and you want to get up in front of some people and get your feet wet." According to Stinson, "You can play all you want in your living room, but getting up in front of people is a whole other thing. If you're just starting out, at some point you've probably got to do a few open mikes if you're going to move forward." To our ear, he seemed to be implying that open-mike nights are for joe smo [sic]. Anyway, is it just LOM, or do others intuit that there is something innately wrong with the idea of supposedly serious singer-songwriters hanging around the plastic factory that Washington Avenue has become? Gong Show with no gong, anyone? Remember the Corkscrew? "Hey, driver, take us to that bar with the dueling pianos."

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