Fairfield Town Square
A year ago tomorrow, I went to my first open mic in Austin.
It was not my first time at an open mic by any means, but it was my first in a big city of strangers. Rather than knowing pretty much everyone in the room, which was usually the case in my small hometown, I knew next to nobody. At the time I didn’t know that open mics were going to become a “thing” for me. I didn’t have any goals to get to a certain number of performances, I was just focused on being able to get through my three songs, and do so without throwing up.
It wasn’t very pretty. I tripped over the guitar cords. I knocked my face into the mic. My throat was so dried out from eating almonds right before (note to self, never do that again!) that I actually got to a point that I couldn’t sing, and some kind soul in the audience brought my water bottle over to me so I could continue. But people still clapped and said kind things to me afterward.
After about a week I got my footing. After a few months I realized I could probably hit 100 by Christmas. When I got back from Christmas, getting to 150 seemed pretty reasonable, even with slowing down and taking most of April off for recording.
I just got back to my little hometown on Monday night. They started up an open mic again about 6 months ago and I’m going tonight. That will make 157 open mics and showcase performances in one year. I think it’s great that my last one of the year will be here, on the stage where so many of my heros and heroines inspired me with their performances, to the point where I could no longer ignore the calling.
And here I am, after a year of doing instead of dreaming, wishing, or complaining. (Or maybe to be more accurate, I was doing along with continuing to dream, wish and complain a bit, but the proportions were much, much more balanced!) I’ve got a bunch of stage time under my belt and a recording I’m really proud of. I have a feeling I’m going to be integrating the things I learned more and more the next few months, and there is still more I want to do and learn and get better at. But it feels pretty good to just sit for a minute and say, “Yeah, I did that. Awesome.”
Photo by Amy Zamarripa
I’ve been wanting a pair of cowboy boots for at least four years, if not more. I set a few goals for myself where boots were going to be the reward but never quite made it and got increasingly sad as again and again, they seemed to slip farther away from me. I didn’t even try to console myself with trying to think they were some sort of cliche folk uniform, I just wanted them. I wore a few other boots with my skirts instead, but I knew they were just substitutes.
With my time in Texas drawing to a close I became ever more convinced that I just couldn’t leave the state without boots, and besides, hadn’t I earned them with all my playing and hard work? That’s when I decided they were going to be my present to myself when I got to 150 open mics. I also decided that rather than wait till after 150, I would wear them AT #150, so I went on my mission on Friday.
I’d already done a bit of window shopping and trying on, so I had a pretty good idea of what I was looking for, brown with blue stitching, not too high a heel, and a rounded toe. When I found them I knew. I tried on a few more for good measure, but I knew.
It’s hard to take a picture of your boots while you are wearing them!
I love that they are a dark espresso on the bottom with black heels so I think they’ll go with both blacks and browns pretty well.
That day I also decided that although I had a big band show that night, I really wanted my 150 to be an actual open mic, wanted it to be at Fair Bean with Amy Z, and with Fair Bean from 5-7pm and the show at 9pm, it could be a good warm up and I’d make it to the gig in plenty of time!
It was a bittersweet time, realizing it would probably be my last at Fair Bean for the foreseeable future. Got my last favorite white iced mocha and citrus bar. Played four songs. I felt like a super badass in the boots. One duo called Possibly Maybe asked if anyone had a tambourine and I said, “Today I actually do!” because I had it with me for the gig. Fun to hear them add it to their set. It was good to hang out with Amy one more time too. And then it was time to catch the bus to Backroads…
Songs - Keep Telling Me, Anchor, I Know, Jonah’s Whale
It had been so long since I’d been to Flipnotics I could hardly believe it, but I was happy to get there for #149. Lisa didn’t have her guitar with her, I told her she could borrow mine. When she got started, she grabbed my guitar out of the case by the window where I’d left it and she hung it up on the hook on the wall after playing.
A few players in, and Lige asked if he could borrow “her” guitar for his second song. She said it was Spencer’s, apparently she had asked to borrow his guitar and he told her it was in the gig bag by the window, and between the two gig bags by the window she happened to grab mine! I piped up saying that the guitar was mine actually and Lige could play it if he promised not to break a string. He’s such an awesomely intense player that I’ve seen him break strings probably half the time I’ve seen him play! Even though I had an extra set with me, I didn’t want to have to change any on the spot, and I also wanted to play all of my final 50 open mics on that set. Anyway, Lige decided to do two mandolin tunes instead, and my guitar was all ready to go when it was my turn, and we all had a good laugh about the confusion.
Flips can be a mixed bag of awesome and odd, and my favorite bizarre set of the night was one by an impromptu group that we dubbed Jandy & The Phone after a guy and gal (who will remain semi-nameless, though “Jandy” is a blending of their two names) who to the best I can figure out, signed up together after meeting on the porch, stumbled through a few verses where he was not playing the same chords as the songs she was singing, nor did she attempt to modify the melodies to fit the chords he was playing, and they were interrupted by her phone ringing in her purse out in the audience. Both folks had plenty of potential, and with an actual rehearsal I bet they would have done alright, but as it was, she finally said, “Let’s just leave,” and they did. In true supportive Flips fashion, we cheered them on through each attempt and shouted after them to come back next week and try again.
Songs: I Know, Shoreline of Alaska
I really, really, really wanted to play this gig. It was my last big solo show scheduled in Austin and I had a few friends who were planning to come. I also was looking forward to dinner there, the food is good and I was pretty sure I’d get enough tips to cover it. But it was also raining off and on the past few days. It’s hard to hate on the rain when Texas needs it so badly, and MT & Nancy warned us that it was likely to be cancelled, since Bouldin Creek Food Park is an outdoor venue!
After a Thursday night of heavy downpours, Friday finally came and the sun was shining. I kept my fingers crossed though because rain was in the forecast for 5pm. I packed up my gear and headed down at 5:30. My friends came and ordered food. It was starting to get a bit cloudy but still no rain. MT started setting up the gear and the minute he clicked the mic into the clip, raindrops started to fall!
We all looked at each other and MT asked me if I’d like to play acoustic and I said sure, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to reschedule, so he set up a big picnic umbrella over me and I started my set.
Umbrella! Photo by Nancy Hellton
As I played, MT managed to get the sound system up under cover of plastic and umbrellas and the like, and by the mid point I was able to plug in.
Microphone! Photo by Nancy Hellton
I got to the end of my set with no idea how long I had been playing, and they all told me to do more. I held off till the very end before I played Rain Song, but I finally got to the point where it was stumble through a song I didn’t really remember or play it, so I did with apologies, but since it was raining already, I guess there wasn’t much to be done. I did indeed get enough tips to cover dinner, my friends got to see me play (including one of the little boys I babysat for, who wouldn’t get to come to any of my late-night gigs)
Then Justif did a set between the raindrops and a rainbow showed up in the sky behind them towards the end. They are the awesome hosts of the open mics at Baker Street and House Wine, but don’t often play at their open mics, so it was nice to hear a full set from them.
Closing out the show was Jen Hitt, a gal I’d met at Rocky Mountain Song School last year but only heard a couple of songs from since then. So it was also nice to hear a full set from her.
Super huge thanks to MT and Nancy for going on with the show despite the sketchy weather and to my friends who came out for it too! It was an awesome evening in the end!
A few days ahead, my friend Robert Mattson, from Boston put out the call on Facebook that he was coming to Austin on Thursday and wanted to hang out with Song School friends. I told him I was planning to go to an open mic and would love to have him join me.
We headed up to Kickbutt Coffee and got there in time to catch a show by traveling musician Dustin Prinz, who was, and is awesome. Robert bought us both a Dustin CD.
I did a few of tunes and then handed my guitar off to Robert, who kicked butt!
Then we headed downtown to catch a few songs by the band of another Song Schooler, Jessie Torrisi & The Please, Please Me. It was a bit of a torrential downpour and Robert had to get up early for his work presentation the next morning, so we didn’t stay for the full set, but what we heard was awesome.
It was great to catch up with Robert, share some new songs, compare stories of recording and all the fun and decisions that go along with that, and share news about other fellow Song Schoolers and such. Plus I know Robert was grateful to have a bit of musical fun added to a regular business trip!
Songs: Keep Telling Me, I Know, Shoreline of Alaska
Thom Worldpoet and Michele Solberg at Thrice
I hadn’t been to Thrice in quiet a while, I hadn’t been since Michele Solberg started hosting it, and that plus the thought of going to an early night, close by (one bus, maybe 10 minutes), with some good tables to sit and and sew whales all made my Wednesday night decision pretty easy. (If you don’t know Michele, go read her bio on her website and be impressed!!)
The performers lean pretty heavily toward poetry, and the style is round-robin. There are two wands, one for the current performer, and one to designate who goes next. Each person does one poem or song, passes the wand on, and then it cycles back around again at random but so that everyone pretty much gets to do 2-3 pieces by the end of the night. Michele is good at making sure everyone gets a turn, encouraging the shy ones, gently suggesting the bold ones share the wands a bit more. She also is willing to jump up and play background music for any of the poets who wish, and several take her up on it. She even jumped up with me and did some harmonies with me on Anchor, a song she’d never even heard yet, so fun!
Thrice is also right next to (as in, connected to) Thai Fresh, so it’s totally easy to get some yummy Thai food and settle in for food and music. Plus they have some great vegan ice cream made with coconut milk in really fun flavors.
Songs: I Know, Shoreline, Anchor (with Michele!)
Tuesday I decided to try out a new open mic that’s both new to me and also fairly new to Austin, at Rusty’s. A few stops down the line on the bus, a guy with a guitar got on. We traded our guitar stats and struck up a conversation. His name was Landon and he was just finishing a rehearsal, I told him I was on my way to an open mic and he decided to come along as well. He had taken a leap of faith and moved to Austin for music just a few weeks ago, and was running into all sorts of supportive situations.
I love that this is a theme of Austin, that not only do people move here to follow their musical dreams, but the amount of support and encouragement in the community gives them fuel to follow through and keep making it happen. May not be the case for everyone, but it’s certainly a story I hear often enough here to be a theme!
In any case, we got there just as a line dancing session was finishing up (that could be a fun night, dancing plus music!), and Raul let us know that we got employee pricing on drinks for playing. The sound system was good and the raised stage was fun to play on. The list was short, so we got to play four songs, always love that!
Songs: Rain Song, I Know, Shoreline, Keep Telling Me
(pic of Raul at Backroads a couple months ago, before they put up the new wall)
Today is Raul’s birthday, so last night was his birthday open mic. They’ve put up a new slat type wall that helps divide the stage area from the billiards area without closing stuff off too much, I like that.
Raul’s guitar pickup was wonky so I let him play mine. Always fun to hear what she can do in someone else’s hands (if that someone is a person I trust!). Raul did a couple great new ones. Ana B came by and did a few with my guitar as well and then we sewed some more whales until we had to go catch our busses. Josh gave me crap for them not being anatomically correct, but conceded they were still very nice and probably made up in cute what they lacked in scientific correctness. :-)
Songs: I Know, Shoreline of Alaska, Rain Song, Jonah’s Whale
I’ve heard good things about the House Wine open mic for a while, but since I always had rehearsal on Monday nights, I was never able to go. So when I finally had a free Monday I jumped on the chance.
It’s a pretty sweet little set up, an intimate courtyard with a small stage area on the porch above. Justin & Tiffany who also host Baker Street on Sundays are the hosts and they are so gracious and fun.
I arrived just as a duo was setting up, and I thought the girl’s voice sounded familiar but couldn’t place it. A little later in the evening she came up to me and said, “This might be a little weird, but are you Heather? I’m Jess from SpinTunes.” SpinTunes is the online songwriting contest I’ve participated in a few times and judged the last time around. Jess was one of the final four in the last round. I hadn’t known she was living in Austin, but she recognized the big flower I was wearing in my hair from my judge profile picture! I was so happy she had introduced herself, and I was even able to let her know that I’d been thinking of her when I had a job filling vending machines one weekend, since one of her songs in the contest was about being in love with the guy who fills the soda machine. It was no wonder her voice sounded familiar, I heard it quite a lot while listening to all those songs over and over for the judging! And I just happened to get her picture, I was taking one of the venue for the blog and they were the ones playing at the time.
Fun also to run into a mix of new people and some familiar faces from other open mics! The only thing that was a little funny was there’s a P. Terry’s right across the street, so every so often a “NUMBER 42!” (or whatever number) punches through the night as they call out people’s orders for pick up! Made me jump more than once.
Songs: Keep Telling Me, I Know, Shoreline of Alaska
Just a few shots from the Fair Bean Showcases that happened during SXSW. Tom Harvey, David Dennis and Daisy O’Connor.
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