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.”
So, I changed my guitar strings shortly after coming to Austin in May. I can’t remember exactly when it was, but somewhere in the 70-80 range of performances, people started asking me what I was going to do to celebrate when I got to #100.
I realized that I hadn’t yet changed my strings, and thought it would be cool to play them for all 100 performances and then turn them into jewelry. It would be something both inexpensive yet super cool and very meaningful! I did a search and found this cool Etsy shop that gave me some design ideas.
After open mic #100, I put new strings on so they’d be shiny for both my Rubicon Showcase and my 45 minute set at Crow Bar a few days after that. So I had my earring strings ready, but the only problem was my jewelry making supplies were back in Iowa. Then when I was there I was super busy. Then I couldn’t fit the pliers and a few other things in my suitcase coming back, so I had G send me a box, which I finally got on my birthday, so I finally, finally made myself not one but two sets! I love them!
It’s subtle, but I love that you actually can see the fret marks on the strings if you look closely. Worth the wait. Yay!
Tupelo Honey, studio dog extraordinaire!
OK, I’ll admit it, my first few days back in Austin I was pretty mopey. I missed my husband. I missed my friends and family. I missed having a car. I missed my kitchen. Plus it was dark and rainy and cold. And there were some scary attacks over New Year’s that made me a little nervous to go out much.
On Monday I had my first group band night of the season and we actually didn’t play one note. We talked about music, making space for it in our lives and how that might look different than we think it “should”, how we all of us to some degree or another really strive and aspire to be better and more, and yet we brush off our musical achievements or don’t even notice or acknowledge how far we have come. It helps to be there with other people going through the same things because I can see that if X is true for both or all of us, then if Y is happening to someone else, then maybe Y is happening to me too.
So it was really good. Helped me at least partly see how little credit and celebration I allowed myself for my Cafe Paradiso concert in December. Because that was a really big deal for me! HUGE! And it went awesome and I’m totally allowed to ride that high for as long as I want. :-)
Tuesday (yesterday) was my first one-on-one with Dan and we started it with me playing through my 5 EP songs. A little 5 song concert. I had fun, it went smoothly, the songs are sounding stronger than ever and I still have till March to keep polishing. To think that when we started our first session last May, I couldn’t even play Dan one song, I was so shy!
Last night I got out to two open mics, OPA’S and Waterloo Icehouse on 38th. Played 3 songs at OPA and got asked to be a feature there (as in, open the night with a 30 minute set) on January 31st! It was the first night of the Waterloo open mic in that location, so with a light list we all got to do 5 songs, so I played my EP songs. At both places I met new people and made new connections. Kind of amazing that with 106 performances now, I am still meeting awesome folks and hearing so much new great music.
So yeah, a little bit of a creaky start, but I climbed back in the saddle. I’m excited for the ride of this final session of my first Rubicon Year!
Chronicling the final 10 out of 100 Open Mic and Showcase performances I have done since June 2011. This is #97.
It was a dark and rainy night when I set out for Baker Street… OK, that’s cheesy and ominous sounding. Or it might be ominous if it wasn’t so cheesy! But it WAS dark, cold and drizzling when I headed out for the bus last night to go back to the Sherlock Holmes themed Baker Street Pub. Luckily the busses that are overly air-conditioned in the hot weather are nice and toasty during the cold weather, and Baker Street was nice and toasty too.
There was a football game showing on the big projector screen in front of the stage when I walked in, and a big rowdy crowd enjoying said game. I had a moment of nervousness, “Sheesh, they are going to kill us if we take away their game for some acoustic songwriter music…” Luckily there are a ton of other TVs around, and I think someone even said that the game they were watching ended right around our start time anyway. The room definitely cleared out a good deal when the music started though. Just one of many opportunities not to take things personally. :-)
Some people are paying attention though, because the past couple nights I’ve had performers who have seen me at other venues come up and say, “Hey, what number are you at?” Some over estimate, some under estimate, but either way, it means they have been listening and I’ve made some sort of impression!
I had a new/old song to try out on the crowd. I’d been going through my YouTube videos and found one from several years ago that I wrote when my brother moved to New York City. Luckily I’d put the lyrics in the description, so I pasted them into a Google document, chopped it up and put it back together in what I think is a tighter/stronger song. It could probably still use a little bit of tweaking, but after the set one of the hosts said she liked the second song, so even if she didn’t completely hear all the words and whatnot, that was good feedback, enough for me to keep trying it out.
There is definitely a push in the open mic scene to bring something new as often as possible. People start to recognize you and then the next time they see you they say, “Got anything new?” It’s a tricky balance though, because playing at least some of the same songs is part of what gets them to recognize you. I’ve had a few times where people don’t really seem to recognize my face but when they hear the songs they say, “Oh yeah, I saw you at such and such other open mic!”
It’s also funny to compare that situation to a songwriter who has had either some or a great level of recognition. For those folks, the audience always wants to hear the same hit song, or the songs from the album that made the artist famous. I suppose that could be another measuring stick of success - earning the right and expectation to play the same song at every single show! ha!
In any case, that’s part of why I created my spreadsheet back in June to document these open mics. I wanted to be sure and not play the exact same sets at any one venue two weeks in a row. Turns out there is a set of folks who make the open mic rounds almost as much as I do, so they are going to end up hearing the same songs multiple times a week, but I really can’t do much about that. :-)
I also ended up having a nice conversation with a construction worker dude while waiting for my second bus home. He noticed the guitar on my back, asked me what kind of music I played and talked about how inspiring music was to him, and how he wished he had the talent to play, but all he had talent for was a hammer. I told him maybe he could play a drum, and also that it was never too late to start and be simple about it.
Funny that in the past two nights of bus rides, I’ve run into someone who wants to have a conversation about how inspiring music is to them. I feel like even without them hearing me play a note, we made a brief connection and I was still able to share my message about how important and healing music can be, and that it doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated to make a happy little difference. I hope our simple little conversations made some happy difference in their lives, because they filled my heart up with a little more gratitude for this music thing!
Keep Telling Me, A Sister’s Prayer, Rain Song
Justin & Tiffany of Justif
Baker Street Pub & Grill
3003 South Lamar Boulevard
Austin, TX 78704-4703
Sundays - Sign up at 6:45, Music at 7-till close. 3 to 4 songs depending on how full the list is.
Favorite Baker Street eats: This week I tried the Kraken Cookie Crumble, which ended up being rather like a grown-up milkshake almost. Kraken Spiced Rum and Gingerbread Syrup and like, cream or something, on ice, with some spiced sugar on the rim… Wowzers. Yum. :-)
Other things I like about Baker Street Pub: All the fun Sherlock Holmes themed decor inside - bookcases, leather chairs, a London phone booth replica!
Chronicling the final 10 out of 100 Open Mic and Showcase performances I have done since June 2011. This is #95
photo by Amy Zamarripa
Tonight I set out to catch the bus at 4:45, expecting to be at Fair Bean just a few minutes after 5pm. There have been a couple times in the past few weeks where one of the scheduled busses just doesn’t seem to show up - two will pass by in the other direction before the one in my direction comes by. It was a little bit late and a CapMetro truck pulled up to the bus stop and waited for a few minutes. The guy finally rolled down his window and waved us over to say that the bus was on detour because the train was blocking the tracks, and so if we wanted to catch the bus we were going to have to go a couple blocks south to the stop just across the highway. By the time he actually told us this and we started walking toward the stop, we could see the bus already there and we missed it. Which meant another 20-30 minutes of waiting, and not getting to the open mic till about an hour after it started. On the plus side, my beat-up bus pass worked when the bus did finally come!
Luckily there was still plenty of room on the list and actually a few people there to just listen (as opposed to all musicians, which happens sometimes) so I did my first set to a cozy little crowd.
I had a beast of a time with tuning, which was frustrating. I tuned up before my set, but as soon as I got the capos on it was out of whack and I couldn’t quite figure it out. I think though that between the hours of rain today, standing out in the cold for way longer than I expected, and then moving into a super warm and cozy coffee shop, well… yeah, I’m gonna blame it mostly on the weather.
In any case, the tuning issues helped dictate what songs I ended up playing, because I ended up taking off the capos, starting over with the tuning and playing one with no capos, one with only one, and finally one with the doubles. Even that didn’t seem to be quite exactly in tune, but I focussed on the low strings and tried not to play the high ones as much and I think it worked out good enough for folk-rock & roll open mic.
I was last on the official list, and most people left after that, so the remaining of us circled up on the couches and went around playing a couple more songs for each other. It was a sweet way to finish off the night.
Round 1) Keep Telling Me, Anchor, Winter Time
Round 2) Lazy Saturday, Wings
Fair Bean Coffee
2210 South 1st Street, Suite I
Austin, TX 78704
Sign-up at 4:45, Music from 5-7:30ish.
Favorite Fair Bean treats:
Iced White Mocha, Red Symphony Latte, Orange Bars (like Lemon Bars but with orange!), Veggie Chorizo Empanadas, Hard Boiled Egg
Other things I like about Fair Bean:
Fair Trade coffee, comfy couches, plenty of plugs for laptops, big glass windows to let in the light and allow for people watching.
Chronicling the final 10 out of 100 Open Mic and Showcase performances I have done since June 2011. This is #94.
There are two Kick Butt Coffee locations but both are a little bit far North for me to get to either on a regular basis. I had a Groupon to the Triangle location that expires at the end of the month so I figured it was doubly worth going on Wednesday.
I made sure to get there early because the times I have been, the list fills up fast. They have a pretty loyal regular crowd, to the point they now have a cork board list and a pile of name cards from the previous weeks, so if you’re a regular go find your name card and tack it up next to the number slot you want. And they of course have a pile of blank cards if you’re new.
Another reason I wanted to get there early was I had my bus pass from the night before, which expired at 10:20, so I wanted to be sure and play early in the evening so I could still catch the bus back on the same pass.
My friends who live pretty close to Kick Butt made it out just in time to see my set, which had a water theme to it. Turned out to be a night light on performers, so those of us who stuck around got to do two more songs. It’s always fun to get to play more, but I was especially happy about it since my friends came out. I think they had fun watching the other performers though. The guy who plays the beautiful hang drum was there, along with Anna the 12yr old shredding wonderkid and a new guy who did a sort of acoustic rap thing that was completely different and many more.
It can be a little hard to get video at the open mics, people are often talking and otherwise making noise. Even when it’s a low murmur that doesn’t register all that much from the stage, the camera definitely picks it up. Plus people will end up walking in front of the camera, or bumping the table, or if I leave the camera on a tripod it’s hard to know exactly how it will be framed, etc. I was pretty happy with my performance of Anchor which is a new one I just started playing out last month, plus my friends were able to zoom in, so I will share it below:
I’m looking forward to recording Anchor and filling it out with more voices and percussion!
It was definitely a dance at the last minute though, between being able to stay and play a couple more and needing to catch my bus. I felt bad I couldn’t stay longer and connect with the other players, but I also had to get to the bus before my pass expired.
I thought I saw it coming and dashed across the street only to find out it was the 338 instead of the 5, so I actually had a good 5 or more minutes to spare. While waiting for the 5, a homeless guy approached me with an extra 7-day pass. He insisted on giving it to me even when I told him I didn’t have cash to buy it, and when I tried to give him a granola bar instead he said he didn’t like them. I really felt looked out for, especially after the panicked moment I had on Tuesday when I lost that day’s pass. So not only did it work out to buy a second pass on Tuesday night that lasted later and therefore got me to yoga, grocery shopping and to and from the Wednesday open mic, I now have one for another 7 days? It’s a little beat up, so I’m not sure if it will actually work, but either way, the idea is pretty great. I am humbled and grateful!
Round 1) Rain Song, Anchor, Jonah’s Whale
Round 2) Keep Telling Me, Wings
Host: MT Helton
Kick Butt Coffee
4600 Guadalupe, Ste B-2
Austin, TX 78751
Sign up at @ 6:45; music 7:00-10:30. 2 to 3 songs depending on how full the list is.
Favorite Kick Butt Eats: Mediterranean Pizza, Iced Americano
Other things I like about Kick Butt Coffee: Super nice baristas, the way they incorporate customer comments on their walls, labels, cups, etc. They often have great Groupon deals too.
Chronicling the final 10 out of 100 Open Mic and Showcase performances I have done since June 2011. This is #93
photo by Amy Zamarripa
When they say “Keep Austin Weird”, Whip In is maybe one of my favorite examples. Perhaps it’s because it was the first place I saw a show in Austin when I came down to check out Rubicon Recording Studios in February. Two of their slogans are “South Asian Food, South Austin Mood” and “Namaste Y’all!” They have a crazy amount of beers on tap and an even bigger selection in bottles and cases, along with a teeny grocery selection in the back. They also have a menu with some typical Indian food and a few Austin twists - they have panini, but it’ll be like naan bread around curried veggies grilled in a panini press.
It’s also the first place I performed at an open mic when I started going out to them in June. June 7th to be exact. My first performance was rather a hot mess - I tripped on the cables, I knocked into the mic with my face, I got some almonds stuck in my throat to the point some kind person had to go get my water bottle from across the room before I could even continue. But after surviving that, and still getting a positive response from people, I realized it was not as scary as I thought it was going to be.
Tonight was a great night, super full list and a bunch of new faces. With such a full list we were only able to do two songs, and I was already planning to have Heidi Nadine sing Jonah with me, so I decided to go for a nautical theme and do Anchor first. There is something pretty special about hearing someone else interpret your song, and we’ve worked out a few harmonies that are really pretty.
It was also great to have a nice balance of men and women performers, some nights I’m the only or one of very few gals.
I couldn’t get a very good picture, but there was a guy there with an awesome sparkly purple guitar:
And this (also rather crappy cell phone) pic gives you a bit more of the idea of the stage area - the ceiling draped in saris, other sparkly fabric, Indian artwork, and posters decking the walls.
The other thing than happened is when I was getting ready to head home, I could NOT find my bus pass! After searching through my whole bag and asking the couple who sat down across from me if I could trade them places back to my original seat of the night so I could keep looking, the man asked me what I was looking for and ended up giving me a dollar when he heard my story. So grateful, that dollar was the difference between a long cold walk and getting to transfer to my second bus! Thanks again Sir!
Songs: Anchor, Jonah’s Whale
Host: D.C. Bloom
1950 IH35 South
Austin Texas 78704
Odd Tuesdays (1st, 3rd & if there’s a 5th week, that too, of each month)
Sign up at 6:45, Music 7-9ish. 2 to 3 songs depending on how full the list is.
Favorite Whip In Eats: Dal Puppies (spicy fried lentil cakes with tamarind date sauce), The SOLA (Mushroom spinach masala, feta cheese wrapped in naan & grilled on a panini press), Chana dal rice bowl with seasonal squash.
Other things I like about Whip In: The beautiful saris draped from the ceiling, the awesome posters, the church pew style benches inside.
Dear Friends, Fans and Fellow Music-Makers,
I hope you had a great Thanksgiving and are still enjoying your holiday weekend! I have so many cool things I want to tell you about that I broke it down list style!
1. 100 Open Mics in 7 Months
2. Two Big December Shows
3. Home for the Holidays
4. Thank YOU!
1. 100 Open Mics in 7 Months
Most of you have probably heard by now that I am on a mission to perform my songs at 100 open mics before I go home for my winter break on December 15th. I have been to somewhere around 4 or 5 a week since June 7th and just made it to #91 last night so I may even blast past my goal early! I have decided to document the final 10 on my blog: http://heathermillermusic.com
The venues I am planning to hit are listed at the bottom of this post in case any of you Austin Folks want to come out to watch or play!
2. Two Big December Shows
Besides my open mic adventure, I also have two shows coming up that I am really excited about! One with the band, and one will be my longest solo set so far!
December 11th, 3pm
Rubicon Recording Studios
4411 Jinx Ave
Austin, TX 78745
I am performing at Rubicon Recording Studios with the band we recently christened as The Doras. We are finishing up our second 12-week season of working together and I am so honored and happy to get to work with these talented women. If you came to our last showcase you know it will be a great time! If you haven’t been yet, besides a great show, you will get to see where I’ll be recording my 5 song EP in March! http://www.rubiconartistdevelopment.com/
December 14th, 6pm
3116 S. Congress Ave
Austin, TX 78704
I will be playing a 45 minute set as part of the Bill Davis Acoustic Happy Hour at The Crow Bar. The show is from 6-9pm and I am not sure yet exactly what time my slot will be but I am sure the other artists are great and from the looks of the website they have a lot of tasty drinks! http://crowbaraustin.com/
3. Heading Home for the Holidays
On December 15th I head back to Iowa where it will definitely be cold if not snowy. I guess I can handle a dose of winter weather if it means getting to be with my loved ones for the holidays, plus I’ll be back in Texas January 7th for my final season of my Rubicon Year!
I am planning a show at my favorite listening room spot back home, Cafe Paradiso, a few days after Christmas. I am excited to play my new songs live for my friends I won’t have seen for 8 months. If all goes according to plan, I will have some good video footage afterward to share with y’all so stay tuned for that.
4. Thank YOU!
It is kind of crazy to think that just 7 months ago I came to Austin without a car and only half a clue, and could barely even play one song for my producer. The thought of playing at an open mic in Austin made me want to throw up for the whole day beforehand. Now I am rocking the bus system, spent 45 minutes playing original songs for my producer so we could pick out songs for the album, and I am nearing 100 open mic performances like it’s no big deal. Thank you SO much to each of you for every ride, cup of coffee, meal, babysitting job, kind word and Facebook comment you have offered to me since I arrived. It may not have seemed like much at the moment to you but the support has meant the WORLD to me! Whether I get to pay you back directly or pay it forward, that’s a whole lot of good vibes going out into the world, so thank you, thank you, thank you.
OK! Here is my tentative plan for the next couple weeks of open mics:
92. Sunday - 11/27 - Baker St. Pub on South Lamar
93. Tuesday - 11/29 - Whip In
94. Wednesday - 11/30 - Kick Butt Coffee at The Triangle
95. Friday - 12/2 - Fair Bean Coffee
96. Sunday 12/4 - Baker St. Pub on South Lamar
97. Tuesday - 12/6 - Opa’s
98. Wednesday 12/7 - Backroads
99. Thursday 12/8 - Flipnotics
100. Friday 12/9 - Fair Bean Coffee
If you are planning to come out to watch or play, PLEASE call me to make sure I’m really going and still going to the venue listed above. Things can change for a variety of reasons and I wouldn’t want to miss you or have you come out for nothing! Also I can let you know more about the sign-up and performing times if you are interested in a particular day or venue.