The term “discovered” holds a special place in the vernacular of musicdom, and local musicians who were once given a chance are now opening doors by starting up the same types of open mics that raised them up years ago. Teaming up with local coffee shops, art joints, and traditional bar venues, local music entrepreneurs are igniting a new season of opportunity for the burgeoning hearts and souls that are yearning to share their spirit through sound.
A few of these musicians opened up about what inspired their present journey at the open mics they’re hosting, and they eagerly await the chance to help all musicians grow as they continue to evolve themselves.
Sunday Night Open Mic at Halcyon – Hosted by Odie Wallace
No longer a “backyard weekend warrior musician,” singer/songwriter Odie Wallace hosts the Blue Star-side open mic every first and third Sunday for reasons of empathy and duty.
“I have the responsibility of not only nurturing other musicians and artists, but creating a safe space for people to come and have their voice heard,” Wallace said, sitting comfortably in the divan furniture of the coffee shop-turned-bohemia gathering place for San Antonio’s hip but not overly aware of it. “It was all about opportunity.”
The collaboration has been underway for two months and has brought out at least one dozen people each time. According to Wallace, the talent has ranged from “the depths of indie’s most soulful sounds to eclectic swirls of dance-worthy chords” and even people reciting poetry or dancing to their own loop tracks.
“They get up there and tell their story for a few minutes, it reminds me of why I started to do this in the first place,” he said. “It’s daunting when you first get up there. No one’s clapping for you and you have to build your audience.”
For Wallace, it’s been amazing to witness the way that the audience at Halcyon has responded thus far to the lion-hearted souls who’ve stood up, dusted off their fears and shined through the stage lights.
“The audience is way more receptive to these people playing for a few minutes than me up there busting my ass all night,” said Wallace, with humble acknowledgment in his voice. “When the people coming up are the same ones who were just sitting next them, (the spectators) relate instantly because of the reality aspect of it.”
Wallace owes this opportunity to individuals who gave him a shot, including the management of Halcyon, who accepted his groveling as passion and believed he could do something special.
“If it wasn’t for one day someone in SA hearing me play and saying, ‘I love your sound, play with me on a gig,’ I wouldn’t be here,” he said. “Why shouldn’t that opportunity be available for other people?”
Open Mic Tribute Night at Brick – Hosted by Nic Long
Along with riding back into the San Antonio scene through phoenix-like flames with Lonely Horse – whose anticipated EP drops September 16 at Sam’s Burger Joint – Nicolas Soltero Caballo Long has been expressing novelty and innovation at Brick at Blue Star with his weekly “Open Mic Tribute Night,” Wednesdays from 9 p.m.-12 a.m. Takers are encouraged to sing their favorites from the selected artist of the week, or just let loose with their own originals, but a $15 bar tab for the best cover encourages artists to dig in and elevate while they emulate.
“I look at my record collection and just pull out a record, (and say) cool, we’re going with this for this time,” Long said of the decision process of whom to honor each week. “Bob Dylan had a good turnout, the Beatles were our best for sure. Hendrix is coming up, people are really interested in that.”
The most recent tribute went out to the Grateful Dead and had a band all Dead-ed out for the experience.
Johnny Murphy, a guitarist anchored in the soil of San Antone, wore a peace-loving shirt and let his love for the band out in a mellow tone that complemented his gritty beard and grounded demeanor.
“We’re a new group, basically a jam band and we share a love for the Grateful Dead,” Murphy said. “We put a lot of thought and innovation into this night in particular, a lot of practice.”
Murphy represents the unsung many who are out there waiting for a moment like this to make the connection between their music and the audience they wish to play for. Without open mics like this, the networking – or “happy hour social” – of the musical world, bands like Murphy’s Algorhythm may find it especially difficult to connect and get the ball rolling.
“This is kind of like a christening gig, very special for us,” Murphy said. “We believe that those who like the Grateful Dead will be into our music as well.”
According to Long, the open mics always bring out great talent – unexpected and varying in approach – age-range and musicality.
“I don’t stress over it, whoever comes in comes in,” Long said looking out on a quiet stage Wednesday evening, before Murphy and his crew came in and things picked up. “We’ve had like a three-year-old come in and sing a set, old men come in and blow us away with songs they wrote as teenagers. It’s always somebody different each week.”
Ventura Open Mic – Hosted by Ventura
The newly defined joint at 1011 Avenue B has seen love pouring into it since it’s opening last month, and owner Michael Carrillo is looking forward to more.
“So far the open mics have been going well, we’re still going through the fact that midweek events are a bit rougher,” Carrillo said. “But even when it’s slow we have an intimate environment and it works out. It’s really easy to communicate and meet new people.”
Carrillo’s observation seemed to be apt on this particular Wednesday as the bar quietly watched a twenty-something play with gadgets on the stage, producing something that resembled music, but not necessarily what you’d expect at an open mic.
The vibe was more laid back in terms of music and the turnout wasn’t above normal Ventura, but that seemed to be the case all across the city on a Wednesday night. Yet for those who ventured out, the experience seemed just as special, because they were doing what they loved.
Christopher George lives the daily grind from 9-5, so he seeks out spaces like Ventura to showcase his art and find opportunities for gigs.
“I was hanging with friends and jamming and realized, ‘Hey I’ve got neighbors too’,” George said. “I have been hearing a lot about what Mike is doing here at Ventura, and this open mic sounded like an attractive opportunity.”
George and fellow comrade Rick Cantu III picked up the energy with soulful tracks that brought those out on the river patio back inside to experience the Ray Lamontagne-inspired sounds.
“When the weather gets better, we’ll do open mics on the patio as well, (and) make that a featured open mic,” Carrillo said. “So far it’s been a good way to network with musicians. It’s a good place to start for any musician, coming out to an open mic.”
A Weekly Look at (Some) Open Mics Across San Antonio:
Sundays (1st and 3rd) at Halcyon: 9 p.m.-12 a.m.
Sundays at 502 Bar: sign up at 9 p.m., music starts at 10 p.m.
Mondays at Limelight: sign-up at 9 p.m., music starts at 10 p.m.
Tuesdays at The Cove with Cody Coggins: 7:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m.
Wednesdays at Brick at Blue Star with Nic Long: 8 p.m.-12 a.m.
Wednesdays at Ventura: 9 p.m.-12 p.m.
Thursdays at J&O’s Cantina with Jordan Moonz: 9:30 p.m.-12 a.m.
Top image: Odie Wallace performs at Limelight. Photo courtesy of Matt Buikema