Friendly advice on just about anything from the Hill Country’s happiest songwriter

By Al Barlow

Dear Al,
Can you share with your readers some etiquette tips for open-mic nights? It always bugs me the way some songwriters show up at these things, maybe with friends in tow, and they just seem totally disrespectful of the other performers until it’s their own turn to sing. And then, as soon as they’re done, they pack up and make a beeline for the door like they can’t leave fast enough. I mean, I get that everyone’s there first and foremost to play their own songs, but shouldn’t listening to everyone else’s songs and paying them a little respect be part of the deal? Shouldn’t the golden rule of open-mic nights be, “Listen unto others as you would have them listen unto you?” Now, having said that — I know that some open-mics actually do tend to draw more respectful crowds and performers than others. What are some of your current favorites? — Aaron, Wimberley

Dear Aaron,
You’ve touched on a topic that I’m happy to address. I’ve hosted several open-mic gigs over the years, and it’s wonderful to hear people sing their original songs and enjoy the spotlight for a while. And yes, some songwriters are more courteous than others. When I attend an open mic, I come prepared to listen. Listening to the performer onstage is the most important aspect if you want to have a successful event.

Unfortunately, you’re right — some people don’t understand that as well as others. And there have been occasions when I’ve had to call someone out for being loud and discourteous during someone else’s performance. It takes a lot to make me angry, but total disrespect for a performing artist is something I just cannot tolerate. And I’m not alone. In fact, I’ve known Kent Finlay, the owner of Cheatham Street Warehouse, to run several loudmouths out of his club — although I’m sure he’d rather never have to be in the position to have to do so. At the end of the day, we all like to participate in these things for the sake of the songs, and the less time any of us has to spend dealing with discourteous people is the more time we get to spend enjoying great original music!

Now on that note, there are lots of open-mic nights here in our part of Texas that I can happily recommend. Kent’s Wednesday night songwriter’s circle at Cheatham Street in San Marcos remains one of my all-time favorites. Kent’s not afraid to lay down the law when he absolutely has to, but he’s the greatest — and I’ve known a whole bunch of really wonderful songwriters who started out playing his open-mic night. I’ve also really enjoyed Dallas Burrow’s Sunday night Songwriter’s Society show at the Phoenix Saloon in New Braunfels, and of course  Luckenbach hosts a very popular open-mic songwriter gathering every Sunday afternoon. Anyway, those are just three really good ones that I’m thinking of off the top of my head. I bet if you go to any one of them and ask some of the other writers for leads on other happening open-mic nights, you’ll have a list of a whole bunch of them worth checking out in no time. Just remember to wait between songs and performers to do your talking!