20 Bands 7 Days

For one week, Sarah Hepola saw every band that invited her. God help her.

Before we get started, let me extend apologies to the bands I couldn't catch: Get So, Lady of the Lake, Major Issues, Mojo Preston, Silver Arrows and the Theatre Fire. I wish there had been two of me last week. Of course, I would have gotten twice as many parking tickets. Monday, 9:30 p.m., the Balcony Club Going to the Balcony Club is like slipping into silk stockings and heels. It's a club for grown-ups--the kind of neighborhood spot Jack Kerouac might like, full of drunks and jazz and ribbons of smoke, a place whose very walls seem to reek of good times and folly.

My first invite came from Greg Ray Jazz Group, a quartet consisting of veteran jazz musicians from other Balcony Club bands. The saxophonist is confident in his solos, guitarist Ray is understated and organic, and the rhythm section is intuitive. They're tight without being showy, strong without being overpowering. Like so many jazz musicians, they are used to playing in the background, which seems to be the case tonight. At the bar, a drunk sings Mister Mister's "Broken Wings" to the waitress. A couple curled up in the corner finish their cocktails and leave.

Kids grow up with moonstruck fantasies about being a lifetime musician. The babes, the cash, the glory. But I suspect the reality is closer to this--a slow Monday night in an empty bar, playing mostly for yourself.

Tom Hendricks inside the Inwood Theatre box office where he works--and plays
Mark Graham
Tom Hendricks inside the Inwood Theatre box office where he works--and plays
Kristy Kruger tunes her guitar before Poor David's annual singer-songwriter competition. She went on to win.
Mark Graham
Kristy Kruger tunes her guitar before Poor David's annual singer-songwriter competition. She went on to win.

Tuesday, 6:15 p.m., the Inwood Theatre "Come by the Inwood any Tuesday or Wednesday between selling tickets and see me break a lot of musical rules!" writes Tom Hendricks by e-mail. A ticket-taker by trade, Hendricks has spent his downtime for the past six years serenading passers-by outside the Inwood.

When I arrive, Hendricks is inside his booth, cradling the beat-up '64 Silvertone he calls "his pet dog Guitar." He has propped an ancient Ross Systems amp in the round glass opening, giving his simple strums a tin-can quality, like 1950s radio. He offers a cover of the Hollies' "Bus Stop" and then hands me a copy of his monthly music zine Musea, which makes the rather alarming claim that he has written more than 5,000 poems, 70 original film scripts, one board game and 1,230 songs. The lyrics to one toss-off I heard, though, are simply "la-la-la." I love eccentrics, especially those who fill an otherwise drab afternoon with campfire music. But as far as I can tell, the only rules Hendricks is breaking are in the employee handbook.

"The people at the Inwood don't mind you doing this?" I ask.

"They kind of like weird things," he says. And Tom Hendricks fills the bill.

7 p.m., Sambuca A few weeks ago, walking through Deep Ellum, I was surprised by a notice hanging in the window of Sambuca: "MOVING. New location on McKinney opens next week."

Could it be? The jazz club that spread swank to the suburbs was closing shop in its downtown, and original, location? Just one more unsettling sign that people perceive Deep Ellum as dangerous, a place for punks and pickpockets. A few days later, when a gold-leaf invite turned up in my mailbox, I decided to squeeze the Sambuca fete into my band schedule--after all, I was invited, and honey, I never turn down a free crab cake.

Housed in the former location of Salve!, the new Sambuca is a breathtaking 9,000 square feet, almost triple the size of the downtown spot. It's decorated with opium-den decadence and typical Dallas overcompensation. Wasn't this supposed to be a music club? That's what I remember about Sambuca in the early '90s, when my high school girlfriends and I snuck in wearing black and enough makeup to pass for 21. It's the first place I saw a really tremendous saxophonist, and I can still remember how he held the whole smoky place in his sway. But they've traded culture and music for valet parking and society types. Music is wallpaper here, a mere fixture, like a sconce or a red-velvet drape. And because I'm sitting outside on the patio, it's not until I get up to leave that I realize a jazz band is playing, Shanghai 5. I stop for a moment to enjoy the music, which is probably more than most people did.

9 p.m., Poor Davids Pub Maren Morris is out past her curfew. A mere 14 years old, she opened tonight's 15th annual singer-songwriter competition at Poor David's with a handful of original tunes. Wearing an orange baseball cap with her T-shirt and jeans, she glides through her set like a pro, with an effortless twang to her voice.

"God, I hate kids today," mutters the guy beside me. "What were you doing when you were 14?"

Female singer-songwriters always get a bad rap, with their corny sincerity and dear-diary lyrics, but it's nice to sit down and listen to an artist who can just plain sing. Female performers tend toward one of two camps: those, like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, who can sing but not write; and those, like Liz Phair and Courtney Love, who can write but not sing. Rare is the woman who manages both. (Aimee Mann comes to mind.) So even though the six contestants at the singer-songwriter competition--including Tracie Merchant and Sharon Bosquet--offered more than a few cringe-inducing moments, I thank them for their voices. With that said, who wouldn't gag upon hearing the line, by Lynn Adler, "It was on that carousel of love that I grabbed that diamond ring"? The four-letter critique in my notebook reads: YUCK!

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