By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
There was a packed house at the Prophet Bar last Wednesday night for the coolest weekly gig that most of the city still remains clueless about.
I mean, sure, it was a pseudo celebration of R.C. Williams' birthday—he turned 32 this past weekend, so there was an air of "special occasion" about the room—and, yeah, The Cannabinoids and Austin's Bavu Blakes were there for this night, freestyling away and improvising hip-hop beats out of thin air for the crowd's enjoyment. At any other event in town, that'd be the reason for such a turnout.
But, really, this was just another Wednesday night at the Prophet Bar. Williams and his band The Gritz were jamming out funk beats and rhythm-and-blues melodies onstage, unrehearsed and on the fly. DJ Jay*Clipp was spinning deep cuts of old-school hip-hop during the breaks, keeping the crowd moving. A couple special guests—in this case, Bavu Blakes and Erykah Badu's live DJ crew—were wowing the crowds with their own treats. And jazz musicians from around the region were there too, just waiting their turn to be called up onstage and asked to join in on the jams of semi-organized mayhem—or, in some cases, just sitting back, taking it all in and enjoying the night.
It was a soulful evening, for sure, thanks to the sounds, but it was also a night just oozing with creative energy and positive forces. Really, it was an inspiring, impressive evening.
But—and here's the thing—that's how it is every Wednesday night at the Prophet Bar. Crazy, right? For the past year and a half, this extended group of friends has been meeting here each week for a night of good times and better music.
Before moving to the Prophet Bar, the same event took place, only on a smaller scale. Each week, Williams and The Gritz would jam out at The Walrus in the West End—until, unannounced, the promoter double-booked the venue during a scheduled jam session and left Williams' event without a home.
"I called around just looking for a place to have it," Williams says over the phone, a few days after last week's event. "Eventually, I got in touch with Russell [Hobbs, owner of the Prophet Bar] and Joel [Fruth, the venue's manager]. We all knew it used to be the Gypsy Tea Room, so we knew what it looked like. But that first night, it was special. From that point on, we just said that this was the venue. And then it just started getting way more packed. Even on bad nights, there's usually over 100 people there."
Why? Partially, Williams jokes, it's because the $5 cover charge includes free food. But, in reality, it's because each week is different. Williams, who has been a touring musician for more than 10 years with Erykah Badu and others, uses his Rolodex to ensure as much. Since moving to the Prophet Bar, his event has hosted guest appearances from Badu (of course), as well as national recording artists such as R&B singer Raheem DeVaughn, Houston rapper Bun B and hip-hop artist Common's backing band, among many others.
"It just always works out," Williams says nonchalantly. "I just tell them it's what's happening right now in Dallas."
It's tough to argue with the facts: A few weeks back when soul singer Bilal joined Williams and Co. onstage, the room was so crowded you could hardly move.
"Now, when these people come to Dallas," Williams continues, "they just say, 'Yo, we're coming to the jam.' Everyone looks forward to the jam, man—especially me too. I've met so many great artists and musicians because of it."
And he's had his share of cool experiences too—like, just last week, when the jam showed an artist from outside the city limits that Dallas can hang with the best of them. As the night wore on, the evening's crowded schedule started tripping over itself. Out of nowhere, it was suddenly 12:30 a.m., and Blakes, who'd traveled from Austin to help Williams celebrate his birthday, had yet to perform. Finally, Williams called his name: "Bavu Blakes to the stage. Bavu to the stage." When the MC finally made his way through the crowd, Williams calmly asked him, "Hey, Bavu, you ready?"
"I've been ready for 45 minutes!" Blakes responded, jokingly annoyed.
Williams just laughed. The night was still young, far as he was concerned.
"Oh, c'mon, it's 12:30!" he chided.
"Yeah," Blakes returned, shaking his head in disbelief. "We don't do this in Austin on Wednesday nights, man..."
Williams didn't seem to hear him. Instead, he just started playing. And, actually, that might be the most enthralling thing about this weekly event: the pure enjoyment the musicians have at it.
Eventually, Williams checked his watch, wondering how much time had passed: "What time is it? Oh, man...2:14?" He looked up to see a smaller but still-attentive crowd watching the stage. "Oh, we're gonna get in trouble..."
Almost mercifully—but not without a couple minutes of outros just, well, because—the music finally came to an end. Not that anyone was necessarily ready for that to happen. Each Wednesday night, after all, is different from the last. And who knows how altered the next one could be? Fortunately, that's the idea.
"It's the only event in the city that's different from everything else," Williams says proudly. "Most clubs, you go in and pay your money to hear the same old music. Here, you actually get to see all these great musicians, doing their thing live."