On their way to reaching professional status, musicians go through many stages of sex, drugs and open mic nights. The latter, among other things, empower the aspiring artist with the means to project confidence on stage while getting immediate feedback on their writing.
The famed Apollo Theater in Harlem was one of the first to host amateur nights, but the modern open mic night has its roots in the folk clubs of the early '60s, a scene that produced artists such as Joan Baez and Bob Dylan.
Performers today face a set of challenges that evaded a young Dylan, such as the ego-deflating experience of singing into the faces of an often less than attentive audience unable to keep their fidgeting fingers off their phones. Sure, there are other tempting and quicker avenues for exposure, like YouTube, but singing into your webcam won't prepare you to deal with the mega-stardom you're surely destined for like open mic night will.
This list is for spoiled Dallasites who won't venture beyond the city limits. Many neighboring cities such as Plano, Denton and Grapevine have alleged killer open mics, but for the sake of economy we'll settle on just Dallas.
Some quick tips on open mic etiquette: Most of them require you sign up an hour before, some allow covers, but all encourage original material. The standard is one song apiece on busy nights, and up to three if time allows it.
10. The Tavern on Main Street 115 E. Main St., Richardson
The Heretics, who play at the bar five nights a week, are a band of outstanding musicians who play along with singer's covers and originals, and will be the saving grace of any performer. Host Jeff Hopson is a former preacher -- now a motivational speaker -- always great to have on hand for nerve-racking situations. He's also introduced as the Willie Nelson of Dallas, presumably for his talent.
There is a cozy patio, but smoking is allowed indoors. Sign up by 6 p.m., because the place gets packed. This is a vintage watering hole out of a postcard, a neighborhood bar if all your neighbors were cowboys, and the closest to Nashville you'll ever get.
Every Tuesday 7 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.
9. Charlie's Sports Bar and Grill 1820 W. Mockingbird Lane
Although technically a blues jam, Charlie's merits a special mention. Even though The Goat hosts two of the best known jams in the city, Charlie's is by far the bluesiest of all the venues, a gritty dive full of character and mystery. Here you'll find an old drummer who appears to be held up by strings and is rumored to have played with Chuck Berry. Nobody cares to disprove this allegation because it adds to the ghost-filled mystique of the place.
Host Mark Newman is a giant of a player and this jam is for serious musicians with soul and a weary spirit. The passionate guitar-playing of regulars, such as The Free Man's blues jam host Jason Cloud, confirm that this event is for the more advanced players.
Every Wednesday 8 p.m. to midnight
8. O'Riley's 8989 Forest Lane #120
This charmingly grimy billiards bar offers a limited menu and cheap drinks. With a strong ambiance of informality and Southern pride, it's a challenge to find one person at O'Riley's without a tattoo. Country-rock singer Justin Pickard and indie rock musician Jes Spires set a full stage for aspiring rockers and attract an invested audience of benevolent bikers and friendly regulars. It's the perfect mix of country and hard rock.
Every Tuesday 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.
7. Sam Ash 10838 N. Central Expressway
The good thing about attending an open mic at a music store like Sam Ash is that there are always experts around to tend to technical difficulties, plus an endless supply of instruments you are allowed to bring onstage. The downside is that if a customer wants to test out an amplifier a few steps away, the sale will not be interrupted and the performer may unwillingly find his song as one-half of a very weird mashup.
The 90-year-old family business from New York has had an open mic for one year. Performers are given a $10 gift card each time they play. Assuming you play a few times per week (Wednesdays is for singer-songwriters, but every week day there is a jam with a different instrument) by the time the gift card expires in a month you'd have most of the money down for a ukelele.
Every Wednesday 7 to 8:30 p.m.
6. Absinthe Lounge 1409 S. Lamar St.
As the name suggests, Absinthe Lounge is a little slice of European decadence. There are no excuses here for shying away from performing, as the green fairy will have you soaring in confidence in no time.
The extremely dim Tiffany lamp-lighting and comfortable sofas, artsy decor, trip-hoppy soundtrack and popcorn machine practically invite you to move in. Surprisingly, the open-mic night seems to attract Johnny and June-types of musical couples who have a unique sound of hillbillies jamming on a porch. A pleasant contradiction and testament to the completely welcoming and open space created at Absinthe.
Second Saturday of the month 7 to 10 p.m.
5. Poor David's Pub 1313 S. Lamar St.
The custom at Poor David's Pub is that of entering your name into a hat. You may be called at any time. It's a really folksy scene, where singers look like legends. Nearly everybody is male, and has a grizzly beard to prove it. Some of the performers seem to pour their hearts out onstage, as if trying to convey a history of struggle through song. The setting is so intimate that all inhibitions are left outside.
Host Mr. Troll, an interesting character who has already attended 65 open mics this year, runs the Facebook group Dallas Area Open Mic (a great source for any type of open mic or jam in the DFW metroplex). If you're lucky enough to catch him and Bill's Records owner Bill Wisener from next door, you'll have the honor of listening to great stories of yore about the Dallas music scene.
Second Wednesday of the month, 7 to 10 p.m.
4. The Free Man Cajun Cafe 2626 Commerce St.
Owner and Freeloaders bandleader John Jay Myers, former U.S. Senate candidate for the Libertarian Party, has created a unique climate where politics and music coexist harmoniously. The Free Man defies geography and logic by evoking an imaginary border town between New Orleans and Berkeley.
Scotty Isaacs is a generous host who gives Lifetime Achievement Award-level introductions to performers. The atmosphere remains festive as regulars jump on stage to play along with harmonicas while Deep Ellum Bob dances along. Sign-up is an hour before start time, but come often enough and Isaacs allows texting as a valid form of sign-up, and will graciously provide background vocals to your song if requested.
Every Tuesday 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.
3. Buzzbrews Kitchen 4334 Lemmon Ave.
The colorful and lively Buzzbrews hosts a collection of classically trained musicians -- often Dallas Symphony and Dallas Opera members -- who play on Tuesday nights to an audience of repeat customers who make up the most appreciative spectators with the densest applause, by far.
While the warm-up for instruments can be a tad unpleasant, the line-up of violinists, cello and flamenco guitar players is worth it. Musicians are allowed to keep a tip jar, and the requirement is that you sign up by 7 p.m. and have a classical instrument. Other old-fashioned genres are also allowed; as the manager puts it, "Anything before the '50s", especially after the more sophisticated older patrons have left. Toward the end of the night, things get loose, and a musician playing a phallic harp (yup) may be invited on stage. There's even an Elvis impersonator on Wednesday nights.
Classical open mic, Tuesdays 8 p.m. to midnight
2. Opening Bell Coffee 1409 S. Lamar St.
Down the street from Southside, next to Absinthe Lounge, the Seattle-style coffee house looks like a miniature cultural space of sorts: There are records adorning the bar, old books and sketch-pads on the tables, which have a built-in chalkboard -- an environment that clearly breeds creativity.
At a "Central Perk" type of coffee house like this, one would expect Phoebe Buffay sorts of earthy and quirky singers. Nonetheless, most of these singers have a fair sense of self-appraisal, and are ready to be presented to the public. Steve Jackson, who has hosted the event for the last five years, welcomes all genres of music and gives priority to the first-timers.
Every Tuesday 7 to 10 p.m.
1. The Prophet Bar 2548 Elm St.
The Prophet Bar, the flip-side of Deep Ellum venue The Door, is an ornate warehouse that pulsates with life, has a strong street and urban appeal and has a long bar encircled by dancing patrons. R.C. Williams, Erykah Badu's producer and band member, plays every Wednesday at 9 p.m. with his band The Gritz. At 11 they begin the open mic. And while pop, rock and soul are welcome genres, the place has a stronger hip-hop culture than Detroit's 8 Mile.
The Gritz play along with performers and will memorize songs in one listen before the show. It's $10 at the door, including for performers, yet it's well worth the money to see some of the best musicians in Dallas take stage, including the occasional appearance of Ms. Badu herself.
Every Wednesday 11 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.