Houston – McGonigel’s Mucky Duck…

Houston was the first major city in Texas that I stopped in at the beginning of this trip…and it was the last city I was stopping in, before sadly beginning to make my way home to CT.  I spent three nights in Houston on this leg of my trip…and I had a few plans.

First stop…the Open Mic at McGonigel’s Mucky Duck Restaurant and Bar…a very cool, intimate live music venue that features up-and-coming and established musicians six nights a week.  The Mucky Duck also opens the stage and professional sound system to anyone who would like to perform a few songs on Monday nights.  I’ve performed here twice before and had a blast each time.

Tonight, I was meeting my friend, Joni’s, husband’s cousin, Cheryl, and Cheryl’s husband, Dave, at the Mucky Duck.  As it turned out, Cheryl and Dave also invited their friend, Chris (Christine), as well.  So, the musical performance pressure was on (not).

Joni had suggested that I try to get together with Cheryl and Dave, thinking that we’d probably hit it off, and Joni was right.  Cheryl and Dave and Chris and I were instantly chatting and cracking each other up, like old friends from the start.  Cheryl and Dave have twin sons who both just started college this fall…in New York City, and in England.  I believe Dave was born in England, but grew up in Australia.  So, we had plenty to talk about.

I happened to arrive at the Mucky Duck only a few  minutes before Cheryl, Dave and Chris, and had met Letitia, one of the performers who had signed up to play (we noticed each other’s guitar cases).  I briefly explained my road-trip to Letitia and asked if she’d mind if I took a few photos of her while she was performing.  She was happy to let me.  Letitia was on her way to Austin to begin a music career.

So, here are a few photos I took of Letitia during her set.  I sent these and others to her, just last night, actually, and she loved them:

At some point before my set, I asked Cheryl and Dave, which of them was the better photographer, and Dave elected Cheryl.  I already had my camera’s exposure and single auto-focus point set up from photographing Letitia, so I gave Cheryl a crash course in shooting with this set-up, so she could take a few photos of me during my set.  Shameless…I know.

Here are a few of our practice-photos, taken at our table.  Mind you…these are close close-ups…haha!  Unfortunately, in the process, we did not get a photo of Cheryl.  But, we did get Dave, Chris and yours truly:

During my musical set, I noticed Cheryl moving around the room…trying out different angles and perspectives as she shot photos of me.  It looked like she was having a great time.  I keep telling y’all that the lens is very addictive.  Cheryl got some great images.  Who thinks I look ready to go on tour?  Anybody???

Typically, Wayne, the open mic host, who is also the sound-tech, allows each performer to sing three songs.  But, as it turned out, it was a light night (maybe, again, something to do with the Astros being in the World Series?), with not enough performers to fill the evening, and I was the last performer on the list.  So, after my last song, Wayne invited me to sing a fourth…which I was more than happy to oblige.

By the way, I had met Wayne on both of my prior visits to the Mucky Duck.  Wayne is a really good guitarist, and helps accompany some of the performers, if they ask him.  On this night, Wayne also did a really great solo guitar instrumental version of “Over The Rainbow”.  That was a treat.

So, despite the episode with my car that took up much of the day, I was thrilled that it didn’t interfere with such a great night with live music and new Houston friends.

Prelude to Houston…

I have only been to Houston on three occasions and only in the past few years, so I’ve really only scratched the surface of cool and fun things to do there.  With a little online research, it would be pretty easy to create a vacation, just staying in the Houston area.

We all have different interests.  For me, the country-western dance halls were the biggest attraction.  I know of eight really great ones, in Houston alone, and have gone dancing in five of them: the Wild West, the Stampede, the Westwind Club (a smaller, neighborhood honky-tonk), Midnight Rodeo (with a cool racetrack-style oval dance floor) and the SPJST Lodge 88 (locally known as The Chandelier, which was founded by the local Czech community, is by far the oldest in this group, and has the largest dance floor).

The three I have not yet been to, but also look like great places to dance, are: Big Texas – North (which also sports a racetrack-style dance floor), Big Texas – South and Stetsons Nightlife.  You can find more information on all of these, plus many more Texas dance halls and honky-tonks on the Dance Hall page I compiled for this blog.  You should also check their individual websites.

For live Country, Alternative-Country, Americana and other styles of Roots music, I highly recommend McGonigel’s Mucky Duck Bar and Restaurant. I have performed at their open mic a couple of times, and had a blast.  But, on the six other nights of the week, the Mucky Duck hosts great professional music artists.  I also highly recommend The Dosey Doe “Big Barn” in The Woodlands, an upscale suburb north of Houston.  Dosey Doe is a coffee company that owns three cool eateries all in that area.  The Big Barn is their main concert venue, which also serves breakfasts on weekends.

I had performed at an open mic a couple of times at another very cool Dosey Doe eatery/concert venue, called the Dosey Doe Music Café, which is, sadly, now closed.  Earlier this year, Dosey Doe, reopened their Music Café location as a BBQ restaurant, but it no longer hosts live music.  However, I recently read that Dosey Doe is looking for a location in that area that they could open as a second live music venue, because the Big Barn doesn’t have enough available dates for all of the music acts who want to perform there.  Keep checking the Dosey Doe website for updates.  These are only a couple of the best intimate live music venues in Houston.

For a scenic day-trip, you might try a drive out to the picturesque farm and cattle country, northwest of Houston.  Bernhardt Winery in Plantersville is amazing and hosts outdoor concerts.   And the quirkily-enchanting (can I say that?) Antique Rose Emporium plant nursery in nearby, Brenham, is also not to be missed, even if you’re not particularly interested in gardening.  The Rose Emporium is a great place to take a stroll and enjoy all of its curiosities.

The semi-remote beaches and beach restaurants on the Bolivar Peninsula, along the Gulf Coast just east of Houston, is another great day-trip.  I would suggest approaching the Bolivar Peninsula from the north, by taking Interstate Highway-10 East out of Houston, to the small town of Winnie.   At Winnie, take Highway-124 south.  Continue on Highway-124 south until the end, which is the junction of Highway-87.  Turn right onto Highway-87, heading south.

This is the northern end of the Bolivar Peninsula and is the most remote section of it.  A short ways ahead, you’ll find yourself driving right along a narrow beach, with the Gulf of Mexico out your driver’s-side window.  This stretch is completely undeveloped, except for the single straight line of lonesome-looking, weathered telephone poles receding out to the horizon.  Highway-87 is the single, main road, running the length of the peninsula.

A little further south, you begin to see interesting beach-houses, raised at least ten feet off the ground on wood or concrete columns to help protect them from storms coming off the Gulf.  And in this area, on your right, at the end of North Stingaree Road, in Crystal Beach, you’ll find the Stingaree Restaurant and Bar (…and marina…and bait shop), my seafood destination on the peninsula.  Stingaree sits right on the Inter-coastal Waterway, where you can watch tugboats pushing barges, as they churn their way slowly past, only yards from your dining table or the bar.  Stingaree is famous for its views of sunsets over Galveston Bay.  Unfortunately, my timing has not yet allowed me to enjoy one.  But, someday.

Continuing just a little further south on Highway-87, you reach the landing for the Port-Bolivar/Galveston Ferry, which is free to take your car across on, and which takes you to Galveston.  There may be a bit of a line of cars waiting for the ferry, but the wait is pleasant and worth the ferry-ride and water-views.

There are a lot of good restaurants in Galveston.  And if you are looking for some dessert, after your meal at Stingaree, I would suggest the Sunflower Bakery & Café on 14th Street as one.  From Galveston, it’s an easy drive back into Houston, so this day-trip makes a convenient, scenic loop (Am I sounding like a PBS travel-host, much?  Ay-yay-yay!  I’m making myself crazy.).

On this leg of my trip, I’m only in Houston for one night…one night of dancing at one of the dance halls I mentioned earlier.  From New Orleans, I’m anticipating arriving in Houston during the afternoon rush-hour, which is notoriously challenging.  So, my plan is to try to avoid most of it by taking the Bolivar Peninsula/Galveston route, and hopefully enjoying a relaxing dinner at Stingaree.  Best laid plans.  Wish me luck!