Written by James Killen
I decided that I was long overdue for a good Matt Harlan show last week and saw that he would be playing at the Americana on Friday night over on Bingle. All that I could think was at the time was what and where? I drove the short distance to the corner of Bingle and Kempwood and right there on the corner in a strip center between the Golden Hunan II restaurant and the Dreamerz smoke shop hung a banner proclaiming the existence of the Americana. I walked in and found Matt at the bar.
There is a nice bar ambiance with tables set up pointed at the stage. The stage is well lit with LED lighting with a professional PA system set up. There is a selection of liquor available as well as beer and wine. Matt and I exchanged pleasantries and I ordered a beer and a bowl of mac and cheese. They were promptly delivered by Mark Zeus, the general manager.
Mark has been on the Houston music scene since 2000. For two years he hosted the “Redneck Jam” at Blanco’s and for five years, “The Bayou City Showcase” at Cosmo’s on Tuesdays. During that time he made contacts with a great many Texas musicians and led his own band, The Thunderboltz. Prior to moving to Houston, Mark was a big folk rock performer in Chicago, where he released a number of recordings and worked as a sound engineer for a number of Chicago clubs.
As the evening moved on to Matt’s performance, a small crowd of music lovers wandered in and found seats in the listening area. He performed two fine sets for the fans of a number of his most loved melodies. The sound system was great and the audience respectful and quiet with only some quiet discussions occurring in the rear of the room. I could tell that there was something good happening here and asked Mark Zeus if we could sit down and talk on an off day so that I could get a better idea of what The Americana was all about.
I dropped by on Sunday when the bar was closed and Mark along with Mike Casey and Guy Reed were doing some minor improvements to the establishment. I asked him what he was trying to accomplish here. He pointed me to the mission statement on the Americana website, … to provide and maintain a comfortable and fun environment that functions as a venue for performance of American Music, a coffeehouse/bar/eatery, a modest gallery for Local Art, and an overall social setting for those who enjoy, as well as those who perform and create, the music and art.
Mark added that he was not intending to limit the establishment to one type of music. There are plans for an open mike on Tuesdays, a honky-tonk evening on Wednesdays and to bring in local and travelling artists through the rest of the week. At this time the bar is open on Tuesday through Saturday with a happy hour from 4 to 7.
I asked him if he intended to maintain a listening room atmosphere. He answered that this is a bar and people can have conversations, but that he hoped that folks would show a little respect for those that were there for the music and take their conversations to the back of the room or to the side area. If anyone was really out of line there would be another conversation with him.
Mark was also quick to point out that The Americana was two things, the stage and the bar. He is facing all of the monetary outlay that comes with opening a venue and developing the momentum to make it a success. These first few months are a hump that he has to get past in order to make the plan work. If the bar doesn’t support the stage, then there will be no stage.
So if you live on the Northwest side of Houston and would like to have a venue close at hand, drop in and have a cold beer, Chicago Hot Dog, Tejas Taco or a bowl of mac and cheese. Stop in for happy hour and let the traffic die down on 290 before you head home. Keep an eye on the schedule, because I have heard from more than one musician what a great guy Mark is, and that they want to support him and have him to succeed. Support local music and local establishments. These are the things that add color to our otherwise black and white, work-a-day lives.