Waco Live Music Series

By Avery Ballmann

Noteworthy Local Music Venues

Waco’s live music scene is so vast that we didn’t even scratch the surface in last month’s Waco Live Music Series. This month, we bring you three different venues that are in a five-mile radius of one another but provide different genres and a unique live music listening experience to their stages.

The Backyard Bar Stage and Grill

The name says it all: The Backyard is a concert venue that also operates as a restaurant and bar. The stage hosts big-name artists such as CeeLo Green, Snoop Dogg and Nelly, and the turf lawn transforms into an outdoor amphitheater filling our downtown streets with music and cheers from the crowd. Owner of The Backyard, Chris Cox said while the stage hosts nationally known artists, they are happy to say that many local artists have graced their stage too.

In your opinion, how has the Waco music scene changed over the last five years?
Chris Cox, Owner of the Backyard Bar Stage and Grill: There seems to always be one or two new artists a year that are exciting. This year there’s something a little different than you normally see at The Backyard. It’s fun watching them grow. I’ll give you an example: Parker McCollum first played The Backyard to a crowd of 85. The last time was 2,800. Then, years later once he has outgrown us, [he had] over 12,000 at Touchdown Alley. We just hope to see our local bands grow to such popularity. Wouldn’t it be amazing for The Huser Brothers, Holly Tucker, Suede or any other local artists/band to gain such stardom?

How does The Backyard help advocate for local talent? Do you think it’s important to support local artists in the Waco/Central Texas area?
Cox: Absolutely it’s important. Sometimes it’s tricky dealing with the large agencies and fitting in our locals. But we are happy to say many local artists grace our stage and many have opened for national artists like Nelly, Eddie Money, John Conlee and many, many more.

Why is it important to have live music in smaller, up-and-coming cities like Waco?
Cox: Music brings people together. Plain and simple.

Common Grounds Waco

Common Grounds Waco is known as the ideal study spot for Baylor University students and home of the Cowboy Coffee, but it also serves local artists with its outdoor stage. While the stage is no bigger than a garage, those wooden planks and red velvet curtains have been the beginning backdrop for many local artists. Their weekly Open Mic Nights have served as the first steppingstone for bands to turn into Spotify artists on tour. Venue Manager and Live Events Coordinator for Common Grounds Evan Graves found his career at CG’s open mic nights.

How does Common Grounds help advocate for local talent?
Evan Graves, Venue Manager and Live Events Coordinator for Common Grounds: Many of our open mic veterans wind up getting to open shows that we put on with touring artists, and they get to expand their musical network and reach very naturally. From there, we sometimes offer the artists a headline show, and they get to see their name in big letters on a poster and invite all their friends to buy tickets and support the music. As we continue doing this, I have gotten to witness the progression of an artist playing an open mic set to a few strangers, all the way to hundreds of excited fans buying tickets to see that same artist a few years later. It obviously doesn’t pan out to this extent in every case, but I do believe there is a very predictable and gradual growth for anybody that participates in this system. And regardless of the size or ultimate success of an artist, there are few things more fulfilling than watching any amount of growth in someone’s creative journey and getting to know that
you contributed.

How has local live music impacted you?
Graves: I believe that healthy cultures draw fuel from art, and that idea transcends the size of a city, whether big or small. I attended a show in Waco that literally changed the course of my entire life and set me on this path, and I believe in continuing to foster this community in such a way that others have opportunities to be inspired in similar fashions.

Are there any upcoming performances at your venue that you are most excited about seeing?
Graves: We have two separate shows in the fall with a couple old friends of the venue — one with Jordy Searcy, and one with Jervis Campbell. Both of these guys are the sweetest, and they’ve built up quite a following in Waco. I get to work with them every couple years, and it always winds up being something that I look forward to for months beforehand and think about for years afterwards.

Texas Music Cafe

The Texas Music Cafe is Waco’s own rendition of Austin City Limits. TMC produces live album recordings with an actual audience — an audience that are Wacoans. It’s not every day that a person says they’ve been in a studio album — unless you’re a musician — and TMC provides this unique experience between the artist and the audience.

How does Texas Music Cafe help advocate for local talent?
Chris Ermoian, Executive Producer/Creator for Texas Music Cafe: TMC has always presented both “Rising Stars and Lone Star Legends” side by side as equals, giving airplay on TV, radio and internet equally. Lesser-known artists benefit from the wider exposure of the better-known artists. TMC does not charge the artists we present for the content we create which includes a live album, a dozen music videos and streaming on 28 music channels (for free). These services would cost an artist thousands of dollars and months of their time to create. The TMC team has been doing this consistently for literally thousands of local artists since 1997.

Why is it important to have live music in smaller, up-and-coming cities like Waco?
Ermoian: Live music is most enjoyable when presented with good quality sound, lighting and at appropriate volume levels in acoustically treated environments. Music should be a conversation between audience and artist. Given a choice, most people prefer seeing their favorite artists in a smaller, more intimate venue.

Are there any upcoming performances at your venue that you are most excited about seeing?
Ermoian: Each performer we present is selected from a pool of hundreds of applicants each month. Each artist selected is unique
and special. Freeing ourselves from the “who sells more beer” criteria allow us to book uniquely different artists than you will find anywhere else in Waco.

Throughout the calendar year, these three music venues are consistently hosting shows, filling their stages with local and national artists. While Common Grounds provides a relaxed, intimate concert, and The Backyard brings in big name artists and Texas Music Cafe is creating a unique experience by letting people sit in on a live album recording, these venue owners can all agree on one thing — music instills community. Texas Music Cafe’s upcoming show is July 13 with the Americana duo The Union Revival; visit texasmusiccafe.com for more details. The Backyard Bar Stage and Grill has several concerts throughout this month with its latest being country artist Braxton Keith on July 5. For a list of upcoming shows, visit backyardwaco.com. While Common Grounds doesn’t have a show this summer, their next concert is September 20 with Jordy Searcy; to learn more about this concert, visit commongroundstx.com. And don’t worry. We still have more music venues to share with you, so be on the lookout for the Waco Live Music Series in next month’s issue.