On a cool Sunday evening in Indianapolis, with a chill in the air presaging autumn, I found myself headed up to the Corner Wine Bar to catch their weekly Open Stage night. The audience on Sunday was a little bit sparse compared to other open stage nights that I’ve seen there in the past. On Sundays in the winter, it seems like you can barely ever get a seat in Corner Wine Bar’s cozy little basement unless you drop by at or before 6:30 p.m., when the event begins.
“It seems like at the end of every season — especially summer— there’s a tapering-off of attendance,” Gary Wasson, the official M.C. of the Corner Wine Bar’s open stage night and a former member of roots bands Sindacato and Spud Puppies, told me. Wasson has been organizing open stage nights in the Indy area for the past 20 years. He noted that as fall arrives the Sunday night audience will return, as it does every year.
Wasson pointed around the room, introducing the various attendees, all of whom he seemed to know, and all of whom seemed to be regulars of not only the Corner Wine Bar’s open stage but of the open stage “circuit” in general over the past twenty years. And almost all of them, at least on Sunday, seemed to have history together.
Performing on Sunday were professional musicians like John Barney, a veteran of the local scene who performs regularly with his band The Passengers. There were also guys like Keith Hughes, Pat Brearton, and “Junkbox Mike," all old friends who’ve been playing music together (and solo) for years. Another regular to perform Sunday was John Newton, owner of Indy Hostel.
There were also newcomers like Cindy Ebberts, who delivered a moving set of a cappella folk songs that had a kind of plaintive, old-Irish quality to them. Ebberts, who said she recently started performing as the result of a promise to a friend who passed away this summer, left the stage to an encouraging round of applause from the regular attendees.
Walking back to my car that evening I could hear live music coming from at least two other places. For a moment it seemed like I could be on a street in a place like Nashville or Austin, with live music coming out of every other bar, beckoning people inside. And there is something comforting about knowing, even on a late-summer Sunday in Indy, musicians of all levels are out there doing what they do for whomever wants to drop by and listen.