Everyone gets to be a star at Open Mic Night at The Poop Deck
The Poop Deck, at 30th Street and Seawall Boulevard in Galveston has long been a popular spot for beer, socializing and watching the waves. The space beneath the deck has had various uses over the years — a tattoo parlor, a head shop, a bicycle rental business — but had been closed and unused for a while when the owners were persuaded to open it as a beachfront bar featuring live bands on the weekends.
It’s a function as deep in local tradition as the Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier across the boulevard, which at night casts its mesmerizing light show over the water and the outdoor tables at the bar.
The bar is open to the air, like a traditional Texas icehouse, and the customer parking spaces in front and to the side are, on a Thursday night, filled with cars and Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
But the bikes outside don’t outnumber the guitars inside. It’s Open Mic at The Poop Deck.
“It’s an island thing, with local players,” musician Denny Norris said. “There’s a whole network of us, and we get together Thursday nights.”
He instigated the open mic event only last February, and is host with his band, The Buzzards.
Norris and The Buzzards are hired as a house band to keep things going, but “sign-up” musicians are encouraged to join in. These are mostly guitar players and singers, but drummers also take over Norris’ formidable trap set, making his evening’s work a little lighter. “Jammers” are theoretically limited to three songs, but if they’re really on a roll, that can be stretched. More than a dozen sign up each night.
“Open mics in general can turn out to be either ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ or ‘The Gong Show.’ Ours have been mostly ‘The Ed Sullivan’ kind,” Norris said. “We’ve been blessed with the quality of the people who come to play here.”
Most of the musicians are Galveston natives from right in the neighborhood.
“But we have people coming from as far away as Austin to play,” Norris said.
Two recent sets of visitors came from even farther away.
“When the USS Gabrielle Giffords was here for her christening, we had members of the U.S. Navy Band come in to jam with us,” Norris said. “And in April, when that Danish sail training ship was here for a visit, I think 90 percent of the crew came in to listen. For a while, the place was a sea of blond.”
A large man who bangs on the drums with a sure and forceful touch, Norris seems just the person for this job.
“I’ve been playing drums for 50 years,” Norris said. “When I was a little kid, I saw The Rolling Stones on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show.’ I knew then that was what I wanted to do.”
He became an avid rock ‘n’ roll drummer, and has played in, and led, many bands over the years.
“I never pursued music as a living, but I kept my feet on the waterfront,” Norris said.
He moved to New Orleans in 1977 to work on the river as a shipping agent, a job that entails taking care of all the logistics involved in the visit of a cargo ship to a port, from dockage to permitting to re-provisioning. Drumming was largely abandoned.
Norris moved back to the island in 1999 for the same line of work on Galveston’s fertilizer docks, first with a large firm of agents, then as a private contractor. Now he is “90 percent retired,” he said, and concentrates again on music.
In the wake of Hurricane Ike in 2008, Norris suddenly fell heir to a fine set of drums, abandoned to him by his neighbor in a sorry, soggy condition. He overhauled them, and was inspired to play again.
“It’s a set of vintage 1970s Ludwig White Marine Pearl drums,” he said. “They are big, and loud and have a perfect tone. I don’t muffle them or anything.”
Loud they certainly are, and drive the bass, guitars and vocals of “Classic Rock” to a volume probably best enjoyed from the tables outside, which afford a clear view of the band.
“Ours is the only open mic with a full band,” Norris said. “It’s working; everybody has a lot of fun, and everybody gets to be a star.”