By Scott Sechman | Correspondent
Working musicians are, if they are competent and a tad lucky, working. As a result, they don’t get to go out and hear others’ live music much. When a working musician is out doing gigs, most of the plethora of players you find on this beach are working, too.
Except in the off-season. That’s when the rubber hits the road and for the best all-around players, the playing season just eases off and really never ends.
That’s what I found when I came to the Outer Banks from Southern California at the end of 2015.
As I tried to get my musical foot in the door, my first stop was Art’s Place in Kitty Hawk for the weekly Wednesday night open mic hosted by one Monte Hooker.
Here’s this guy, with his white beard and ever-present hat, reigning over, what appeared to me to be, a fairly chaotic situation. A little tiny room, packed to the gills with patrons and musicians and the only access to the bathroom for everybody in the room being right through the “stage.”
And he pulled it off like it was nothing. That’s what years of experience coupled with his love of music bring.
Whether you’re a seasoned pro dropping by to showcase a newly written song or two, or an aspiring artist dipping your toe into the vast musical ocean for the first time, Monte Hooker will give you respect and whatever help you might need to get up in front of that packed room and do your thing. That’s a rarity in the open mic industry. As a result, some of the top artists in the region and beyond drop by to partake in his efforts from time to time. He’s been doing this almost every Wednesday for the better part of six and a half years. Except, of course, during the darkest days of the pandemic.
Recently, Mr. Hooker eschewed his longtime “straight job” (that’s what members of our music tribe call it) working for “The Man” and went into business for himself, as an electrician. He calls his own shots now. That leaves him more time to do what he loves. He plays, and he sings. His love for music drives him everyday and year round, sending him out and spreading what’s in his heart. It’s a heart that holds nothing short of a massive catalog of some of the best songs written over the past 60 years and a desire to share them.
Talking to the Elizabeth City native is like talking to an old friend or a family member. It’s easy. … because he’s real. Nothing made up or fake. He doesn’t put on airs. I asked him how he’s faring this season, as in years past, he’d be working seven nights a week.
“I’m doing OK,” he said. “I’m back at Art’s on Wednesdays, weather permitting. … [Editor’s note: Art’s has a new stage in the backyard and hence, all musical performances are no longer inside] Because of the staffing issues at most Outer Banks restaurants, a lot of places aren’t open seven days a week. I’m working at least four nights. Besides Wednesdays at Art’s, I’m splitting time doin’ solo and band gigs.”
“Several venues that I’m working at besides Art’s [notably, Jack Brown’s Beer and Burger Joint and the Outer Banks Brewing Station] have new stages that they built during COVID to present live music to customers taking advantage of the outdoor seating,” he said. “It’s really good that they did it. It shows they understand that live music is an important asset to their business.”
When asked about the coronavirus that is still lurking about, Monte said, “Most places I play are outdoors. Because the vaccine is available, the management knows that’s helping to keep their doors open. They are mostly all for it, and I feel safer because of it.”
“I’m not playing at a lot of indoor spots, but when I do, I take precautions. I will wear a mask, if I feel I need to, and maintain distancing on breaks. I’m hoping by next summer things will be back to normal,” he said.
So, after you read this, thumb back a few pages in this issue of Coast OBX and look at the events listings. Seek out Monte Hooker and give him a listen. It doesn’t matter if it’s one of his solo gigs or with his band The Mo-Rons.
If you love what he does half as much as he does doing it, he’s done his job.
I might also suggest that if you are one of the aforementioned seasoned or aspiring artists, here on vacation or a resident like me, you’re welcome to try your hand at Monte’s open mic at Art’s Place from 7 to 10 p.m. on Wednesdays.