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Gonzo Report: Navajo Live’s open mic night - eclectic covers from Warren Zevon to Living Colour

Woodstock on Lake Murray

As the night progressed, so did the number of musicians with hopes of playing.
As the night progressed, so did the number of musicians with hopes of playing.

Navajo Live is nestled in a remote corner of the Navajo Shopping Center on Lake Murray Boulevard. The place has been on my radar for a while now, because every Thursday night is Open Mic Night, hosted by Jeff Ousley. I met Jeff a couple of years ago through a former girlfriend who’s a friend of his wife. He told me about the gig over beers at his house; the news piqued my interest, because I was fresh off my own personal experience playing at an open mic at Proud Mary’s on Kearney Mesa Road. Fast forward to a year later: I’m at Jeff’s house again for a BBQ and pool party. I tell Jeff I have to get out there to Navajo Live and check it out. He says, “You said that the last time you were here, so I don’t believe you.” That did it: on Thursday, September 15, 2022, I turned my intentions into reality.

Place

Navajo Live

8515 Navajo Road, San Carlos, CA

I took a Lyft to and from Navajo Center. Upon my arrival, I didn’t immediately see the bar, maybe because I was looking for a sandwich. Navajo Center has a clean, spacious parking lot, and stores like Albertsons, Jersey Mike’s Subs, Domino’s Pizza, and Wendy’s. I found my sandwich, ate it, then found my way to the bar, just a couple doors down from where I dined. I found it by spotting the Navajo Live sign: “Navajo” in big white letters and “Live” in smaller red letters, with a red arrow pointing in the direction of the entrance. Very helpful.

Sponsored
Sponsored

Once inside, I walked past the elongated kidney-shaped bar, glancing at the TV sets lining the back wall of the bar next to the liquor (all playing the Padres-Diamondbacks baseball game) and then engaging the friendly bartender Brenda. The walls were covered with big pictures of past performers. I recognized two of them: one was Ousley, and the other was a local who is also the touring drummer for the Rick Springfield Band — Jorge Palacios. The lighting kept the bar from being dark and drab; really, an excellent lighting system in my opinion. I spotted host Ousley getting the stage ready for the performers, the way he’s been doing every Thursday since February 2015 when Chris Heaney became Navajo Live’s owner. (That night, Heaney had to step in to do the sound, because their current sound guy Greg Bartusch was on vacation in Italy.) Ousley told me the music started at 7:15, which gave me time to belly up to the bar and order a cocktail. $6.75 for Tito’s & Soda. Beers go from $6-9. Reasonable drink prices. Sure enough, the music started at 7:15, with Ousley and his backup band doing a song. Early on, there were only six musicians and three people at the bar, possibly because the Chargers were playing on TV. Jeff finished his song and then the other musicians got their chance to play.

Each musician got to play three songs. The evening usually starts off with an acoustic set. Then the bands come on after that, and finally, the featured artist gets to play 30 minutes. The first gentleman was a big burly bear of a guy; he stepped up with his acoustic and started off with a Warren Zevon song. Ousley MC’d and ushered the performers on and off the stage from the back. The musicians waited their turns, tuning their guitars, appearing excited and antsy at the same time. I could tell by the way they were pumping their legs up and down that they were eager to share their craft. Ousley told me he lets anybody play who signs up and so he gets folks of various skill levels, from beginners to professionals. Some have their own material. There’s a mixture of older and younger generations, all sharing respect and admiration for each other.

As the night progressed so did the number of musicians with hopes of playing. Professional singer songwriter Sande Lollis (Enter the Blue Sky), accompanied by Ted Stern (Country Rockin' Rebels) on violin, finished off the acoustic set with a bout of Americana. I discovered that lot of the people liked to hang out more toward the back of the place, because it gets loud up front. I had the pleasure of having a conversation with Emily Bartell outside of the bar; she is the promoter for Navajo Live and Bar None Productions. I asked her what makes open mic special. She replied, “It’s eclectic. You get to hear different genres of music.”

I walked back into the bar to find Ousley rushing the current band off so the next band could get started. Later, he told me, “It’s like Woodstock, with me needing to rush acts on and off the stage, and they’re all playing different styles such jazz, funk and blues.” Then on came John January (Little Monsters), playing some smoking hot boogie blues slide guitar. He got people dancing. The artist of the week was Cold Craft: high energy ‘80s music, with songs such as “Devil Inside” by INXS and “Cult of Personality” by Living Colour. The band added a harder edge to the evening, and singer Tyler Hazen had the range to match. They even brought a smoke and light show. After their set, it was back to the hodgepodge of musicians to finish off the night, and time for my departure. But I think now I need to play Navajo Live.

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As the night progressed, so did the number of musicians with hopes of playing.
As the night progressed, so did the number of musicians with hopes of playing.

Navajo Live is nestled in a remote corner of the Navajo Shopping Center on Lake Murray Boulevard. The place has been on my radar for a while now, because every Thursday night is Open Mic Night, hosted by Jeff Ousley. I met Jeff a couple of years ago through a former girlfriend who’s a friend of his wife. He told me about the gig over beers at his house; the news piqued my interest, because I was fresh off my own personal experience playing at an open mic at Proud Mary’s on Kearney Mesa Road. Fast forward to a year later: I’m at Jeff’s house again for a BBQ and pool party. I tell Jeff I have to get out there to Navajo Live and check it out. He says, “You said that the last time you were here, so I don’t believe you.” That did it: on Thursday, September 15, 2022, I turned my intentions into reality.

Place

Navajo Live

8515 Navajo Road, San Carlos, CA

I took a Lyft to and from Navajo Center. Upon my arrival, I didn’t immediately see the bar, maybe because I was looking for a sandwich. Navajo Center has a clean, spacious parking lot, and stores like Albertsons, Jersey Mike’s Subs, Domino’s Pizza, and Wendy’s. I found my sandwich, ate it, then found my way to the bar, just a couple doors down from where I dined. I found it by spotting the Navajo Live sign: “Navajo” in big white letters and “Live” in smaller red letters, with a red arrow pointing in the direction of the entrance. Very helpful.

Sponsored
Sponsored

Once inside, I walked past the elongated kidney-shaped bar, glancing at the TV sets lining the back wall of the bar next to the liquor (all playing the Padres-Diamondbacks baseball game) and then engaging the friendly bartender Brenda. The walls were covered with big pictures of past performers. I recognized two of them: one was Ousley, and the other was a local who is also the touring drummer for the Rick Springfield Band — Jorge Palacios. The lighting kept the bar from being dark and drab; really, an excellent lighting system in my opinion. I spotted host Ousley getting the stage ready for the performers, the way he’s been doing every Thursday since February 2015 when Chris Heaney became Navajo Live’s owner. (That night, Heaney had to step in to do the sound, because their current sound guy Greg Bartusch was on vacation in Italy.) Ousley told me the music started at 7:15, which gave me time to belly up to the bar and order a cocktail. $6.75 for Tito’s & Soda. Beers go from $6-9. Reasonable drink prices. Sure enough, the music started at 7:15, with Ousley and his backup band doing a song. Early on, there were only six musicians and three people at the bar, possibly because the Chargers were playing on TV. Jeff finished his song and then the other musicians got their chance to play.

Each musician got to play three songs. The evening usually starts off with an acoustic set. Then the bands come on after that, and finally, the featured artist gets to play 30 minutes. The first gentleman was a big burly bear of a guy; he stepped up with his acoustic and started off with a Warren Zevon song. Ousley MC’d and ushered the performers on and off the stage from the back. The musicians waited their turns, tuning their guitars, appearing excited and antsy at the same time. I could tell by the way they were pumping their legs up and down that they were eager to share their craft. Ousley told me he lets anybody play who signs up and so he gets folks of various skill levels, from beginners to professionals. Some have their own material. There’s a mixture of older and younger generations, all sharing respect and admiration for each other.

As the night progressed so did the number of musicians with hopes of playing. Professional singer songwriter Sande Lollis (Enter the Blue Sky), accompanied by Ted Stern (Country Rockin' Rebels) on violin, finished off the acoustic set with a bout of Americana. I discovered that lot of the people liked to hang out more toward the back of the place, because it gets loud up front. I had the pleasure of having a conversation with Emily Bartell outside of the bar; she is the promoter for Navajo Live and Bar None Productions. I asked her what makes open mic special. She replied, “It’s eclectic. You get to hear different genres of music.”

I walked back into the bar to find Ousley rushing the current band off so the next band could get started. Later, he told me, “It’s like Woodstock, with me needing to rush acts on and off the stage, and they’re all playing different styles such jazz, funk and blues.” Then on came John January (Little Monsters), playing some smoking hot boogie blues slide guitar. He got people dancing. The artist of the week was Cold Craft: high energy ‘80s music, with songs such as “Devil Inside” by INXS and “Cult of Personality” by Living Colour. The band added a harder edge to the evening, and singer Tyler Hazen had the range to match. They even brought a smoke and light show. After their set, it was back to the hodgepodge of musicians to finish off the night, and time for my departure. But I think now I need to play Navajo Live.

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