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Victory for Victory

How Victory Music earned the AMOCAT Award

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It’s Tuesday night’s open mic at the Antique Sandwich Company, and I’m sitting next to a storytelling gent.

He’s remembering when KVTI 90.9 began broadcasting the event, and remembers the date well because it was his girlfriend’s birthday, March 4. He meanders through the years, pinning down the ’80s, only to interject a “God, that is so bad,” referring to the vocals of the guy on stage.

“This is an act of charity,” he speculates; the act is intended to make others feel good getting up onstage afterward.

He surmises that some players at the Tacoma acoustic music institution have suffered from “not enough time in the woodshed,” explaining, “It’s an old-timey thing. You used to go to the woodshed to practice. Later, it became the garage.”

Rob Folsom, the gent chatting with me, has been a Victory Music open mic regular at the Antique for many years. He recalls the time when the Antique hosted “the best open mic on the west coast.”

“There was such an exceptionally fine group of women that would come to this event that you could fall in love three times just going to the stairs,” he recalls.

Folsom remembers the crowd moving on, later in the evening, to the Ruston Inn, engaging in jam sessions 30-people deep. He glows with the memory, and I suggest that I felt that same glow when I wandered through Wintergrass last winter.

He laughs, “I started that.”

And then the emcee of the evening announces the next act: “Back from Hiatus.” The guy who is the confusingly-named act sings about being 64; he sings about prescription pills to stay erect, he sings about breathing like Darth Vader while watching reruns of “Star Trek Voyager.” He sings with a kind of teen angst, injecting a Green Day-esque note, and he makes me smile.

I stay smiling because of the overall energy of the place.

It’s the kind of energy that welcomes young teens perusing MySpace while welcoming an immobile man in a wheelchair. It’s the kind of energy that supports acts good — like the trio Truce, who perform their first number admirably as a duo, waiting on the arrival of their lead guitarist, and then continue, with the lead guitar borrowing a guitar so as not to create a wait — and artists not-so-good.

It’s the kind of energy worthy of the Tacoma Arts Commission’s AMOCAT award for community outreach that Victory Music will be presented Friday night at the Museum of Glass. Kristi Nebel, who collects door money for the night, announces her nomination of the organization, gushing, “I LOVE the Arts Commission!”

Dennis Deem, board member of Victory Music and manager of the Tacoma open mic, migrated to Seattle from his native Portland to be a part of Victory Music. His suggestion to bring Victory Music online gained him a position on the board of the organization. He sees his aim as bringing the grassroots organization into the digital age. He wants to see the organization stay true to its roots, “primarily acoustic music, for the enjoyment of the music,” but he’d like to see marketing and membership boosted to keep the non-profit organization alive.

Basically, Victory Music as I see it tonight is an entity entirely built on its own energy. In the 600-strong member organization, volunteer efforts and occasional grants keep it afloat.

“The board of directors and the musicians really make it work,” Deem says, as well as community ties through such connections as Wintergrass, the Folk Life festival, Tumbleweed, retirement home visits, and various compilation CDs.

This year, says Deem of the compilation CD, “We’ve got a really good response with it.”

But as a long-standing tradition, Victory Music’s open mic night at the Antique is a sort of gift that keeps on giving. Storyteller Folsom chats with friends and performs admirably. He may join up with the Victory Ancients as they meet on Dec. 13, with Chris Lund emceeing like old times.

“When Chris came along, it just seemed like a perfect idea,” recounts Tammy Herridge of the genesis of the long-standing live music tradition, begun “a couple of years” after the birth of the Antique in the early ’70s.

And so, years later the energy of space, the energy of music, and the bolster of a public award serve to keep this volunteer-run organization going.

[Victory Music open mic nights at The Antique Sandwich Company, every Tuesday, 7 p.m., sign-up 6 p.m., $3, which goes toward earning I-91 airplay , 5102 N. Pearl St., Tacoma, 253.752.4069]

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