by Laura Sidsworth
Check out Part 1 of this 2 part article on Fresno’s Starving Artists Bistro.Nykole Sullivan and her mom Terry Hibbs put together a bistro where artists can express their passion. Nykole’s husband Bob says that their bistro is “a family restaurant first, but you come here for the music.” All fourteen indoor tables are in line with the stage as a focal point. New speakers and a stage that fits over the outside fountain in the patio area brings the entertainment outdoors as well. Nykole reminded me that, “It is always open mic…day or night!” S.A.B. welcomes artists by allowing them to display and sell artwork all along the walls. Artist’s names and prices are clearly displayed, and S.A.B. receives only 15% of the sale to off-set maintaining, rotating, and handling the sales. I asked Bob how many singers/acts have performed since opening a little over three years ago, and his answer was a surprising 823! That number surely has increased since our interview. When they first opened Nykole says, “Everyone was too shy to start, and we would beg our more talented wait staff to sing at least one song a day!”
These days, on a busy Friday or Saturday night, a performer might find their performance time kept to a limit. Otherwise, as long as artists are not lined up, it seems they are free to play as long as they wish. S.A.B. has had all kinds of acts on stage: Bluegrass, Spoken Word, Comedy, Acapella, fiddlers, Christmas Carolers, and one time, an Armenian quartet, singing church hymns. Bob said, “We have been blessed ever since that day!”
Because it is family friendly, there is a strict policy on language. Bob says, “I have had to use the mute button more than once with comedians.” They are careful with whom they allow now, but there are two specific up-and-comers in particular, who while performing locally, often-times still drop in to offer up a routine: Daniel Eachus (a former Fresno native) and Sammy Obeid who both perform at West Coast comedy clubs.
Nykole says the community has been very supportive of the artist concept and the impact it creates for the performers. “They get a place to start, and we get to see people grow which is really nice to watch. It is a great family environment to be supported by, and it is a really casual place that keeps it comfortable for them. Everyone fits in. From prom dresses to sandals, everyone creates a cool eclectic mix.”
She continued, “It has become a hub to meet and connect with other artists, mesh different styles together. Impromptu jams happen a lot here! We have regular musicians now who play consistently, like Johnathan Sterling and A. S. Angelo. I know three people who play gigs with each other on a regular basis now. Several musicians are played on local radio stations, and one or two have even been signed.”
“Some professionals come in too, like Dee Johnson, a 5-time State Champion fiddler and bluegrass singer who also gives lessons. Lots of vocal coaches and music teachers come in with their students, looking to give them experience prior to recitals, in a small, comfortable setting,” Nykole concluded.
I asked Bob, who is in charge of all things musical? What the ages of the youngest and oldest performer have been thus far? He remembered almost 3-year old Autumn’s performance, and a 91-year old retired Russian Opera singer whose voice was still so strong that she did not need a mic!
The House Equipment: two guitars, an electric, bass, keyboard, and a cajone box drum. You can also bring in your own tambourine, guitar, or harmonica. Sign a waiver, and be good to go; ready to enjoy and bring more joy to the Starving Artist’s Bistro!
Musical Notes: S.A.B. is a drop-off site for Music for Hope, a non-profit organization that gets equipment into the hands of school students. Gently used or damaged, they will be made whole again! There is also a Starving Artists Bistro Musicians Facebook page where people can join to connect with each other!
Check out other local Arts & Entertainment articles in our A & E section and watch for part 2 later this month.