Saxophonist Rodney Howell wets his lips to play, ready to perform the music he loves.
It’s a love he wants to share.
Howell, a saxophonist for 21 years, lived and played in Austin for several years. He has played at a variety of establishments, from restaurants to concert venues, alongside a variety of bands from ska to jazz.
When he moved Harker Heights earlier this year, he worried there would be fewer music venues where he could perform.
But when La Rouge Jazz and Supper Club opened its doors in March, a door opened for Howell, as well.
“Playing at La Rouge gives people an opportunity to come out and see music that they don’t get to hear in the area,” Howell said. “And for me it is great. I love playing, and I love performing for people.”
The number of restaurants featuring live music is growing in Central Texas. Restaurant owners cite a number of reasons for adding entertainment to their menus, from enhancing the atmosphere and ambiance to promoting business and providing unique dining experiences for customers.
Schoepf’s Bar-B-Q in Belton became a music venue about seven years ago. A Thursday-night concert series features a wide range of Texas country, Americana and Red Dirt music artists from April to August.
Owners Ronnie Jr. and Staci Schoepf both love Texas music and the Texas-music lifestyle. They don’t strive to earn a profit from the concerts, which are free for people ages 21 and older and $5 for patrons ages 12 to 20.
They tried selling tickets to the concerts one year, but that proved to be not profitable because fewer people attended.
“Hopefully, we just cover the cost of what they are doing with food sales along with the help from sponsors,” Ronnie Schoepf said. “The concerts are not set up as a revenue stream.”
Now, the concert series is merely a promotional tool for the restaurant. Patrons from Austin, Waco and sometimes Dallas attend the concerts. While those people may or may not spend money at Schoepf’s, they at least come away knowing about the restaurant.
“We do 20 shows, and if you average 1,200 people for those 20 shows, you are looking at 30,000 people that walk through the gate that will buy barbecue and look at our restaurant,” Ronnie Schoepf said.
La Rouge owner Cassandra Johnson, who also owns Cassandra’s Soulfood and Seafood, dreamed of operating a fine dining and dancing restaurant since she was in her 20s. For her, jazz music creates the perfect fine-dining atmosphere, she said.
The restaurant features live music four days a week, from Howell playing a solo saxophone to full bands on Friday and Saturday nights. The solo performances are free but a cover fee is charged when the full bands perform.
Johnson featured live music once a week at Cassandra’s but stopped when she opened her second restaurant. In some cases, the bands at Cassandra’s stifled the restaurant’s business because customers came only to hear the music and didn’t purchase food or drinks, she said.
But featuring live music at La Rouge could help keep business in Killeen, which in turn will benefit the community, said Monica Smith, the restaurant’s ambassador of guest services.
Let Us Do the Cooking in Killeen also wants to capitalize on business that tends to head to Austin for music and dinner.
“I think the biggest thing is we are trying to create unique things that people can go out and do,” said Meredith Viguers, Let Us Do the Cooking owner. “You hear a lot in this area that people think there is nothing to do here or they go out to Austin.”
Viguers featured live music during the winter and had some success attracting families, She wants to start another music series later this year but has not finalized details yet.
Other restaurants in the area that provide live music are Miller’s Smokehouse in Belton, Bill Bob Burgers in Killeen, and Johnny’s Outback in Salado, to name a few.
Restaurants to check out that offer live music:
Schoepf’s Bar-B-Que, schoepfsbbq.com, 702 E Central Ave, Belton
Texas BBQ and Steak House, grillinandchillintx.com, 13178 Hwy 195, Killeen
Miller’s Smokehouse, wildmillers.com, 208 N. Penelope St., Belton
O’Briens Pub, obrienstemple.com, 11 E Central Ave, Temple
La Rouge Jazz and Supper Club, LaRougeNews.com, 868 S. Fort Hood St., Killeen
The Gin, theginatnolancreek.com, 219 S. East St., Belton
The Range at the Barton House, therangerestaurant.com, 101 N. Main St., Salado
Billy Bob’s Burgers, bbobsburgers.com, 3921 E. Stan Schlueter Loop, Killeen
Let Us do the Cooking, letusdothecooking.com, 203 W. Jasper Drive, Killeen
Plucker’s Wings Bar, www.pluckers.com, 3000 E Central Texas Expressway, Killeen
Johnny’s Outback, www.johnnysoutback.com, 301 Thomas Arnold Road, Salado
Taqueria Mexicano Grill, 232 Cove Terrace, Copperas Cove