Considering all the venues in the area, you wouldn't necessarily expect to find great music at a strip-mall Italian restaurant like ZuRoma Sicilian Kitchen.
Then again, Nick Choate isn't your typical musician.
Choate owns Blue Smoke Studios, a Fort Worth recording and practice studio that has become a unifying element for a large part of the city's music scene. The group of musicians who record and practice there are collectively referred to by insiders as the "Blue Smoke Mafia."
In typically modest fashion, Choate denies the existence of any such group. ("I'm just a guy who can get things done," he says.) But others aren't quite so reluctant to spill the beans. According to Blaine Crews, drummer for the Campaign, Dazey Chain, No Civilians and the Orbans, "To me, the Blue Smoke Mafia is the coolest part of music in Fort Worth. There's a reason people go to Blue Smoke Studio -- it's the standard that comes out of there." (Other Blue Smoke members include Josh Weathers, Luke Wade, Sam Anderson, Mike Richardson and far too many others to list here.)
You won't see Choate's name in the headlines as much as other local musicians' -- and that's the way he likes it. But if you're looking for good music, all you have to do is find out where Choate will be. On March 10, he was playing at ZuRoma in Grapevine.
Choate started the set with a few covers, such as Ophelia by the Band, and Walking in Memphis by Marc Cohn. His acoustic guitar was tight and percussive, and the vocals were powerful and emotionally charged. Choate could probably sing about what he had for breakfast and leave you with a strong soulful attachment to bacon and eggs.
He next did an original, then Amos Lee's Southern Girl, followed by Listen to the Music by the Doobie Brothers. He finished up the first half of the show with some Mellencamp, Prince, Martin Sexton and even an Alicia Keys song.
Choate later turned his guitar over to Luke Wade, who played original material and handed out free copies of the latest CD by his band, No Civilians.
From that point, the evening turned room started to fill with unexpected musicians. Josh Weathers, Big Mike Richardson, Jeff Dazey and Blaine Crews all turned up. (Choate, who has a habit of filling in for bands who are short a musician, has played with all of these guys many times before.)
Weathers performed a startlingly accurate Stevie Nicks tune, and then he and Choate did a cover of the Eagles' One of These Nights -- with Weathers vocalizing the guitar solo instead of playing it. They did covers of More Than Words by Extreme, Don Henley's The Heart of the Matter and even some Lyle Lovett. The audience joined in throughout the night, including the manager of ZuRoma.
Choate and Crews finished up with Prince's Purple Rain. Not the high point of the evening. (It can be said of Crews' vocal performance that he is an excellent drummer.) One might also complain about the lack of originals over the course of the evening.
But there's no denying that Choate and his mafia can put on a great show, even in an Italian restaurant.
Choate can be seen at ZuRoma every other Wednesday.
Information on his studio can be found at www.myspace.com/bluesmokestudio