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Sing for your supper makes a comeback


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El Banditos breaks in its stage by offering a discounted meal for a three-minute performance on Wednesdays.

By Brooke Clayton

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Bluegrass performer Blake Daly comes to El Banditos for the burritos and plays for his food; one song is a small trade for $10 off his tab.

So, he takes the mic and plays a few. The restaurant recently expanded to have room for a stage, and his voice carries across the tables easily but doesn’t compete with conversation. He keeps a beer at the base of the bar stool where he sits and strums the owner’s guitar.  

“As a once-aspiring musician, I wanted people to play music here,” said Derek Perez, the owner of El Banditos. “The whole point is to be a community thing for anyone who wants to play.”

He hopes to bring a piano in soon to keep his guitar company. 

“My kid totally loves playing his piano and posting his videos on Instagram and stuff, so it’s like if you really want to do it, come play in front of everybody,” Perez said.  

Wednesday’s Sing for your Supper is not only a fun way to give local artists an audience, it also helps booker Trevor Lee Hopkins find talent to perform at El Banditos’ more structured performances Friday and Saturday nights. 

“I think the North Side needs a community-event space like this,” Lee Hopkins said. “I’ve hired two different people to come back and play.”

Sing for your Supper began in March, but El Banditos has taken a hiatus awaiting the return of students in August. Unlike the Friday and Saturday live music, the event is non-genre, with an open spot for anyone who wants a stage. 

“We’ve had spoken-word things, monologues — you can do anything,” Perez said.

“We’ve had comedy; he did a sermon once,” Leehopkins said, motioning to coworker Atrill Salazar.

“I go up on stage to talk about life,” Salazar confirmed. “It’s fun; I kind of embarrass myself a bit.”

During one of Salazar’s impromptu performances a couple weeks ago, he was freestyling music and a performer in the audience got on stage and started to join him. That sense of collaboration and community, of fun, is what the staff and customers alike love most about El Banditos’ stage. 

“I feel like it’s really good for people who have a little stage fright or just want to test their abilities and get a little free food out of it,” Salazar said.

To earn $10 off their meals, people must perform for three minutes. It’s a ratio that Daly says pays better than most of his other musical performances. And with a rich Mexican menu that caters to vegetarians and carnivores alike, plus Spicy Margaritas and Mexican Ash Trays served like water, Daly said, it’s one of the best deals in town. 

“It differs from your standard open-mic scenario because you’re actually incentivized … I really do like the food here, and if I can get that for playing a few songs, that’s amazing,” he said. 

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