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November 28, 2014

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Open-mic night works with, without guest musicians

Lipz and the Bunkhouse Band bring the blues alone or with others

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April Corbin

Keyboardist and singer Pam-E of Lipz and the Bunkhouse Band performs December 29 at the Bunkhouse.

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Lipz, lead singer and harmonica player of Lipz and the Bunkhouse Band, performs December 29 at the Bunkhouse.

Even on an off night — when it isn't bustling with those indie Neon Reverb-types and patrons easily can find parking behind the bar itself — the Bunkhouse manages to attract patrons with a style uniquely theirs.

At the downtown saloon's weekly open-mic jam featuring Lipz and the Bunkhouse Band on Tuesday, one man dons a floor-length fur pimp coat, another a bomber jacket with military patches sewn on. A third man at the bar wears business attire and regularly shouts, "Turn Pam-E loose! Turn Pam-E loose!"

He's referring to Pam-E, the keyboardist and one of the main vocalists for the Bunkhouse Band. She obliges, wailing out blues and soul tunes such as Aretha Franklin's "Chain of Fools." Soon, the vocal spotlight goes back to the band's namesake, lead singer and harmonica player Lipz (born: LaMont Wilson), then to the guitarist, Dana. Finally, back to Pam-E for a duet with the bassist, Julius Funches.

Even without audience members joining the quintet (which is rounded out by drummer Slammin' Sammy Garden and percussionist Jimbo Savarro), it still feels like a jam. No structured set list or egos here. Just flowing drinks, hearty handshakes and some good ole blues.

Lipz and the Bunkhouse Band have held their residency for almost six years. Accomplished musicians have jammed with them after Strip gigs; so have amateurs unable to tell the house band what key to play in. They're equal-opportunity jammers who'll play with anyone. Free of charge.

"We get a gang of kids that play..." Lipz begins, before realizing he isn't sure what to say next. "I don't even know what their music is called."

Whatever genre or style guests bring with them, Lipz says they can make it work. "Blues is the most basic of music," he says. "People complicate it, but it's easy."

As the band's first round of song ends, they take a break to chat with friends. A musician walks in carrying a guitar, ready to play. He'll have to write his name on the list, though tonight it looks like there won't be much competition. It's slow, Lipz admits, but that's just how the blues is.

"Sometimes it's up. Sometimes it's down. But it's always here."

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