Bistro Nights 

Hayward club is a hotbed of roots rock.

Hayward isn't the first place most people associate with a happening music scene, but the fact is that the East Bay's most important roots-rock music spot is nestled in the bustling downtown of the city that bills itself as "the Heart of the Bay." Since the mid-'90s, the Bistro has served as a vital proving ground for Bay Area bands, providing an intimate space where musicians can break in new material and develop a group sound. Train, the band that won a Grammy last year with "Drops of Jupiter," the title track of its latest album, honed its Southern rock sensibility at the Bistro several years ago. With no cover and a capacity of 75, live music every night, and a well-stocked espresso and microbrew bar, the venue blends the amenities of an upscale cafe with the stage-centric design of a well-conceived nightclub.

"Musicians love playing here," says Vic Kralj, who owns and runs the Bistro with his wife Cynthia. "We get touring acts coming through, but mostly we present local players who are exploring and refining new material and are looking for a music-savvy audience."

The high-octane Americana band Houston Jones makes the strongest case for the club's ongoing commitment to evolving artists. Founded as a duo in the fall of 2001 by Glenn "Houston" Pomianek -- a mild-mannered Oracle employee by day and a wicked left-handed guitar slinger by night -- and veteran vocalist Travis Jones, the band has developed into a potent quartet featuring bassist Robert "Woody" Trevorrow and drummer Peter Tucker. Part of what makes the group so effective is that it seamlessly blends its instrumental prowess with impressive vocal harmonies, often dropping a dramatically rendered four-part a cappella gospel number into the middle of a set. With a repertoire that ranges across the American musical landscape, from the Celtic strains of Appalachia to the greasy shores of Muscle Shoals, Houston Jones uses its twice-monthly gig at the Bistro as a sonic laboratory.

"Nailing down our genre is like herding cats," Pomianek says. "We're all over the map. We kind of bill ourselves as Americana, but that's fast and loose. We do everything from electric blues to bluegrass, some acoustic Irish type of stuff to folk, country, rock, and gospel."

The band is part of the broad sweep of Bay Area music history. Tucker first made his mark here in the late '60s with Pacific Gas and Electric and the Beau Brummels, though as a busy session musician he has played and recorded with folk, jazz, country, blues, and rock combos, including Large and in the Way, which also featured Pomianek and Jones. Trevorrow, Pomianek, and Jones were all part of the country-rock band Hearts on Fire, a group that won a Bammie back in the day when it was a fairly prestigious award. While Houston Jones has played all over the Bay Area, including a raucous album release gig at Freight & Salvage last January that will be released as the band's second CD in the summer, it has found a cozy musical home in Hayward. Houston Jones plays the Bistro, 1001 B Street, Hayward, on April 24, May 3, May 29, June 6, and June 26, 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. 510-886-8525.

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