Jay Toups likes being at the hub of things.

A singer/guitarist, he works at Acoustic Music (one of the shrines for local performers) and he edits a newsletter called The Intermountain Acoustic Musician (the local Bible).Amid all that, he plays about a dozen gigs each month, entertaining the natives at Ruth's Diner, the Unitarian Church and other spots. So when it comes to insights about life as a regional minstrel, he has a guitar case full.

"Let's face it," he says, "Salt Lake City isn't a big economic force for singers, not like Austin or the coasts where there are recording studios, contracts and and chance to rub elbows with people who have Top 10 hits. Most solo performers here are kids who'll probably hang it up after they get out of school.

"On the other hand, the people who play the regular circuit in Salt Lake City are very technically sound and they have a lot of integrity about their music."

Toups claims part of his own integrity lies in convincing listeners that folk music isn't all written by James Taylor.

"You can play `greatest hits' all night," he says. "I get a lot of requests for Simon and Garfunkel, Dan Fogelberg. People who hire musicians and those who listen to them are set in their ways. They have a sense of what the music is supposed to be. The trick is to take that - the `greatest hits' stuff - and take it another level, turn it into your own art, your own way of doing things."

Born in Mississippi, Toups came west with his wife. He fell in love with the mountains, she didn't, so now he's batching it. During the day he works behind the counter at Acoustic Music, but at night he likes to have a good look at the music scene. He points up dozens of nooks and crannies around town where solo acoustic musicians can be heard: Crompton's in Emigration Canyon, D. B. Cooper's, Gepetto's, Ruth's Diner, The Pie, The Santa Fe. Toups claims the best music, however, is heard at the monthly "coffeehouse" sessions held in the Unitarian Church.

"It's more of a listening environment," says Toups. "You have a real audience."

In the end, Toups feels if musicians put their emphasis on "making it," they have the wrong focus. Especially here.

"You have to approach it as a lifetime commitment, a career of sorts," he says. "I mean do doctors talk about `finally making it?' The key is to live it, to play music you love, play it the way you love to play it and then see if anything develops. Otherwise it's one frustration after another. It's a joyless experience playing your heart in clubs where no one's listening. But the experience, if you're lucky, will make you tough, not bitter."