Flanfire (Duggan Flanakin) is bringing LIFE to Austin music -- and telling the world how sweet it is!

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Christmas Eve - at last! Tomorrow morning, God willing, we will be watching our daughter and son-in-law help our grandson Caleb open his first Christmas presents and then sit down to a wonderful meal with our extended family. Then, if I am sufficiently recovered from what appears to be a cold, we will move onto another feast during the evening. Our day of rest is at hand.

Ah - but last weekend was more than full of joyful surprises. Thursday night was Ross' Old Austin to see the Brennen Leigh Band - and watch young Damian Green (age 13) play the fiddle with the band, stretching himself to try to learn new songs on the fly. Brennen had just gotten the news that she won the first round of the Nashville Star competition and will be competing again in Fort Worth in January. The band will also be hosting a Tuesday night series of music (ala the Threadgill Troubadours) at the North Lamar Threadgill's starting at the end of January. If you like Americana music of the older style, do not miss this band.

Last Friday the wonderful one and I were invited to join a friend with her extended family at Artz' Rib House to enjoy the CD Release Party being held by the Studebakers. Natcherally I had to scarf up one of their new discs for my mother - because the CD ends with "It's a Wonderful World." her favorite song. As usual, Artz' was a fun place to be, and I can now recommend the roasted garlic soup. Our unnamed friend is going through some difficult times, and it was good to see her out laughing and celebrating - and to be a part of the scene.

Saturday afternoon we took our goddaughter Candi to the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar - where I spent most of my time listening to Greezy Wheels and the Shelley King Band - both groups were also previewing new CDs. As one not around Austin during the Glory Days of the Sixties and Seventies (though I was in similar situations on the East Coast), I marvel at the freshness of the Greezys and their music, and at the sounds of Sweet Mary's wonderful fiddle. But I am always thrilled to get to see Penny Jo Pullus singing backup with the band - as this Yankee (upstate New York) girl is full of spit and spirit. Cleve Hattersley still reminds me of Frank Zappa (in personality, at least), and Lissa is ever the enchantress on stage. The Greezys are playing at the Saxon in January - not bad for a band that got back together after decades off to play at the Soap Creek Reunion two years ago and have not quit gigging since.

Shelley, Perry, and the gang (Kris and Bonnie this time) are thrilled to be selling their CD recorded live at Gruene Hall last summer. I was thrilled to learn that one (or is it two?) of my own photos graces the CD jacket. My first credit! While they were playing, I ran into Beth Richard who was there with her boys and with our dear friend Steve Ulrich (whom we were already planning to visit the following day). I took 4-year-old Jake to get a hot chocolate and peanut butter sandwich, and his mom ran into the people who had built the house they now own. Candi spent multiple minutes holding young Tommy to her great delight, and we all enjoyed the band and the camaraderie. Also present in the house was the one and only Rob Roy Parnell with his wife and baby. Do catch Rob Roy for happy hour on Mondays at Antone's. It is always a great show put on by one of Austin's great guys (and a pretty fair harmonica player and singer he is, too).

After buying more Christmas stuff (well, that IS the reason for the bazaar!), we toddled off to our Christmas fellowship meeting in far south Austin (I call it North Manchac). And there, to my great surprise, was my old buddy John Wilson, who told us about his new gig at Bistro 88 on William Cannon just off MOPAC on Friday and Saturday nights during dinner. You may have heard John playing at Mozart's on Mondays or up in Round Rock at Saradora's Coffeehouse or at a number of other venues around town. He is a former Christian heavy metal dude who now plays soft guitar to set a peaceful mood for diners or readers or anyone seeking solace and rest.

Ah, Sundays at Maria's - with Maria herself dancing in place to the sounds of the Imperial Golden Crown Harmonizers. This week it was just Scrappy, Bhudda, Papa Mali, and the inimitable Nick Connelly on keyboards. Oh - and Leeann Atherton was scarfing lunch (the new soup which looked fabulous) and got called up to the stage to sing along on a rousing version of Silent Night (that was anything but silent). The guys were raising money for a Brazilian musician and friend of Malcolm's who had nearly died in intensive care from pneumonia and who has a little daughter for whom he is the sole support. There was some good news about his condition, and we all hope that he is steadily improving and being blessed financially. Susanna Sharpe is also raising funds for the guy, whose name escapes me (but Papa knows).

We were there to hang with Steve Ulrich, and after we closed down Maria's we trucked over to Flipnotics to relax and talk. Steve has been living in Guatemala ever since he released his second CD - Someplace Different - which features his anthemic song, Westernman (a followup to Salamanderman from his first CD). Steve is a spiritual-minded guy who is beginning to live his dreams - playing music full-time for a living down there and spending a little time back here in Austin doing odd jobs to raise money to put out a third CD and then perhaps to head to Europe (he plays in Guatemala for a lot of European tourists). Oh - Steve is having to head back to Guatemala early because one of his twin sons (Quin) is getting married (to a local girl). His other twin son and he will be riding the bus back south very soon - but we should see all of the Ulrichs before too long, either in graduate school (both twins over the next two years or so) or in local music venues later this spring.

So have yourselves a merry little Christmas or Hanukah or whatever - and remember that God is Love, and those who love are born of God - and that no one can truly love God who cannot love his neighbor.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Just a few little things more --

First, my good friend Angie Panzica (who was my daughter Susan's traveling companion to places like Mardi Gras) is having serious surgery today (December 16) - the last of what has been many surgeries following an accident in which she was hit in her wheelchair by a moving vehicle. Angie is one of Patrice Pike's biggest supporters in Houston, and a great music lover. I remember taking her and Susan to the Houston Continental Club to see the Gourds. The place was packed, but her wheelchair got us up to the very front. She dances in her chair and hoots and hollers with the best of them. She is also getting her Master's in Social Work at the University of Houston.

Second, I want to urge all who are in Austin (and others who may demand the opportunity) to see Jackson and our pal Kris Brown on the Austin Music Network (cable channel 15 in Austin) in their comedy debut. The show is set to air at 8:00 pm on Wednesday, December 17 - and will probably be shown over and over and over again if you like it.

Finally, I wanted to add a note about one of Jackson's songs - Wishers and Lovers (I think it is called). He says there are two kinds of people in the world. The wishers (and this is my interpretation) are those who wish for things for themselves - another term might be the MeMe's.
The lovers just share with one another whatever good things they have received.

At this Christmastime, or any time, would you rather be a wisher or a lover? And are you willing to begin that great adventure of helping wishers become lovers?
What a looonnnngg weekend it has been (through Monday night)!

It may be remembered that the host of Flanfire danced until the wee hours on Friday night. Well, on Saturday, it was shop, shop, shop in the morning (in time to get presents in the mail), and then the big event of the day - the Antone Leikam birthday party. Eric and Michelle's boy turned 2 - and his parents threw a party and bought him off with cake and presents rather than two-year-old peers. Okay - there were several BABIES and the five-year-old singing sensation Jake Richard, but it was mostly grandparents, parents, and friends of parents who are also devotees of Tone the Titan. One thoughtful oldster bought him a percussion kit, complete with snare and sticks, marimbas, a tambourine, a flute, and who knows what else, and Tone starts keeping time to the music with his sticks, then playing some serious padiddles (again, in time) on the snare. We're talking serious rhythm - and this dude is just two.

[For those who do not know, Antone's uncle is a drummer, his mom is a singer and famous local DJ, and his dad is an equally famous DJ, songwriter, guitar slinger, and all-round good guy. But the little guy can really rock!]

Afterwards, the Nan-Flan and I tooled out to Lakeway to sit and sip, watch football, and garner tidbits of wisdom from the old Gospeldude hisself - Greg A. Then we went home and collapsed into bed after a stimulating game of Scrabble.

Bed was sooooooo good that I lay in mine nearly all day Sunday. Part of the time it was watching the Saddam capture news, part watching the NFL. But I did crawl out of bed in time to toddle down to the fabulous Miller-Crockett House Bed and Breakfast for one of the hottest shows in town - the Dress Up to Get Down hoedown, hosted by Leeann Atherton and featuring the music of Slim Richey and the Dream Band and Ben White and the Oltorfs (featuring none other than Cardinal Lane herself!). There was also an hors d'oeuvres contest (which means there was super snack food!) - and tours of the century-plus-old mansion built on what was once a spinach plantation, we were told. Popeye would have loved the place! Did I mention that we danced and danced and danced to the sounds of this fabulous band, whose members looked a lot like Jackson, Sunny, Tony V., and Leeann herself (with David Highfill - I hope I got his name right - on drums.

This was an early outdoor event - which meant that some had time to take their beloveds out for a late dinner. As the wonderful NanFlan was at home playing with the newest grandchild and our lovely Melo-Dee, I hastened back to the hacienda to provide any needed assistance (which was plentiful). But long into the night did I recall the joys of watching Charlie Robison's favorite dobro and pedal steel player (wearing a tux, mind you) dancing with his lovely and talented wife, of dancing with Charlotte V and her pal Bonnie, and various other pleasures.

But all of those memories faded into the distance on Monday night. After a very busy day of various errands, the wonderful Nan-Flan and I hobbited on down to the Third Monday house concert - which takes place in a very cool two-story apartment that is positively on Fourth Street. My man Jackson - who recently was featured in a column by John Kelso - was playing a solo gig, singing some of his hundreds of songs for a small but select audience. [Well, we were there! And so were the V's.]

Those who have only seen Jackson [Michael John, that is] play in one of his rock bands, or with Leeann, or anywhere loud] may not realize just how good a songwriter he is. His recent CD, Changes, only has a few of the songs he did tonight - including Mercy Street, L.A., and the title song. Tonight's set included titles like, True Love Never Fails, Loaded Dice, Living Proof, One of Those Sometimes, and Virginia's Blues. But perhaps the best line of all is in a wonderful song about loving someone for a lifetime:

My heart is with you as your blond turns to gray

There is depth in Jackson's songs that is rare even in this town. Heard through the instrument of his ratchety voice, Jackson's songs reflect his own walk (well, he does not even own a car) through life and the struggles to learn life's lessons in ways not so hard. He can be funny, singing about the music business, and he certainly is a walking jukebox of R&B and rock and roll oldies but goodies, but he is at his best chronicling real life in carefully written prose that becomes poetry as the notes roll off his guitar into your hearts.

One can find out more about Jackson at www.aberknows.com

One more thing -- while I was at the house concert, Tony V told me that the glorious Steve Ulrich is in town - for a few days before heading back to Guatemala for his son Quinn's big wedding. Steve, known best for songs like Salamanderman and Swedes from Minnesota, will have a lot of stories to tell. I have to find him and get some of those stories before he heads back south.

Saturday, December 13, 2003

Ah - the joys of a Friday evening after a long day of playing with my grandson Caleb, watching my daughter Melody (Caleb's mom) eat FOUR of my blackberry pecan pancakes, driving through the beautiful rain that we so badly needed, and then settling down to a long night of live music!

Earlier in the week, of course, we ran up to Ross' Old Austin for an open mike because our young friends Seth and Brennen were playing, though we had to leave before they went on. We did get to hear this lovely African-American woman named Jovette (I think), who sang one song in which she informed us that "I'm Not Tracey (Chapman)" and sang a couple of other songs she had written that were mighty fine. We ducked out, though, because we had to run to the Central Texas Harley Christmas Party to hear our pal Malford (the newly sighted) Milligan and band. Thanks to an eye operation, Malford is now learning how to ride a Harley. It was especially cool watching him give Nancy a big bear hug - and looking very happy to see us. It had been too long.

Did I mention that I have a new television passion - watching Joan of Arcadia, which features Russ Tamblyn's daughter Amber as Joan, the late John Ritter's son Josh as one of her brothers (he is in a wheelchair in the show), Joe Montegna as her police chief dad, and Mary Steenburgen (Mrs. Danson still, I think) as mom. OK - the girl has conversations with God (who appears as various people in her life and gives her assignments to carry out). In tonight's episode, God tells Joan to ask out the school ruffian to a dance that's kind of like a prom, even though nearly every adult and half of the kids are shocked and not pleased with what she is doing. Turns out that God tells her at the end of what had become a harrowing evening (well, the following Monday at school) that she had completed her assignment, which was to observe and be present in the world. Had she not intervened in the life of this tormented young man, God tells her, he would have exploded emotionally at the school and been another Dylan Kleberg, killing several of her classmates. Now, because she obeyed God and get a little into the boy's skin, he had a reason to believe that he might have a future, and of course her dad has also told the boy that he is now responsible for his actions even though he has been dealt a bad hand to start with. There are quiet life lessons in every episode - and a good bit of humor as well.

I have been excited to see a TV show that reminds us that walking with God is opening ourselves to a life of challenges of faith - adventures in seeking good for others and trusting that God will bring good into our own lives. Young Joan has already sacrificed her reputation on numerous occasions, and yet she is growing in wisdom and understanding - and confidence - every episode. By becoming vulnerable, she is making a difference - and it shows.

Now to the night crawling. So I had made plans to meet my cruise buddy Blake at the Saxon to hear our pal Floramay Holliday and her band. While we are jawing at the bar, this grizzled not-so-old character named Travis ambles in, drawing pad in hand, looking thirsty. He says he can draw a likeness of anyone in about five minutes, and I remember that Blake has an opportunity ahead in which such a likeness of his handsome (OK - he paid me to say that!) face might come in quite handy. [Private information not to be disclosed.] All works out well, but then it quickly becomes time for Travis to leave the bar.

I had planned all along to head over to Jovita's to catch part of Carolyn Wonderland's show there (Jovita's being such a great place to dance and all), and so I took Travis over there with me. A big Janis Joplin fan, Travis had never heard Carolyn (well, he IS from, and still lives in, San Antonio). Whaddya know! No sooner than I got in the door, I ran into a bunch of pals from our Texas singer-songwriter cruise to Cozumel. My pal Dr. Ruth needs a dance partner, and on a number of songs I oblige her. Great fun! Also there was the wonderful Olive and a bunch of her pals, and of course Carolyn and the Wonder Band. They close with a Duke Ellington number, after letting Lefty go for a five minute drum solo earlier in the show. If you have not gotten Carolyn's latest (and best) CD, treat yourself to a great Christmas stocking stuffer! A world of musicianship was displayed, not the least of which was the keyboard of Kole El-Salah - who tells me he is still trying to get the super guitaris (and good friend of mine) Pat McCann to trek into town from Lakeway at least once in a while to share his jazz-influenced licks with the rest of us music loving souls. Nine-year old Riley passed the tip jar - she is a sweetheart, and Carolyn says she is a very smart young woman.

Okay, so they are closing Jovita's, and I have already paid my admission into the Saxon - and the night is still YOUNG! Did I mention that Toni Price was the late show artist there? Well, DUH! Back in action, Floramay is hanging - and we discuss her photography business and my daughter's upcoming show wedding. Also present are the Dolans and the Honkytonk Angel herself - the ever-lovely Tammy. Caspar was himself worth the price of admission tonight, and I remember that I liked Toni's new CD so much I gave it to my daughter, who is a HUGE Toni fan.

Had to leave after her first set to come home and check in on the party that is still ongoing at our house. My goddaughter Candi is celebrating three weeks on her new job by throwing a party for stranded college students unable to go home for the holidays. Life is good - the house is not a wreck, even though my normal chair is in use and I have to improvise to share these memories with you.

Sunday marks 31 years walking (or trying to learn how to walk) with God - and oddly enough my oldest daughter's 31st birthday. It is a time for reflection, and having purged myself of bad vibes by having such a good time on the town, I am looking forward to a quiet weekend of going to Antone Leikam's second birthday party and getting Dressed Up to Get Down! Oops! Somewhere there must be a quiet time in the offing. Probably between sets by Ben White and the Oltorfs!

But of course the partying is not an end in itself. Celebrating with friends is always important, but so is keeping up with their lives and letting them check in on yours. Tammy told me of the fun she had over Thanksgiving with her two grown daughters - falling asleep watching a movie on TV and stuffing themselves silly with home-cooked delights. Ruth has a new chiropractor gig. Betsey's seventh grade daughter had a rough week with a virus and high fever (she's better now and went to school today).

And Travis - well, he is probably still not finding what it is he is looking for, largely because he may not be able to recognize it when it is staring him in the face. One wonders whether he hides behind his art (which he uses to attract attention and also to score some ready cash) and avoids letting people into what's inside because he does not believe that anyone would like the real him. So if you see him on the street or in a club, challenge him to tell you a little truth about himself. He could be quite a guy - he is a good dancer.

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