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

Friday, March 26, 2004

The last time our family had gathered in such numbers was the day we laid our darling Susan to rest - nearly two years ago. This time Payton flew in from Orlando, Genevieve and Ray from Phoenix, Ellen from Chicago, cousin Parker from Tyler, and other family friends from the Houston area to celebrate the marriage of our daughter Melody and her loving husband Ryan Taylor Cornelius - in the presence of their adorable son Caleb Ryan. Joining us at this happy occasion - held on the beautiful grounds of Mercury Hall in South Austin - were many of the dear friends who carried us for weeks, nay months, after the saddest days of our long lives. Beth Richard's beautiful bouquets and other flowers (including the flower wreath in Melody's hair), with orchids and irises and other flowers whose names men don't know, set the tone for the event. And it had been Beth and her husband Jason who welcomed us into their home and their lives with a special seder for our Susan just days after we returned to Austin grief-stricken and shell-shocked and virtually broken in two.

The wedding cake - chocolate with butter cream white chocolate icing and decorated with flowers, too - was made by our dear friend (and boot painter) Cheryl Latimer - whom we had first met at that very seder. Wedding guests and wedding party members ate ALL of the cake, saving the section put aside for Ryan and Melody's anniversary celebration. Music was provided by Michael John JACKSON - another longtime friend who was also at that seder evening and prayer time - and by our virtual daughter Kelly Lee Coleman, who has been our Genevieve's close friend since ninth grade. Special assistance was provided by Amanda Winters, another dear friend who helped us move into our new home after our old one was broken apart and who also attended that special seder. Our photographer was the lovely and soon to be married herself Floramay Holliday, whose music has always soothed my soul and whose eye for the camera is right on target. Melody's hair was done by her friend Brooke Olson, who is very close to Paul Michie, one of Ryan's overseers at Alamo Draft House. Best surprise of the day! Brooke and Beth are very good friends, but neither knew the other was working at the Melody-Ryan wedding until Beth walked in with the flowers - including the wreath that Brooke had to place on Melody's head.

Ryan and Melody wrote their own vows - and what vows they were. Lovely, in short. Cousin Parker performed the ceremony - which was just fine since the kids had long ago gone before the Justice of the Peace and made their marriage legal. And he did an excellent job of focusing the attention of the hundred or so gathered to join in the love fest. Candice McLane, who lived with us for sixteen months as her mom and new stepdad worked to get their marriage off the ground, was one of the bridesmaids - she was a picture of loveliness, accompanied by her lovely mother for the day. They had just returned from Illinois, where her husband and her brother had their graduation ceremony from U.S. Navy boot camp. She now has two MORE months to wait (while they are at advanced training) before she can join her husband, hopefully in San Diego, and moving on with her education. It was nearly five years ago that we joined the McLanes at their wedding ceremony. WOW!

Another bridesmaid was Melody's longtime pal Vicki, who lived with us during her last weeks as a high school student (and classmate of Melody). Vicki 4, a talented craftswoman, has since moved to Dripping Springs with her husband Erik -- both of them are redheads -- and is a joy to have around. The other two bridesmaids were Melody's sister Genevieve and Ryan's sister Heather. Ryan's handsome young pals Roger and Charlie and two other friends donned tuxes (all for the very first time) and did a great job escorting those beautiful women up the aisle. It was ALL GOOD!

Plus, the lovely Brittany Clarke - another Melody friend from our Houston days and a recent graduate of St. Thomas University - caught the bridal bouquet. Also helping greatly were Candace Engelmann - who poured the punch - and her entire family which did varous chores. Ryan's entire family - especially Travis and Neva (dad and stepmom) - are so nice to us all the time, and I was so glad to see them so happy too. I cannot thank everyone, because there were more helpers than people I know personally, but this was a WONDERFUL DAY!

Monday, March 22, 2004

Barn dance mania -- Theresa Andersson (born in Sweden, lives in New Orleans) rocked out - with Papa Mali helping on guitar along with her full band. This fiddle-playing virtuoso and singer blew everyone away (as might be expected). But perhaps even better was the Barn Dance debut of the Kim DesChamps blues band, featuring Tony Velasco on bass and Willie Pipkin (of the South Austin Jug Band) on guitar and a drummer pal of Kim's -- this troupe will be playing Tuesdays at Momo's starting in the not too distant future. Jackson himself joined Sunny Coleman for some fine jamming, and Erik Hokkanen also dazzled the crowd with his virtuosity. Wendy Colonna joined Tucker Livingston on stage for one song - she was to play with Guy Forsyth later (but I had to leave and missed Guy and the Grassy Knoll Boys and more). Also missed some early stuff. The weather was fabulous after a rainy Sunday morning. Nice breakfast at Threadgill's followed by a short but sufficient set by the incomparable Soul Stirrers -- the remnants of a group that left Trinity, Texas, for Chicago in 1929 and took with them a sound made even better by the late great Sam Cooke and later Lou Rawls (and more). Willie Rogers has been a Soul Stirrer for decades, and he knows how to show the love. Among their contributions - the Soul Stirrers was the first gospel group to feature a lead singer with backup singers (as opposed to the jubilee style and the first to use a guitar as a lead instrument. They are also the only gospel group ever inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The great music at Threadgill's continued with the Brennen Leigh Band (which will have a new CD out this week, Too Thin to Plow) and the Original Bells of Joy - whom Willie Rogers calls "legendary."

Now, back to the barn dance - at Dave and Cindy Cassles on Slaughter Creek. My first visit, and hopefully not my last. First time I ever met the little biker dude I had no idea as to the breadth of his creativity or his generosity, but over time I ahave grown to love this man of medicine and his lovely wife. As usual, the barn dance food was full of variety - from the grab and go to the home cooked delicacies. These are (for those uninitiated) parties to which people bring their children and their best friends. And so I brought my new and good friend Tom Hinze, whom I met last year at this time at a GIT concert at a private party east of IH-35 (other groups also played that day, but we hung with the Aussie girls). Tom, after months of jumping through bureaucratic hoops, has opened up Tom's Garage in Appleton, Wisconsin, which has already been host to the Danny Leigh Band (which coincidentally was the first act we saw in full this afternoon) and at least one other from the Austin area -- and he wants to bring more, more more. So naturally, I introduced Tom to Jane Bond, Wendy Colonna, and the fabulous Leeann herself (well, he is a bachelor these days) and also to a bunch of pals of mine who hail from the Badger State (Jackson, for instance). I also brought Seth Hulbert and his sis, Brennen Leigh and some more of her pals to the barn dance for the first time.

Leeann was handing out copies of her new CD with Slim Richey and the Dream Band, and Beth Richard was handing out copies of the new Addictions demo (that's Quatropaw's lineup plus one now playing harder rock). Leeann's other new CD is nearing completion (the one with HER songs), and that is really good news. I ran into Beatle Bob and the fabulous Amanda (who informed me she had driven the St. Louis DJ and super cool dude to the party) - twin harbingers of joy, to be true.

All very good - but the BEST thing I saw at the barn dance was the sight of my beautiful wife Nancy showing up to join in the fun and frolic. She visited long and hard with my pal Steve Ulrich and with various others, and was able to wind down from a long day (Saturday) of shortening the three skirts on our daughters' wedding dress. Reinforcements begin arriving Monday (our older daughter and Nancy's dear sister), and others continue to arrive as the week unfolds. All we ask is for sunshine and sweetness - and lots of love.

Saturday, March 20, 2004

Anticipation! Well, there's Sunday's SXSW Barn Dance, and then there's next Thursday's big wedding event at Mercury Hall in which my daughter and her husband Ryan will pledge their vows before family and friends (they had a civil ceremony a while back to clarify things for the political establishment). Meanwhile, of course, there is music galore - and not all of it directly linked to South by Southwest or its "NOT" alternative venues.

Last night, for example, I took the wife, daughter, and grandson to Central Market to dine and dance to the music of Susanna Van Tassel - the Austin by way of Santa Rosa (California) country songbird who in so many ways is the REAL
"sweetheart of the rodeo" (thank you, Roger McGuinn and Gram Parsons). Susanna - a long, lean Valentine machine - reminds one of Donna Fargo with a Texas twist. Not that she only sings sweet songs - Nolan Porterfield of the Journal of Country Music says Susanna has "one of the sweetest, saddest, happiest honky-tonk voices I think I've ever heard." From Roger Miller to Kitty Wells to Loretta Lynn to her own wonderful songs (many of which are found on her 2002 disc, "Little Star," this graceful mom brings your heart to a warmer place. She even has a new song proclaiming that she does not want to sing any more sad songs - but she still does. And did I mention Jim Stringer - a common thread who has helped so many of these young Austin country singing wimmen with his great guitar licks.

Earlier in the week I spent great time hearing and hanging out with three other Austin country divas - the energetic and newly married (just this Monday) Elizabeth McQueen (and her Firebrands, including hubby Dave Sanger of Asleep at the Wheel fame, gunslingers Chris Miller and Andrew Nafziger, and bassist Lindsay Greene) at Threadgill's (one of many gigs for her during the week); the not quite so newly (last summer) married Karen Poston (with guitarist Kevin Hollingsworth and an all-star band backing her and pal Penny Jo Pullus - both at the Hillbilly Lane showcase at D&L's Texas Music Cafe and sponsored by the ubiquitous Bill Groll. I stayed at that gig long enough to also hear Kaz Murphy play with the same band - HOT!

Penny Jo, you may know, also sings backup vocals in the legendary Austin hippie band, Greezy Wheels, but with her Vanishing Breed band the upstate New York native lets her grittiness hang out on such songs as "Hardly a Day Goes By" and other songs she did not write and "What's a Girl To Do?" (which on her record, My Turn to Howl, has Susanna, Karen, AND Elizabeth all singing backup vocals) and other she did write. Last year's Hillbilly Lane extravaganza was actually held at Penny Jo's own house and barn somewhere in South Austin.

All four of these fabulous Austin women are ten times better at singing the kind of country music I like than ANY of the contestants at the Nashville Star competition (excluding the pride of Nacogdoches, Sheila Marshall, whose country credentials were challenged on live TV last Saturday but whose voice and songwriting should keep her moving in the right (read, Texas music) direction. All of them, you see, are real women who write real songs about real things and live real lives with their friends and families in a real city with real people as their neighbors. And, as is plainly clear, they all help each other out and support each other's work. Now, that's Austin, baby!

Okay - keeping on my chick singer fling, I finished off Thursday afternoon by trotting over to Jovita's to catch a set by one of my personal non-Austin favorites, Susan Cowsill (formerly of the Continental Drifters and, well, duh - the Cowsills). Her new band - The Midcity Ministers - rocks, and Susan says Lucinda Williams is helping out her debut solo CD with a duet of one of Lucinda's own great songs. Susan has been in New Orleans for most of the past decade and has emerged from some "stuff" looking fresh and rarin' to go. I would say she is probably the Crescent City's closest clone of our own Leeann Atherton.

On Wednesday, after some solid sounds from Scrappy Jud - first with old soul and band mate Troy Campbell in a Loose Diamonds reunion and then with the Beaver Nelson band as part of a great Opal Divine's lineup, I boogied over to Threadgills to hear Mandy Mercier - backed by the incomparable Marvin Dykhuis (who played later that evening at Donn's with soon-to-be-21 Warren Hood sitting in) and a legendary rhythm section. It is always a joy to see Mandy smiling and laughing at herself -- anyone who missed her Janis Joplin tribute show earlier this year should hope that there will someday be a CD of that great show. Somewhere in the middle of Thursday (or Wednesday, it is getting blurry) I also caught a fine acoustic set by super songwriter Nathan Hamilton and a set from the Sidehill Gougers, late of College Station and now hanging in the San Marcos-Austin corridor and playing sometimes at Momo's. The Gougers are getting good reviews, and why not - they pay tribute to Gram Parsons. Brian Beken on fiddle and mandolin is from Montgomery, Texas (now there's a real small town for you); Andy Tindall hails from Alvarado (not much, if any, bigger); Shane Walker is from Crawford (everybody knows about Crawford); and girlsinger Jamie Griffin is from Sealy (where the mattresses USED to be made).

Okay - there is more to come. I also endured and enjoyed a hot set by James McMurtry and the Heartless Bastards - which of course bespeaks of the sarcasm and bitter poetry of the bandleader. It's hard not to like this son of Lonesome Dove's lyrical genius, but dang he often makes Texas sound like some unholy place. What actually amazes me is that you can actually see this guy playing in town so often, when he is surely so much in demand worldwide. I think he had six guitars on stage at Threadgill's - five more than he sometimes uses in sets some friends recalled to me. Hanging out with me during that wonderful early Thursday afternoon (I remember now) were my pals Patrick Fitzgerald of Austin and Tom Hinze, who has opened up Tom's Garage in Appleton, Wisconsin (where Packer fans are learning Americana music). All of that music (including McQueen and a cast of thousands) was brought to us by Threadgill's and Third Coast Music's John Conquest - who left Austin for the quieter, warmer climes of San Antonio a while back.

Meanwhile, wedding planning and Caleb (my grandson who already is a huge music lover at nine months) and wife hugging and kissing and other pastimes - and, okay, work! - fill up other hours of these glorious days during which I am thankful to God and everyone for the good weather. I have family coming in from Phoenix and Winter Haven and Chicago and other locales for the big wedding event - a true South Austin affair, complete with chocolate cake with white chocolate icing for all you lucky invitees!

I may have some interesting announcements in the near future about other things of value and vitality - stay tuned.

Monday, March 08, 2004

PS -- Forgot to mention that while at Gruene Hall I ran into Kevin McCullough, who has gigs coming at Momo's and the Saxon Pub (and whom I had met at Threadgill's a few Tuesdays ago), who was out enjoying the day with a friend, and a young Lubbock singer songwriter Stephen St. Clair, lead singer for the band Almost Cowboys (www.almostcowboys.com). His band was in the area to open for Rivertrain -- he gave me a four-song demo. His band has several gigs in Johnson City and in parts of West Texas -- keep an eye out. The kid can write songs.
Just got back from MOMO's on another beautiful evening in Austin. Went there for a reason, but when I got there I found more reasons than ever to have gone. But I digress. Let me take you back to yesterday, when I decided it was too beautiful a day not to drive to Gruene the back way (through Dripping Springs, down Ranch Road 12 through Wimberley and then on down 1002 to Gruene Hall, just touching on the outskirts of San Marcos). All the way down we listened to the Cowboy Junkies' renowned Trinity Sessions CD - which features my friend Kim Deschamps on pedal steel, dobro and maybe even some accordian.

The official reason for the trip was to catch up with (a) Bonnie Whitmore to pick up a copy of her new CD she made with singing partner (Tuesdays at Tavern in the Gruene and elsewhere) Jamie Blythe (www.bonnieandblythe.com) and (b) Floramay Holliday to pick up a copy hot off the presses of her long-awaited CD, Trouble and a Truer Sound. The BONUS was getting to hear Bonnie join Guitar Stud Kyle Judd in playing with Perry Drake and the Shelley King Band -- revisiting the place where they made their brand-new CD Live at the Dance Hall. The weather in Gruene and all of Central Texas was superb - and Nancy and I could not help but speculate on how soon we will see our first bluebonnets of the season.

Bonnie and Jamie will have their CD release sometime in April - but more on Floramay, who is off with Shelley to South Carolina (her ancestral home) to play a couple or three gigs and make progress toward planning her wedding to backup singer and fellow songwriter (we learned this from the liner notes on the new CD) Gabor Racz. OKAY, so Gabor really runs a medical supply business on the side. SHE will be having CD release parties at the end of March when she is back in town. I have personally been waiting a long, long time for this CD to be availale, and to be sure, Floramay endured a host of hardships along the way to its release.

Sister Nelson Holland did the layout and design graphics work for the CD book and also sang backup vocals, and brother Dewey Junior played harmonica on at least one track. Both are also members of the Roseneath Ramblers, named after the little shanty in which the family has long lived. The CD was recorded at Bismeaux Studio, and Ray Benson himself sings one duet (Baby's Back in Texas) with Floramay and plays lead guitar on another track. Also showing up is the legendary Guy Clark (who sings a duet of his own song, Anyhow I Love You - I remember the night that Floramay first sang on stage with Clark at a gig I did not see, because she had stopped by with her dad to do a few songs at a benefit being put on by my pal Tammy (www.honkytonkangels.com) Sajak at Mercury Hall - the soon to be scene of my daughter's wedding. Willie's own piano player, Bobbie Nelson, contributes to two tracks, and Caspar Rawls from the Leroi Brothers and Toni Price's Hippie Hour gigs (and others) brings his talents to the show as well.

Various other excellent musicians also make contributions, but one would be remiss not to single (or double) out Shelley King, who cowrote and co-sings two of the songs and does more backup vocals, and violinist/fiddler Eleanor Whitmore (older sister of Bonnie, daughter of Alex), who is currently toiling away at the newly opened Arlington office of a major environmental organization. Eleanor, who formerly toured with Slaid Cleaves, also plays all over the Bonnie and Blythe CD, and is simply wonderful!!!

Floramay, however, is the heart of this recording, along with her regular band members Mike Rieman on bass and Arty Passes (who cowrote one or more of the songs) on pedal steel guitar -- and (and this is where it gets tough) the gone but never forgotten Kris Van Robbins on drums. If you did not know Kris, just ask someone who did about this guy - or better yet, listen to Floramay's powerful tribute - the hidden track at the end of the last official song on the CD. When you hear her sing, you will know (and you can also get a glimpse in a band photo) how much this guy was loved.

Not being content with just hearing one band all afternoon (including a break set by Bonnie and some duets with Floramay), I strolled on over to the grand opening of the Lone Star Music Store - a few doors up the road. On the bill (along with free Lone Star Light) was the South Austin Jug Band (followed by Micky and the Motorcars, the SKBand, and others later in the evening), and after their set (which I just caught a little of) I visited with mandolinist Matt Slusher - and met his lady friend, Jen Obert (who formerly played fiddle with Cooper's Uncle). They and flat picker Willie Pipkin and bassist Will Dupuy and fiddler Dennis Ludicker and even front man James Hyland all said they had been missing seeing me at their shows and invited me to come to Momo's because they are now playing an earlier set - at 9:30 pm Sundays.

This was too good to pass up, especially since I also promised to try to bring Brennen Leigh and brother/guitar slinger Seth Hulbert to the show to talk about Jen playing some fiddle with them. Somewhere in the middle of my conversation with Matt and Jen, we started talking about Kim Deschamps, whose CD was prominently displayed just where we were standing. After handing the happy couple a copy of Brennen's first CD to listen to, I drove off into the sunset with the beautiful wife at my side and listened to Floramay's CD all the way home. FOLKS -- Fishin' (which contains the CD title as a line in the song) is five stars, and the whole CD is just a joy to listen to (and dance to live). BUY NOW IF YOU CAN!

Skipping onto Sunday night, I show up at Momo's a little after ten, say hello to Seth and his lady friend, and to my joy and surprise there is Bonnie Whitmore sitting at the bar. Jen strolls on over, and talks with Seth, and later with Brennen, and also meets Bonnie and begins to strategize about playing fiddle with Brennen and getting Bonnie to play bass with her and Kathleen O'Keefe (of Country Line magazine) in yet another ensemble in its infancy. ALL GOOD SO FAR -- and then as I stroll around the club, I run smack dab into --- KIM DESCHAMPS! Seems he and Willie Pipkin have been working on a bluesy gig for early week shows, playing Muddy Waters and stuff like that. Sounds scrumptious!!!

Much more conversation - and lots of great music - later, it was time to go. Mission accomplished. Proof -- stop by Threadgill's North (on North Lamar) on Tuesday evening at about eight and find out. Brennen and Seth will be playing with their band and special guests.

Friday, March 05, 2004

I have always tried to have a gay marriage - gay meaning joyful. Now some folks come along and confuse me with new terminology and new ideas about unions while at the same time half of the babies born in Sweden and about that percentage in this country are born “out of wedlock,” whatever that means. [Does wedlock mean, for example, that those who are wed are locked up together? What a sad concept.]

Anyone who has had a friend in the hospital or in jail but who is not a blood or legal relative knows one of the major reasons why homosexual men and women - and unwed heterosexual men and women - want to have certain rights bestowed via contract, whether it be called a civil union or by some other term. People need access to their loved ones in times of crisis, as well as in times of joy. They also need certainty in inheritance and in business affairs that affect common dwelling places. These are civil matters, and should be addressed via statute.

My chief point here is that civil unions or civil contracts of whatever nature cannot be based on evidence of any sexual activity, because asking such questions of people is an invasion of privacy. Should two heterosexual friends be forced to lie and claim they are homosexuals in order to be able to gain the right to visit each other in jail or in the hospital or to inherit each other’s property? What business does the state have in demanding sexual congress of any two members of opposite sexes who want to enter into such contracts for mutual aid and support?

The spiritual institution of marriage, however, is a far different thing, though marriage differs widely from society to society. In traditional Christian marriage, a man and a woman are said to become one flesh, though that covenant definition is widely ignored or abused. Entering into a marriage covenant requires that both partners be equal and that both partners surrender their rights to each other. Only through a mutual covenant with God can they truly die to themselves and live with Christ for each other’s joy.

In some cultures, however, marriage is little more than a contract between families to transfer possession of the female from her father’s house to her husband’s house. She thus becomes the property of her husband, and is not at all an equal with him. Curiously, many so-called Christian (or plain old American or European or whatever) marriages fall very far short of the covenant ideal (if they even had any pretense of such a foundation).

Today in America, half of all marriages end in divorce, many within the first year or two. Millions of American children are raised in broken homes, often where there is hostility between the parents, sometimes when one parent is completely out of the picture. Other marriages are legally intact, but hardly models of mutual love and respect - much less covenant.

Cutting to the chase, homosexual couples want to join this parade of marrieds and are already doing so where they can find a willing executor of the contract. The very idea of homosexual marriage has freaked out many in our society who find the concept either appalling or at the least just plain confusing. For example, Canada’s new marriage law fails to specify that two people who seek to enter into a marriage contract must be of any specific age, much less sex. Would a revocation of existing marriage laws open the door to adult-child weddings, which are allegedly popular in other nations? After all, men have been arrested in Texas for marrying 13-year-old brides, even though it was claimed that these weddings had been perfectly fine in Mexico. Would they allow polygamists or polyandrists to legally wed? And what kind of event is it when a transsexual weds a transsexual?

Going back to our first point, if sexual orientation were made wholly irrelevant to civil unions or other civil contracts, none of these issues would matter at all to most people. Very few are upset at the notion that a person might want the company in hospital or jail of a close friend or partner who is not a blood relative or traditional spouse.

Separating civil from spiritual unions would also enable individual groups to sanctify or otherwise authorize unions that authorize sexual congress and anticipate child-rearing activities and maybe even include covenanting to love, honor, and cherish each other for life. What this really means is that, for example, the Metropolitan (gay) churches could long ago have performed weddings that had no legal standing but would have had spiritual standing for their members. Mosques could perform Muslim ceremonies that would not require the sanction of any governmental entity in this country. And so forth.

In many places, separate marriage ceremonies are held before both civil and religious entities. Indeed, my own daughter last year was married by a justice of the peace, and later this month will have another type of wedding ceremony in which the government has no part.

Thus, it seems, we have all been duped. Marriage as a spiritual union is wholly separate from civil contracts that address property and visitation rights and other civil matters. Those homosexual couples who have only recently applied for civil marriage licenses could - and may - have been wed in their own communities of faith and support at any time without the state playing any role whatsoever.

There is a third type of contract that may be necessary in this modern age of broken commitments and failed child-producing relationships. Perhaps the time has come for the pre-birth agreement under which both parties agree before the fact on who will raise the child should they later agree to live separate lives. Such agreements could include clauses that restrict access to the child depending at least in part on sexual fidelity, drug-free lifestyle, or even future relationships with third parties. To be sure, in this litigious society, even these pre-child agreements would sometimes be challenged by unsatisfied former partners, but at least the cards would be on the table from the outset, and perhaps the two parents (or even prospective parents) would have an additional incentive to consider the children when evaluating the value of their own relationship and their need to work at it.
Marching forth as I did today, I got wet. But the day was good - for the most part. There is something about returning as it were to being a taxi driver (which I did in the nineteen seventies in Arlington, Virginia) but of course for no pay. Instead, I drive my wife and my goddaughter Candi and my unofficial foster daughter Kelly to work and back every day at various times, and I drive my grandson and sometimes his mother around on errands or simply as part of my role as child care provider. In the midst of all this, I sometimes get to focus on my environmental journalist job, and occasionally get to cook and do household chores. Once in a while, I even trot over to my landlord's to shoot some pool. Life is not all that complicated - but sometimes the larger things just do not get going (much less done).

But tonight was a major relaxation time. After scarfing some cream of asparagus soup and a meatball sandwich at the Brick Oven (and doing more taxiing) I darted out into the night to the Cactus Cafe to hear Michael Fracasso debut his newest CD, Pocketful of Rain (how appropriate for the evening). Beaver Nelson opened with five of his wonderful songs. His fifth CD is due out this summer. Beaver and Michael toured last year with Adam Carroll and Scrappy Jud Newcomb - and Michael told stories out of school about their camaraderie in the van. Scary!

Michael opened with an acoustic song off his new CD - Trying to Get Through - then cranked up his band (Mac McNab on guitars and mandolin, Rob Sanchez on drums, and George Reiff on bass) for the title cut - Pocketful of Rain. Just as he was starting, though, his guitar cords or boxes shorted out, and for a moment Michael wondered if he was destined to have a spoken word performance after all. But the management came through, and all was back to normal - and he did a bluesy song, then a folky song (maybe called A Rainy Day Such as This), and then a song with Beaver off his new CD that was written by Townes Van Zandt - called Loretta.

So then he brings up Patti Griffin, who sings backup on a couple of songs, including his chestnut Dirty Old Town from the Back to Oklahoma CD. And THEN up hops Eliza Gilkyson to join Patti on vocals for the rest of the set. Michael also explained that he and George had cooked dinner for the girls, but all they wanted to do that evening was talk. Michael will be taking his culinary skills to Central Market in May for another in the musicians as chefs series (Papa Mali had a memorable gig there last year). He is also releasing - VERY SOON - a CD called Retrospective which will contain many of his songs from all of his previous CD's (some of which are virtually out of print).

After a break, and one more song with the girls - Shoot'n for Love, the final song from the new CD - Michael reached into the vault for a set that included his version of Summertime, Chain Link Fence, Started Out on the Wrong Foot, and many more. I had to leave - taxi duty again - but everyone there was having a wonderful time. Michael is headed out to California soon, playing San Francisco and three times in the San Luis Obispo area where he has idol status. Sadly for the troops, his backup singers will not be along for the ride.

Mostly when I have seen Michael in the past, he was doing the folk thing. It took a minute to get up to speed with the full band thing, but the skill of his players and the fun he was having made it all worth it. Sarah Sharp, who has a new CD of her own, was sitting next to me. She got busy writing in her diary (featured on her website), and admitted she has been getting very little sleep while eagerly awaiting her trip to Houston tomorrow and her SXSW showcase at Maggie May's on March 19. Another face in the crowd was the songwriter Nathan Hamilton, whose lovely wife was shooting photos of the musicians on stage for their benefit. I noted several other musicians in the audience, as it is clear that many Austin music scene people are big fans of Fracasso, whose 1962 and the 1950's are some of my favorites ever.

After the quick California trip, Michael will be back in Austin for SXSW and other gigs before going back on the road to the Midwest in April. Check his website for details, and if he is anywhere you are, do not miss going to at least one of his gigs. He is one of my very favorite songwriters.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Got a call today from my pal Bruce. Said would we like to go see The Passion of the Christ with him and Laura Rose. After some negotiating with sigothers we organized the outing, and joined them at the Barton Creek Cinema on Walsh Tarleton (a theater that only those who already know where it is can find, yet which still gets fannies in the seats).

Before the film, we were eating popcorn and visiting with the hordes of Lake Travis Young Lifers who poured into the theater. Yes, there were empty seats on a Monday night at 6:45 pm - but more filled than empty. We watched the previews, and all of a sudden, without any of the hoopla that normally introduces feature films, there it was in front of us.

Icon - New Market - Gibson - and straight into the Garden at Gethsemane. The fog is eerie and forboding. Jesus is praying. Disciples are sleeping. Satan is lurking. Cuts quickly to scenes of Judas selling his soul for thirty pieces of silver. Then Judas leading the Sanhedrin Guard to the garden. The betrayal with a kiss and the rebuke. Peter's swordsmanship. Jesus' intervention and restoration of the guard's ear. Then, after some choice words to Peter, we see Jesus being led off to the Sanhedrin. Caiaphas and Annas are licking their lips, as their long-time adversary is now in their grasp. And that's just the first few minutes of a gripping drama that is interspersed with warmer memories and Jesus' own words of grace.

Saddest thing about the movie -- Learning that some American Jews, just like untold Muslims worldwide, are still picturing Christians as that bunch of adventurers who went looking for the Holy Grail and embarrassed the Lord with the Crusades. What's sad is how this bigoted worldview blinds them to the central message of Jesus' own life that he expressed in his own words countless times -- Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you (this goes at least as far back as Joseph in Egypt and maybe even to Lot in Sodom). Scenes of Roman soldiers bashing Jesus to smithereens reminds me of the LAPD in the Rodney King video -- but Jim Caviezel's Jesus bears no relationship to Rodney himself. King was fighting back like a man possessed (and indeed he may well have been), while Jesus offers no resistance, even rebukes those who try to stop the terror.

Besides, anyone who has read the Book of John knows (or ought to ) that "the Jews" was a term reserved for that group of Synagogue wanna-be's and their overlords who liked to lord it over the common people. Examples:

* John 2:18 -- Jesus goes to the temple and drives out the money changers, and His disciples remember that it was written, Zeal fro Your house has eaten Me up." THEN -- So "the Jews" answered and said to Him, "What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?" Jesus answered and sadi, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." AGAIN "Then the Jews" said, It has taken 46 years to build this temple .....

Again, in John 5:16, we find, "For this reason the Jews persecuted Jesus and sought to kill him.... And in John 5:18, we find -- "For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God."

This phrase - the Jews - is used over and over by John (at least by his translators) to mean just one thing - the leadrers of the synagogues who saw Jesus as both a threat to them and to their power over the people of Israel. By stating that "he who would be first among you would be the servant of all," Jesus directly countermanded their entire raison d'etre, which was to lord it over the people (as Jesus illustrated time and again). If Jesus had been born an American, "the Jews" here would likely have been replaced by "the power elites" or "the politically correct" or even some portions of "the religious right" -- any group of people whose power derives from threats, innuendo, and dividing the world into "us" and "them." Jesus belittled the Pharisee who had bragged that he was not like the woeful sinner, while exalting that sinner for not being too embarrassed to seek forgiveness and do works of repentance.

The ultimate haters of "The Passion" will be the poseurs - those whose lifestyles and words cannot stand in the light of truth. "What is truth?" was Pilate's most famous line - and Pilate in "The Passion" goes on to say that "truth" is HIS truth, and that any other "truth" is not so important. Just like the typical self-centered American (etc.) who has failed to understand that "dying to self" means simply trusting that God meant what He said about supplying all of our needs and also that we are thus freed to become servants, helping others reach their dreams (or rather God's will for their lives).

Laura spent much of the movie sobbing profusely. Others grimaced, while still others flinched. While some will focus on the beatings and scourgings that Jesus endured, I will remember this movie for the shortcuts into Jesus' early life - the incredible love he poured out on everyone he touched. Remember - Jesus had to die in order to show us how to die to ourselves, die to our anger and hatreds, die to our disappointments and shortcomings, and live, simply, to serve as Christ's ambassadors to wherever He sends us.

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