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

Friday, May 28, 2004

The real trophy was at Ginny's Little Longhorn tonight. I started out planning to go to Trophy's at 9:30 to hear my pal Mark Ambrose (who used to have a regular gig there), but got "sidetracked" by a call from my daughter who wanted to go shopping and did not have a car. So after an hour with her and the Caleb-dude at Uncle Sam's Place (the new one on IH-35 north of Parmer), I trekked on down to South Austin. But when I got to Trophy's, Mark and the beautiful Deb were pulling away. Kris Brown (who was to play with both the Boxcar Angels and his own Family Sauce) explained that Trophy's had booked two other bands to play, and that seeing how it was nearly 10:30 already and the scene was quite ragged, I decided to head back north of the river. I knew that the Brennen Leigh country band - featuring Scott from Dark Holler on bass and Billy Dee's pedal steel player Ricky Davis, and the inimitable Cade Callahan on snare and vocals, along with brother Seth Hulbert - was playing at the venerable Ginny's, but I was hardly prepared for the ChickenShitSunday size crowd - all full inside and dozens outside when I got there a little before eleven. Redd Voelkart was in the house, along with members of Dark Holler and my pal Bill Groll and my pal Winker, and also Chris Rhoades, who has been playing bass for Wayne the Train Hancock for a while now. There were people dancing and singing along and having a real good time (as is common at Ginny's), but Ricky Davis was having a blast, and Brennen and Seth (who are leaving town next week for the frozen northlands of their youth) were really on fire, bringing down the house on nearly every song (but especially on the Johnny Cash songs they did). Marshall Jones of Dark Holler gave me a new demo of theirs - and you can catch their old timey music act at the Carousel most Wednesdays.

For Brennen fans who missed this great show, she is playing one more time in town before heading north for a while (with planned gigs opening for Ralph Stanley and one closer to Austin opening for Slaid Cleaves as part of her summer vacation). This will be a side project with North Dakotan Leo Rondeau (who just moved to A-town a few months ago), the aforesaid Cade, the aforesaid Scott, and even brother Seth. They'll be honky-tonkin' at D & L's Texas Music Cafe - rain or moonshine, I hear.

As we enter this Memorial Day weekend, we pause to honor those who gave their lives and limbs so that we can continue to live in freedom. May it ever be so, despite rumors of terrorism all summer long (Is it Independence Day the Movie yet?). Though I did just finish a novel by Carl Sagan's son about how the entire human race was wiped out by a manmade virus that Pandora let out of the box - and how the world's great scientists had slaved away to create a mutant group to live in space until they reached maturity, all the while being fed and developed by machines and virtual realities. Naaaahhhhh! And while you are at it, remember out 75,000 troops in Germany, our 39,000 troops in South Korea, and out guys in Iraq and around the globe (including Bosnia and now Hispaniola, to help flood victims) as they endure and sometimes succumb to pressures of living far away from home without a lot of free time to go to concerts and stuff like we do.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Two worlds connect in a yellow submarine - or something very similar. I have two very good friends who happen to be brothers-in-law (one is married to the other's sister) and whom I know from very different parts of my world. Last Saturday my attorney friend invited the babe and me out to his house in the Hills for "an evening of fine art, fine friends, fine food, and fine wine" - with the art being that of British painter and sculptor Edward Povey, who was present at the gathering.

A native Londoner, Povey began his art career in Wales, but has become a world traveler, painting and living in the West Indies, the West Coast, and the West of Britain. While his work is placed in galleries here and there, he has chosen to convey his art mainly through private gatherings, where he tells stories about how his works came to be. He gets very up close and personal, creating bonds with his audiences that can lead them to investing in pieces that have personal meaning to them. As an example, Povey shared how he had been taken to a maximum security prison in the Texas Panhandle to share his work with 150 inmates. As he related a story of how each of us always has the boy (or girl) we used to be at our side, we can always have a window to see the man (or woman) we have become without condemning ourselves. As these prisoners wept upon confronting their own selves as children, they took him on a tour of their personal workshops, talking freely to him as a creative equal.

Did I mention that the catered food and shared wine were indeed fine? I also got to know my attorney friend's wife, who is also the sister of my musician friend, and to meet their parents. The evening also produced joyful sounds in my ears as some of the other attorneys recounted to others in my presence how they rely on my writing. AhhhhH!

Sunday morning the babe and I trotted down to Maria's to catch a set by the Dimestore Poets - who have a new CD and will have a CD release show at the Cactus on June 23. Karen Mal has joined the band, and what can I say? She's like buttah!

Tonight, after staying in with the babe early, I trundled on down to Momo's for the first of many 10:00 Tuesday shows by El Kabong - aka the Kim Deschamps blues band. Willie Pipkin was playing hookey, so Kim persuaded fellow Charlie Robison band member Kevin Carroll to sit in (on 2 days' notice). I had just about given up and decided that this quiet evening had led the band to lethargy (not musically, as the whole set was hot, but physically, as they were just standing - or sitting - still and playing away)when Tony Velasco jumped up on some tables, some speakers, and other nearby high places during the final song of the evening. Kevin, by the way, will be fronting his own group at Momo's four of five Wednesdays in June, and he may show up again on Tuesdays to sit in with El Kabong. Jackson the walking Jukebox was in the house, as was Kim's better half Karen, who told me not to miss another young Canadian who will be coming to town on Saturday for two weeks of playing and recording.

One more thing - Props to my pal Shelley King, who has learned that Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood have just released a CD that features her song, "Texas Blue Moon." She's movin' on up, to the bigtime, just in time, too with a little son on the horizon.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Went down to Egypt - er, the Pyramids - which used to be the Empanada Parlour - on Sixth Street tonight to catch my pal Jimmy Lee Hannaford and had a great time. Jimmy had a trio with Steve Voorhies on bass and Layne Wiegert on acoustic lead guitar, and he got to sing lots of his older songs and some of his new ones - plus a couple of covers. The vibe was great, though there could have been more folks in the audience. But give the place a break - it's only been open six weeks, and the Empanada has been closed a long time.. Much in the new place is still the same - there is an outdoor stage and great seating, but the stairway down from upstairs now runs alongside the balcony rather than straight down. This is GOOD, as it gives a larger area with an unobscured view of the stage. Downstairs, the bar is the same, but the area nearest the back yard has been built up a couple of feet (to the outside window level) and the stage is up by the office. I really liked the new arrangement, though I did not try the food (good, I hear). I got to meet an old friend of Jimmy's from his daze in Santa Fe - dude is off to graduate school at the University of Chicago after finally getting a B.A. a year ago. What an inspiration!

Last night I took some friends by Ginny's Little Longhorn to see our young pals Seth and Brennen Leigh in their debut at one of Austin's finest bars. Brennen, honoring the honky tonk spirit, did not bring her mandolin, but played guitar and a little fiddle, with Seth on acoustic guitar, the inimitable B. B. Morse on slap bass, and Danny Hawk on pedal steel. Lots of scenes with old men (including my pal Bill Groll of Austin Americana) dancing with young nubile wimmen -- I even got on the dance floor once. Brennen and band will be taking Dale Watson's Thursday night slot again next week (he is on tour with his new CD that is a MUST buy!).

This morning I finally got over to the new coffeehouse in the neighborhood - Stars Coffee at 6539 North Lamar (right across from the Yellow Rose). Owner Cheyrl Law is a native Texan (from Gonzalez) who left Austin a while back to spend two decades in not so sunny California, and finally got tired of the rat race and came back to paradise. Well, it would have been paradise had it not been for the hassles she got from the city of Austin in trying to get the doors open to her little shop. Already, she has live music most nights and a poetry slam on Tuesdays - and all she needs is a few more good customers. It's small - hampered mainly by the city to a capacity way too low - but comfortable, and a good alternative to the overcrowded scene at Flightpath. And it is on the No. 1 bus line.

One more good plug for north central Austin - the Violet Crown neighborhoods between North Lamar and Burnet south of Anderson Lane and north of 45th Street - with spiritual extensions over to Airport Boulevard and down to 38th Street. The home of the ORIGINAL Threadgill's - and of the Stone House Grill on Burnet, a great place to eat good food while your kids play in the huge sandbox. We are also the home of Fonda San Miguel - and of a lot of great eateries of a less costly nature (such as The Omeletry). And it is an easy bus ride from my house to the Cactus and places on the Drag. Why don't you come on by and see us sometime?

Monday, May 17, 2004

Once in a blue neon moon, you walk into a room and hear something very, very special. I remember one night in Montrose Park in Washington, DC, where we spent many evenings enjoying nature at the edge of Rock Creek Park, someone said, Be Quiet and Listen, and we heard this wonderful young woman playing the flute in heavenly tones. Dozens gathered without a word or even a whisper to listen and be blessed.

Tonight was one such night. After going early to the Cactus Cafe to hear Amy Farris (more on her show later), many of us stuck around for the Kerry Polk CD release. I know Kerry, and I have heard some of her songs, and I have really liked what I have heard. I also knew that Kerry had an all-star cast on hand for her show: David Hamburger on guitar, dobro, and national steel; Karen Mal on mandolin and vocals; Jenny Reynolds lending her lovely voice in harmony - and more (details to follow).

But even I was not prepared for such a presentation as this. Song after song after song, all with lyrics and sounds that make all of us feel (as Carole King once wrote for the Byrds) "younger than that now" while at the same time a little older and wiser, too. Just listening to this Mississippi woman, you KNOW she has spent hours staring at the clouds and letting the world go by. I was, in a word, stunned and calmed in my soul.

Kerry opened with the full band - Cisco Ryder on drums, Lance Ashcroft on bass, David on electric guitar, Karen on mando, and Willis Meyers on pedal steel - with "Wheel Keeps on Turnin'", about a "wheel hanging in a cafe at the crossroads" that's been hanging there for over 30 years. "Sweet Little DJ" is an ode to midnight radio, and "Song to a Poet" honors the likes of Townes Van Zandt and other traveling troubadours - cowboys with a halo, lonely and with broken wings. "Horse in These Hills" is a song about a Vietnam veteran who goes home and gets hooked on heroin, while "New York City Friend" is just that.

All of the songs are gems, but some shine a little brighter - including the fabulous "'65 Ford Fairlane," with Kerry and David and dueling guitars as she recalls the vehicle of her youth; "In the Twilight," with songwriter Michael Austin showing off his skills on the clarinet; Jukebox '59, about her older brother sneaking into the black juke joint, with a paean to Jimmy Reed thanks to Hamburger and harmonica player Richard Brock; the super sweet "Swing with Me," a true story of how her great-grandparents met during the War Between the States - he from New Orleans, she from Mississippi, with Jane Gillman (from Rue La La and other ventures) joining in on dulcimer and harmonica and Karen helping on vocals; and "Shoot for the Moon," which on the CD is backed by producer Mark Hallman (who sang backup vocals on several songs tonight), Glen Fukanaga on bass, and Elena Fremerman on fiddle - a song in which Kerry provides her philosophy - Shoot for the moon, dance with the stars, look to the sun and be who you are... aim for the sky, aim with your heart, what it will take is all that you've got... and as you get wiser, just don't forget A LIFE LIVED WITH GRACE IS ONE WITHOUT REGRET. Finally, and maybe the best pure song of all, is Blue Neon -- a song that Dale Watson has to love -- pure honky tonk and even with a line about a Little Longhorn Bar at the crossroads where she learned to dance. Okay, it's a song about a lost romance, one she knew all along "would never last."

During the show, someone brought Kerry some beautiful flowers -- but there was no vase, and the flowers had to wait until after the show to get their due. The real flowers were already on the stage -- in particular (for me, at least) Jenny Reynolds, just down from Boston less than a year ago and already teaching teachers at Kerrville on the topic, "Let your imagination tell the truth: freeing the mind to create", and Karen Mal, a woman often called lovely to look at but whose inner beauty shines through on stage such that a blind man can feel the glow of her spirit as she plays and sings not to draw attention to herself (on such a night as this) but to enhance the enjoyment of the one whose night it is. Karen, by the way, is also playing with the Dimestore Poets, who are at Maria's Taco X-press at 11:00 am on Sundays and will have a CD release of their own at the Cactus on June 23.

Making the evening even nicer, a lot of good friends (other than the above mentioned musicians) were in the house -- Winker-with-an-eye (back from Florida and New York), KUT DJ and Lounge Lizard Tom Pittman, Martin from Waterloo, Dr. Ruth, Bill Smith and more. I DO have a disclaimer on Kerry's music -- my mother was also born in Mississippi and lived in Louisiana and Mississippi, and I have spent many hours staring at the clouds.

Okay, so back to Amy Farris - Folks, it just ain't fair to have her playing "second fiddle." First, Amy is a fine fiddler and viola player too. Second, she too had put together quite a band for her little show - starting with Lisa Pankratz on drums. She had Jerry Holmes on electric guitar and lap steel, John Ludwig on bass, Robin Ludwig on backup vocals and percussion, and Mac McNab (whom I last saw at the Cactus backing Michael Fracasso) on acoustic guitar -- Hill Country pickers all!

Let's face it - everyone always knew Amy could sing and is just plain amusing on stage. Okay, she is more known as a fiddle player for Alejandro Escovedo and then for Bruce and Kelly (in their pre-parents-of-twins days) and other notables around town. But she went off to sunny California to work with Dave Alvin on this record and got him to cowrite several of the songs. Not bad for a country girl who grew up in Austin and learned to play VIOLIN and VIOLA before learning to play fiddle.

The record (and her show) opens with a Bruce Robison song, Drivin All Night Long, and then Amy lets us know she is "Heading East" to find an imaginary ex-boyfriend. As Rolling Stone so eloquently put it, Amy is not all country - "The title track (Anyway - the only one on which she plays no strings) harks back to the girl groups of yore, "My Heart's Too Easy to Break" borrows a little surf music guitar and gets it drunk and "Let Go" is pretty much what Marlene Dietrich would've sounded like if she'd gone to Nashville" - said the Stoners.

Amy and Dave wrote "Pretty Dresses" in honor of Ray Price, for whom Amy once fiddled and got to ride in his bus - first single woman ever to do so, we learn from her website. As a tribute to her first time hearing Dave Alvin as a member of X, she renders her own version of John Doe's "Poor Girl." My favorite of the evening was a pure dirge, "Big Louise," which Amy did not write but which she uses the viola to create a mood -- "She's a haunted house and her windows are broken and the sad young man's gone away."

The Cactus was full to the brim for both shows, and will likely be full for Greezy Wheels on Tuesday before taking off for the hinterlands for a well deserved vacation. But in Austin there are always other venues.

This coming Saturday marks two years since we lost our beautiful daughter Susan to what is commonly termed mental illness. Natalie Zoe's great words of comfort, Jason and Beth Richard's invitation to a seder at their home, and countless other kindnesses have helped us through the tough years in this city that so often seems to live by Kerry Polk's own motto - A LIFE LIVED WITH GRACE IS ONE WITHOUT REGRET. As my lovely wife's leukemia begins to interfere with her time and energy, we face yet another challenge. But we are not alone, and we will live every day to the fullest extent possible. Amy Farris dedicated her new CD to her ancestor, Margaret Elmira Bonham Farris, who lived 93 wonderful years and left a warm spot in Amy's heart. My own mother turned 93 on Sunday, and she celebrated with an old wartime friend whose daughter was born when I was ten days old - then got taken out to lunch by a dozen or more of her good friends. Next on her agenda (I was told today) was watching a video of "Calendar Girls." Oh, yeah -- last month she got to see Willie and Bobbie Nelson on stage in our hometown. Had a blast! She's been a missionary and a teacher and has friends all over the world. She, too, understands and lives by Kerry's words. No wonder I like Kerry Polk so much.

See you real soon! Why? Because I like you. [Only older folks should get that one.]

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Sorry for the long time between posts. But there have been some good times. Let me start with tonight. First off, it was KRIS BROWN'S BIRTHDAY! So we hung out a while after he had finished a 13-hour workday. Then I trundled over to Threadgill's to catch David Hamburger and his "other" band - Beaumont LaGrange, which tonight featured Nate Roe on standup bass, Alex Ruebe on mandoline, Dan Torasian on clarinet, and Rick White on trumpet -- with David of course on guitars and dobro. Now that would be good enough for just about anyone, but add in CINDY CASHDOLLAR (more on her later) and you have a rare treat indeed! In the house were such luminaries as Jenny Reynolds (who'll be playing with a full band - including Hamburger - on Monday May 10 at the Saxon at seven o'clock or so), Kerry Polk (whose CD release at the Cactus Cafe on May 17 at 9:30 - after an earlier CD release party at the Cactus by fiddler Amy Farris - will also feature David Hamburger on guitar and Karen Mal on mandolin), and Catherine Berry - David's own spouse, who is starring in her brother Ron's play, Orange, at the Blue Theater later this month and in her own one-woman show at the Blue Theater in July. Lest I forget, these Tuesday gatherings at one of Austin's hoariest and most honored music venues are brought to us in part by Greg Adkins of the Gospel According to Austin project. The next two Tuesdays will be Austin's Best New Band (per the Austin Chronicle poll) WideAwake - which features Greg's own son-in-law on drums.

On Sunday, the frau and I spent the entire afternoon at the Violet Crown Festival - in our own neighborhood at Brentwood Park. And why not? It was the loveliest of days, temperatures in the seventies, a cool breeze and not a cloud in the sky (after Saturday's rains and wind and cold). There were about 2,500 of us who spent part of the day checking out North Austin artists of many stripes, chowing down on food from Curra's, Threadgill's, and Texas Rib Kings, and catching tunes from neighborhood resident Dale Watson, the lovely Sara Hickman and a cast of children, world music from Susanna Sharpe, wonderful ballads from "southside girl" Abra Moore (who was amazed at the hipness of the crowd), and blues from the Joe Richardson Express (catch them at Joe's Generic Bar sometime). Dale's brand-new CD was on sale (as was Abra's poignant new CD), and I snagged one = Cindy Cashdollar plays on one cut, and it is good. Sara has (I think) two new CD's - one about children and one for her older fans. It's all good.

Last Friday, Kris Brown and I trucked down to Tavern in the Gruene (my first time there), as he was sitting in with Bonnie (Whitmore) and (Jamie) Blythe - who host the happy hour at the Tavern every Tuesday. We had a lot of fun, and I got to meet Michael Recycle - and we got to talk recycling and stuff. I also got to meet the owner and his wife (their son runs the place and is also an owner). He told me that until a few years ago, the building was part of an active sheep ranch, and that the place was boot deep in sheep sh*t when they bought it and started turning it into what it is still becoming. THere are 26 hotel rooms, a swimming pool, and more on the property, and the building holds 260 people inside. The stage, however, is still a work in progress - the room has a tin ceiling and brick walls and a concrete floor. There is also an outside stage that is just about ready for use - as soon as grass grows and the dance area dries out from the rainy season. Of course, it is just down the road from Gruene Hall and the New Braunfels Music Museum and other places. Warning - there is NO FOOD - so chow down before you get there. On the same night, Carolyn Wonderland was playing at Threadgill's Riverside and Shelley King at Jovitas -- and who knows how many other great shows were in Austin and central Texas and the Hill Country that very evening.

All good, all good - but then there was last Tuesday, and that was awesome. It was the second night of the Cindy Cashdollar CD release party at the Cactus, and I slipped in late after an evening with the frau. I walked in to the sounds of Stephen Bruton on vocals and guitar (he also played his mandolin that night), with Cindy on the steel and one of many great songs. Also picking with Cindy were legendary pedal steel player and former Bob Wills band member Herb Remington - whose licks are still better than good; bassist Mark Rubin; and guitarists Steve James and Asleep at the Wheel veteran Johnny Nicholas - both of whom are endorsing National steel guitars. Words cannot express -- and I forgot some of the players and have not name dropped the other musicians just in the audience. Cindy's new CD is entitled Slide Show, and what a show it is -- duets and trios and such with Sonny Landreth, Mike Auldridge, Jorma Kaukonen, Steve James, Herb Remington himself, Johnny Nicholas, Lucky Oceans, Marsha Ball, and more. My pal Greg Adkins says he must have played the CD twenty times on his recent trip to Colorado. I am ranking it right up there with The Trinity Sessions (Cowboy Junkies) and Sessions at the San Jose Hotel, Room 51, by the Loose Association of Saints and Sinners, as one of the most listenable sets of music anywhere.

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