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

Thursday, June 24, 2004

The future of Austin rock and roll music was on display at the Old Alligator Grill on Thursday night (June 24), as the kids from the Natural Ear Rock 'n Roll Summer Camp (session A) put their wares on display after spending three long weeks in rehearsal. Among the bands, which featured kids as young as nine and not much older than 15, was an all-girl group, Chatterbox, average age nine and a half, Loose Cannons, and Wild Things (check out their MP3 on the website - http://natural.home.texas.net/

The Alligator was packed to the rafters with musicians, their families and friends, and regular customers who were all treated to two hours plus of rock and roll classics, flashy guitars and on-stage pyrotechnics, and a whole lotta shakin' enthusiasm. Jason Crow (son of Alvin Crow) had worked with a bunch of kids who called their band Don Videau (or something like that) - featuring an 11-year-old lead singer named Sam, a bassist named Ellis, and a drummer named Josh - plus a hot (bandana wearing) lead guitarist named Pat, whom Crow said was just beginning to learn the instrument a year ago. This band wailed through Back in the USSR, This Could Be the Last Time, and more with a lot of gusto and some solid licks.

Another favorite was an even younger bunch (nine and 10 year olds) who called their band Rain Set. These guys ran through Send Me Dead Flowers and Willie and the Hand Jive (a very rousing rendition featuring Peter on drums and Michael - who came all the way from the Virgin Islands - on lead - including slide - guitar. The lead singer, whose name I lost due to wet ink, directed us through the hand jive motions and had a great young voice and stage presence out the ying-yang. These kids really rocked - and made you believe in their work as musicians.

Next up was Oxymoron - average age 13 and a half - a group directed by Will Indian. Their 12-year-old drummer, a kid named Chuck, is already a star who pushed the rest of the band with his energy and rhythm and speed. Drum solo time here! Finally, my pal Aaron Hamre's charges, 12-year-old average age, dubbing themselves as Snakebite (a great name, saith Natural Ear Director Mike Murphy). With even more energy and showmanship than their predecessors, Willie on lead guitar, Quentin and John on vocals, Ben on bass, and Diego on drums smoked us through Foxy Lady, Sunshine of My Love, and Been a Long Time - three great classics of the genre if there ever were any. Quentin threw his hair around, Ben stuck the bass between his legs and kept time perfectly, and Willie moved his axe into just about every position possible with great gusto and flair.

From the audience's cheering and clapping and whistling, it was certain that nearly everyone got more than their money's worth - as did the players. Best of all, lest anyone think the music here is dying, I can speak with authority that it is alive and well and growing with a brand-new generation of rockers with attitude and style and skill (all improving a lot in three weeks of camp). The second session starts in July, and there will be another recital at the end of that session. Check out the website for time and date of that performance, and get your buns over there. Your whole body will be smiling by the time the gig is over.

The night before, I had planned a trip to the Cactus, but my daughter called and wanted companionship as she took our grandson (her son, age 1) to Blues on the Green - which last night featured the Imperial Golden Crown Harmonizers -- all of them. Shelley King (the newbie) on vocals, Carolyn Wonderland, Scrappy Jud Newcomb (just back from the Resentments' world tour), Gurf Morlix (just about ready to fly north for the summer), Nick Connelly, Paul Bhudda Mills, Miss Sarah Brown (who sat in tonight with the all-girl glam band Sis DeVille at Antone's for Any Baby Can), and the incomparable Malcolm Papa Mali Welbourne, who founded the group a number of years back. The Harmonizers play, of course, at Maria's Taco X-Press every Sunday when it isn't raining to raise money for local charities - they even take nothing for themselves from the sales of their premiere CD. This is their labor of love, their tithe as it were - their gift back to a community that has given them all strong support to allow them to be themselves and develop their art and craft in the live music capital of the world. At Blues on the Green, there were more DOGS in the audience than the number of people for whom the Harmonizers play every Sunday, plus thousands of music loving people of all ages on what was a warm and beautiful night in Austin (no rain). Blues on the Green is also sort of a warmup for September's Austin City Limits Music Festival - on the same grounds, and with accompanying booths for food and stuff. Lots of people were playing in the sand, and lots were just lolling around with kids, dogs, or both grooving to the sounds of what might just be the very best band ever assembled in our town.

IN passing, I want to extol the virtues of commitment and to praise the story in last week's (June 18) Austin Chronicle about Pop Stars: Dads Who Rock ... and the Women Who Support Them, which tells quite a story about the underpinnings of the Austin music scene and one of the chief reasons why we are so blessed. In Austin it is not an embarrassment but a blessing to be a father (or mother) and husband (or wife or partner) and also a musician of the first order. Just ask Papa Mali about his wife and kids and the importance he has learned to place on his roles off stage as well as on. Ask any number of these players - or just watch them carry their little ones around with them through the city and out into the countryside. It is sort of like frontier living, except that this frontier is an often hostile economic and social order rather than a natural wilderness. Just a few days back Kim and Karen Deschamps celebrated thirty years of wedded bliss - and another couple I know spoke of a very different attitude they encountered in Los Angeles toward the idea of commitment that ran them out of that town in a heartbeat. Here in Austin's underbelly we are creating a society in which strong couples encourage each other in their own pursuits and make outstanding lives together -- and part of the fruit of all of this love is some of our greatest music and art that demonstrates the overcoming power of wholly invested lovers.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Tom Stevens is quite an impresario, and on Saturday he pulled yet another rabbit out of his hat at the annual Harmonica Organization of Texas (HOOT) Austin Chapter fundraiser at The Pier on Lake Austin. First, he chose an absolutely beautiful day for an outdoor event as well as a fabulous place for folks to party - mostly in the shade. Props ahoy! Second, he made sure he had a place where there were good eats - grilled mahi-mahi and fried catfish in our case, with yummy veggies on the side. Third, he chose a highly respected co-beneficiary - LifeWorks of Austin. LifeWorks’ mission is to transition youth and families from crisis to safety and success. LifeWorks provides the most comprehensive network of services for youth and families in Austin. They offer a safety net of support to more than 10,000 youth and families every year. LifeWorks’ services to runaway and homeless youth are a national model, providing a pathway from street life to self-sufficiency.

Best of all, though, was the music, including lots of tunes from unsung members of the local HOOT chapter (Stevens himself included, backing the lovely Suzanne Smith). On stage quite early in the day was Rue La La's Jane Gillman, backed by guitarist Mark Viator. I recently got to see Jane backing Kerry Polk at her CD release at the Cactus, and Mark backing Jenny Reynolds (opening for Ruthie Foster) also at the Cactus. Jane switched from dulcimer to washboard to guitar but always had her harps at hand, and we danced to a Cajun beat for a while.

Then it was the bluegrass and Irish harp duo of Cara Cooke and Kenny Tweedy, in that order, followed by solo artist Jimi Lee (a bald white guy who lived 12 years in Hawaii), who dazzled the crowd after he repaired a broken guitar string. Jimi admits he just looked out at the water and went back to Hawaii in his head and started doing some mellow stuff he had not originally planned to do and it really really worked. This guys should be playing every gig in Austin that is on or near the water - his playing and singing and harmonica styling (some of the best I have heard in a while) just lifted folks out of their ordinary plane into a more mellow place.

Closing out the official HOOT portion of the day, Kris Brown and Family Sauce, featuring harmonica wizard (Michael) Rubin and an all-star cast of players. This is reggae, pure and simple, and people were dancing all over the stage. Then Guy Forsyth, whose band was to play an evening set, jumped up on stage and joined Rubin in a harmonica duel-duet that brought down the house and certainly was a very fitting way to close out the show.

Okay, so we stuck around to hear an hour of Guy's own band, featuring George Rarie on guitar (another Austin guitar legend), Ann-Marie Harrop on bass (who even let me help her unload her vehicle and bring her gear to the stage), and Nina Singh on drums (who had some of her family on hand to watch the show, including an elderly gentleman in full native dress just beaming and quietly grooving to the music - it was a thing of beauty). We slipped away while it was still light, after a lovely afternoon - all thanks to our pal Tom Stevens and his buds at HOOT. Okay, the whole day was a HOOT!

Tonight (Tuesday), Susan Gibson is up at Threadgill's north, and the show is FREE, so what is your excuse for not showing up? Tomorrow, I hope to make it down to the CD release for the Dimestore Poets (two others are also doing CD releases, so check your schedules for times and such), but mostly we are lying low. And, yes, we missed the barn dance in favor of having some of our kids over to celebrate Father's Day at home.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Wednesdays at Artz Rib House - tasty food and tasty music from Floramay and Shelley, the South Austin Soul Sistahs. But there's a catch. No show next Wednesday, as Shelley is joining the Imperial Golden Crown Harmonizers for Blues on the Green and Floramay is off to a gig in Wimberley with her full band (including guitar gunslinger Will Knaak). The following Woden's Day the daring duo will return for a final outing together before Floramay heads north to Buffalo and then off to her second wedding in Budapest, Hungary. Her second marriage to her first husband (for the European family) will occur in a millennium-old church, we are told. Shelley, meanwhile, is "due" in mid-August.

In a possible harbinger of things to come, our new pal Aaron Hamre took the mike during the break and played three of his songs. Aaron, who just moved to Austin, is from Santa Fe but has Texas roots. We spent the day with him and his wife on Sunday, starting at Threadgill's World Headquarters for the gospel brunch with the Gospelaires. Their brand new CD, produced by Dale Watson, is now available, and if you like gospel music, you will thoroughly enjoy and be moved by the work of Warren, Alonzo (Streetwize), and the band. Their two-hour set went by so fast we almost forgot to eat.

After stopping for coffee (chai for me) at Jo's, we trekked over to the Alligator Grill where for the first time I got to hear the Regulars. I especially liked the songs of David Allen, including "Wait." Jennifer in particular liked the guitar stylings of Mark Parish. Others include George Macias on acoustic guitar and Mike Roberts on bass - plus Ron (I still do not know his exact last name) on harmonica and occasional keyboards, and a drummer who was not introduced. Others among you probably know these guys much better than I. Often, I am told, they have drop-in musicians. Once, I have heard, the great James Cotton stopped by to grab some gumbo (or other faux Louisiana food) and joined the band on stage. Having seen Cotton in his prime and also more recently at Antone's in an impromptu duet with Rob Roy Parnell, I can attest to the quality of such a performance.

There is a regular (sic) coterie of Austin music lovers who frequent the Alligator on Sunday afternoons, some of whom normally wander across and down the street to the Saxon Pub for the Resentments. Lovers of that band have been fasting for a while during the band's tour of Europe, but I hear the boys will be back next Sunday. Of course, that is also the day of the Father's Day Barn Dance - so people will have to choose. Sigh!

After our rousing afternoon of music, we had a quiet dinner at home with our new friends. It was a very good day.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Ruthie Foster is always a gas. Tonight at the Cactus Cafe, she was having so much fun - mainly as harmonica virtuoso (Michael) Rubin was blowing her mind blowing his harp - that she forgot some of the lines of her songs. Not once, but twice in the first set alone, Ruthie had to take an extra minute to get her mind back on singing.

Ruthie had run into Rubin at Kerrville just days ago - as she was about to leave the festival grounds, she ran into another friend (singer-songwriter John Smith) and was sharing stories and songs, when she heard Rubin fainly accompanying her vocals and turned around and said (after some intervening conversation), "Hello. I'm playing at the Cactus and why don't you just drop by and play along with us (Cyd Cassone on percussion and vocals) there." So he did - Rubin may appear shy, but he is not stoopid. He can also play.

Ruthie and Cyd were pumping their brand-new live CD on a day that began early enough - with a live rendition of her rain song on KGSR at nine o'clock in the morning (and other stuff before, no doubt). She had just been to a Terri Hendrix live set at Waterloo Records and spent a bunch of money, so it was good that she had new product of her own to recoup her "losses." The house, despite the rain, was packed - and superbly blessed.

Not only did the folks get to hear Ruthie and Cyd - and Rubin, but they were also treated to Boston emigre Jenny Reynolds' Cactus debut as the opening act (with Mark Viator on guitar). Jenny is off to New England on June 19 - but will play at the Saxon Pub with full band (barring changes) on July 19 at 7:00 pm (mark it!). As usual, I ran into friends at the gig - notably KK and Peggy, the golfing go-go girls and world travelers par excellance.

Talking with super songwriter Kerry Polk (there to support her buds), I learned about her work teaching Kindermusik and immediately thought of my grandson as a future pupil of hers. Hmmmmmm! [www.kerrypolk.com/kindermusik} Kerry says her youngest student was four months old - imagine that!

Despite saying I wouldn't, Tuesday night found me at Momo's to hear El Kabong and Canadian singer-songwriter Andrew Walker. Well, I had gone out the night before, and the power went out, so I thought I ought to take my new friends Aaron and Jennifer out to hear these guys play and get them introduced around. You know Andrew is good when the wives of other male singers talk freely about how much they like his voice and his lyrics. He's playing (weather permitting) with Leeann on Friday at Maria's - so catch him there before he flies back to Toronto on Saturday.

And where Andrew goes here, Kim Deschamps (and his bevy of slide-friendly instruments) will likely be very near by (keeping an eye on his latest recording project if for no other reason). With Charlie Robison playing daddy more and more, Kim and fellow band mate Kevin Carroll are having to get out and play more side gigs to keep their fingers limber. Kevin has been doing Wednesdays at Momos, but filled in for Willie Pipkin once again with El Kabong on Tuesday. [Willie is fishing in Florida, and if you know the boy, you will know that fishing comes before picking any day of the week.]

This was El Kabong's fifth gig or so, and the band (Ram Zimmerman on drums, Tony Velasco on bass) keeps getting tighter every week. Kim is having a LOT of fun, and real music lovers are getting a treat for a nice price to hear this headliner act musician up close and personal in a venue with good sound management. Tuesdays at 10 at Momo's - get on down so that you can truly say, "I was there when it all started."

In closing, I just want to pay respects to the man I first got to "know" as the host of General Electric Theater when television was young (and so was I). Reagan was a baseball broadcaster, the president of the Screen Actors Guild, and a man deeply loved by his Nancy (as much as I am by my Nancy). He took a bullet from a madman and lived to joke about it.

Reagan will always be remembered for taking on the Soviet Union and calling on President Gorbachev to "open that gate" and "tear down that wall." His challenge ultimately led to a new economic and political union in Europe and a lessening of tensions over nuclear war on a worldwide scale. If only Russia and the United States could come to terms with the negative impact of their conflict on our island paradise to the south - Cuba, where the memory of the missile crisis is the only real reason for our failure to "normalize" relations (as we have even done with Vietnam). Perhaps now is the time for a summit to deal with the aftermath of that defining moment in John Kennedy's term of office and those close off the final chapter in that long-dead conflict.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

East Eleventh Street in Austin is a happening place these days, what with the renovation and hopeful soon reopening of the Victory Grill, the three Eleven East buildings that together constitute an $11.4 million, 57,000 square foot office and retail project, and newly authorized eligibiity of the East 11th and East 12th Street Redevelopment Area for federal assistance to renovate and restore their commercial building facades.

One such building in need of some assistance is the happening Long Branch Inn (aka Saloon). Quite frankly, judging by the crowd that showed up for the "open mike" Monday night, the Long Branch ought to be in good shape, but there was one little problem - the power kept going out, blackening the entire room and interrupting the excellent group of musicians assembled for a night of reverie and reminiscence.

While I eventually realized that there may be little need for introductions, and in fact such formalized banter would surely be out of character, I was a little surprised that no one - let alone the singer-songwriters themselves - introduced the musicians at any time during their performances (that is, until later in the evening). The first two players - Bruce and Daniel - had the vocal mike too low to be heard past the first table or two, a problem solved just in time by a young singer named Molly, whose songs reminded me of song of Michelle Shocked's earlier stuff.

Next up was a quartet that included the King of the Texas Accordian, Ponty Bone, Mike Roberson on bass, Spencer Drummond on guitar, and Brad Brobisky on lead vocals when Ponty was not singing. [I could be wrong on some last names, but who knows?] After a rousing set that got people up and dancing, the spotlight fell on Austin native and world traveler Calvin Russell, with half of the prior band plus Kim Deschamps backing. The first song was Mandy Mercier's Outlaw Man, and the band was smoking by the time Calvin announced, "He's the President and I Don't Care." Later, the band (plagued by numerous power outages inside the bar) followed Calvin through a song called, "Big Brother," which espoused the wise saying, "I Just Don't Trust NO Politicians." The band closed out with Townes Van Zandt's "I Ain't Leavin' Your Love" and a whole lotta dancing going on. Truth be told, despite the rain and the power outages, they were just getting warmed up and it was all over.

Next up was a young black man who sings like Tim Buckley and has a lot of that intensity of feeling - and he had to play virtually in the dark and without power for half of his songs. Finally, the reason I had come - Kim's Canadian pal Andrew Walker, who got on stage with Kim and did three songs wholly acoustic (that is, without mikes or amps). On one of his songs, he brought his guitar out into the thinned-out crowd (it was after midnight by then) so that they could hear and participate with him in the song.

This was my first visit to the Long Branch - but, assuming they can get the power back on, it will not be my last. Every Monday is this open mike thing, and I believe I saw that Thursdays you can find Mark Rubin and the Ridgetop Syncopators starting at nine. The beer was cold, the place had high ceilings and lots of ceiling fans, and there were some powerful photographs on the walls. Parking was NOT a problem.

Last Saturday, the babe and I took our new friends Aaron and Jennifer Hamre down to Gruene Hall for a day in the country that included lunch and a stop at the Lone Star Music shop and another at the New Braunfels Museum of Music and Art. The band was billed as Warren Hood and Blue Light Special in the papers, but the only other Blue Lighter at the hall was bassist par excellence Mike Miksis. Apparently, one member of the band had backed out of an earlier commitment to relocate to the Austin area (and thus have broken up the band as it had been), leaving the others high and all wet.

So we disconsolate, unfortunate pilgrims were FORCED, mind you, to put up with Warren's pickup band - himself on mandolin and fiddle, Miksis on bass, some guy named Marvin on guitar, and some Canadian emigre on fiddle and guitar. OKAY, OKAY I am KIDDING!!!

Get real - Marvin Dykhuis and Darcie Deaville!!!!! As a bonus, 13-year-old mandolin player and singer Sara Jarosch was in the house, and mzny of us persuaded Warren to keep her on stage longer than perhaps she had expected. The version of Summertime that we heard with Sara singing lead was worth the entire trip all by itself, as the band started slowly, then picked up the tempo, then slowed to a tangoesque rhythm to close out the song. Later, Darcie was marvelling at her ability to space her notes and leave room for the music to breathe.

Over at the Museum, there is for the moment a display of art by Texas musicians - Joe Ely, Butch Hancock, Sara Hickman, Bob Schneider, Nathan Hamilton, and many others. THIS IS A MUST SEE!!!!! The museum, located just a few doors down (toward stage right) from Gruene Hall, is also a live music venue at times.

I was thinking a little more about that Calvin Russell song tonight about not trusting politicians, and I realized that putting our trust in men is not our job. David said it best, "Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we will remember the name of the Lord out God." The kingdom of those who follow is "not of this world," though it is our job to speak into that world - pointing people in the direction of loving, caring and speaking up for those who cannot provide for themselves. Jesus, if one reads the books right, never endorsed any of the competing political groups vying for hegemony in Roman-occupied Jerusalem. By not aligning himself with any party, the power of his truth rang even truer, stung more deeply, and provided an avenue for agreement and more importantly right action by those in earthly authority. More on this another time, but folks like Esther, Daniel, and even Joseph got their chances to demonstrate leadership in unholy kindgoms as an aftermath of torture and the threat of death.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

A little gathering at Momo's tonight shows a lot about what Austin music is all about. Kim and Karen Deschamps had sent an e-mail to various friends encouraging folks to come out at 10 pm sharp (I was late!) to hear Canadian singer-songwriter Andrew Walker, who is in town to record a new CD with Kim (word is the work is going great!), and then to stay and hear Kim's new blues band, El Kabong (featuring Willie Pipkin on guitar, Tony Velasco on bass, and Ram Zimmerman on drums).

Kim is a virtual music god in Toronto - and still an unknown here after years of playing with the Charlie Robison band, sitting in with Shelley King and a long list of players, and being the unsung hero of the Cowboy Junkies' seminal work, The Trinity Sessions. But tonight top Austin musicians like Jane Bond, Nathan Hamilton and Billy Brent Malkus, and Will Dupuy (Pipkin's South Austin Jug Band compadre) showed up, with friends, just to hear the band. The night was hot, but the music was hotter. Willie will be fishing next Tuesday down in Florida, but the band will be back - as will Andrew Walker.

Walker will also be doing a break set on Sunday night, when Warren Hood and Blue Light Special are filling the slot normally held by the touring Resentments, and this will be a show to see and hear and enjoy. He will also be playing with Leeann Atherton on June 12 and at various other gigs around town.

Meanwhile, another super singer-songwriter, Aaron Hamre, and his wife Jennifer, have just moved to Austin from northern New Mexico (via southern California) at the behest of Dallas native (and songwriter for Steve Miller and many others) Chris McCarty. Aaron is getting organized to bring his music out in the open here very very soon.

For the record, Nathan and No Deal are working toward recording a new CD later this year. The Jug Band just got back from a furious West Coast trip that took them, among other gigs, to the Strawberry Festival (where once again they ran into other Austin bands). They are playing Gruene Hall on June 2 - a great dance hall gig for those able to drop in. This writer will be at the Carousel to hear Dark Holler.

One more plug. My daughter's car was hardly running, so I took it all the way to Oak Hill to my mechanic, Bob Walden (telephone 630-5952). My daughter and her husband had thought the vehicle was ready for the junkyard - that repairs would be very expensive. But Bob quickly pinpointed the problems as a leaking water pump (the car was overheating) and some friend spark plug wires (the car had little startup energy). In and out in a single day - and running just fine, thank you very much, right now. So, if your vehicle needs help, give Bob a call. And tell him I sent you.

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