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

Thursday, March 22, 2007

What a Way To Go!
Barn Dance at Freedom Oaks

Dave and Cindy Cassles; Leeann Atherton; Kansas City's It's Over with Zhenya (cap) and Leeann; Norway's Real Ones; Gracia and Sasha are thrilled to be at their first barn dance.

The Austin SXSW Experience is never officially over until the Queen of South Austin -- Miss Leeann Atherton -- has put the finishing touches on the best party of the year, the SXSW Barn Dance at Freedom Oaks. Once again, hats are off to Dave and Cindy Cassles, who own the gorgeous property (which backs up to one of those southside creeks full of water moccasins) and who have turned their backyard into a music lover's paradise -- and hats are also off to the Chi-Wa-Wa's for their great barbecue and to all of the barn dance community for their service in making these events about as perfect an experience as anyone could have.
We are talking about people who build the stages, set up the lights, take out the trash and clean up the yard after the party is over, those who bring the food and provide for their guests from out of town and around the world. And, yes, those who play the music that makes us dance. These community barn dances are chock full of little children having a blast while their parents visit, tell stories, or even get up on stage and put on a show.
Dave Cassles - the skinny guy on the Harley whose lovely wife Cindy is always at his side - is in his other persona a life saver and member of one of Austin's top heart surgery teams. Leeann Atherton, when not belting out her own songs and interpreting the greatest songs of our generation, is a full-time mom who also teaches developmentally disabled children. And, oh by the way, she has two brand-new CD's that she is especially proud of and which she (it now appears) will be taking with her on an upcoming tour of Europe (and maybe much of America as well). At very long last, her many friends who have traveled to Austin from around the world may be able to see her perform in their hometowns (starting with Amsterdam, perhaps).
Many of those friends, including Bergen's Real Ones, are from Norway -- and as noted here, Leeann's barn was the scene of a live SXSW broadcast aired by a Norwegian radio station just the day before Sunday's annual love fest. The Real Ones -- two brothers who are half-Canadian and three lifelong friends, all from Bergen -- have been together a dozen years, performing in northern Europe and all across Canada and untold other places, but this past year they were voted the best band at the music festival in Bergen. And after Sunday's performance, which closed with an awesome rendition of Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues," they may well be voted the best band ever to play the barn dance.
Real Ones is Ivar C. Vogt on vocals, guitar, and mandolin; Jørgen Sandvik on vocals, sitar, banjo, and guitar; David C. Vogt on vocals, violin, and guitar; Øystein Skjælaaen on bass; and Kåre Opheim on drums. Self-described as a Scandanavian Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, these guys provide "the hearty, autumnal nature of warm folk, interspersed with a swirling psychedelic brood," and perhaps the best three-part harmonies since the Beach Boys. And what songs -- "I've Been Old for So Long," "Every Dog Has Its Day," "Everybody Feels Like Laughing" (how true), and others just as memorable and singable (but whose titles escape me). Go find their current release if you can, and be onb the lookout for a brand-new recording due later this year. I could have listened to these guys all day long and never gotten tired -- their set brought me all the way back to P Street Beach in Washington, DC, and the First Human Be-In back in 1967.
Just as much fun, though, was Kansas City's It's Over, three young lads and a slightly older bass player who rocked the house and made us all dance. Lead singer Jamie Searle (who's 23) was voted "Best Sexy Musician" by the Kansas City Pitch (kinda like the Chronicle in Austin), which said of the blond Beatle-esque performer: All Bonnie and Clyde vests and slacks, full-waist bends, boyish yelps and grins, and not a sprig of facial hair to show for his 23 years, Searle is both chick magnet and rock demigod. In fact, we're pretty sure a contract between him and the devil is on file somewhere in the Jackson County Courthouse. [Plus, we have documented evidence that this lad, who drinks Wild Turkey with his grandmother, is a good dancer!]
Band mates include lead guitarist Ryan Donergan, co-founder and bassist Bill "Roach" Sundahl (who's the old man of the group), and recently added drummer Andrew Twenter were dancing all over the stage playing that poprock and singing songs like "Hallelujah" (whose signature line is "I'm gonna throw out all my cares today"), "My Dear Wife" (in which a serial killer wants to know how his kids are doing), and "Come Back Home." Word is these guys like to have a good time -- passing out kazoos at gigs and even putting on shows with a carnival theme.
To be sure, this year's barn dance had lots more music, including a smoking set by Leeann herself -- with her band and special guests Topaz and Rubin on sax and harmonica. I was called away before my favorite Austin reggae band, Mr. Brown, got to the stage, and there was even more music as the evening wore on (I am told). Plus, the weather was GREAT and the food delicious! Just writing about this magnificent good time has put me in a better mood! And with all the trials and tribulations ahead, the best way to gain the strength to live and triumph is the joy of great music, great food, and great friends .... and the peace of walking with the Creator!
Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Norwegians Would!

Bill Kirchen: John Thomasson; the leggy Leeann and friends; Grady Johnson talking about his upcoming THIRD tour of Norway with the NRK P1 DeeJay; the Asylum Street Spankers with my pal Josh Hoag on bass (sorry Wammo, your handsome mug just did not fit); Bryce, Francis, Brett, Zach and Adoniram (and others not shown) jamming out to "I Shall Be Released" at Bull McCabe's; and Kim Deschamps fronting Leeann's own band at Maria's -- a preview of the SXSW Full Moon Barn Dance!

NRK P1, a Norwegian radio outlet, did a SXSW live taping on Saturday at Leeann Atherton's barn -- highlighted by two songs by Leeann with Zhenya Rock and Bill Kirchen's infamous "Hot Rod Lincoln," in which he delivered a nearly complete history of rock and roll and the blues in the classic Sixties era. Also on tap were the 6-5 redhead with the androgynous voice, Brett Dennen, Austin's own Grady and the infamous Asylum Street Spankers and two bands from Norway, Big Bang (a longtime barn dance favorite) and Lionheart Brothers. The show also featured taped conversations with Austin legends like the Broken Spoke's James White and Austin Music Awards winner Patrice Pike -- and more.
During the show, each band did two or three songs, and the highlights included Big Bang's brand-new "The Prettiest Girl in Austin," featuring Oystein Greni (with the long golden hair) on guitar and vocals, the bearded Olaf Olsen on drums, and short-haired Eric Tresselt on bass. These guys play serious blues rock with great energy and lots of moxie -- and sing in English for the American crowds. Grady's stinging southern rock (as interpreted by Alberta native Grady Johnson) smoked on "Chili Cold Blood" and "Western Cowboy" (not a cowboy ballad!!) kept up the fast pace.
But then Leeann and Zhenya slowed everything down with "Brand New Girl" and "Thank You," which featured Z-Rock on the balalaika. Does anyone, BTW, doubt that Leeann is going to take Europe by storm this summer and very hopefully record a super-CD "live in Europe"? Isn't it just about time for Austin's greatest singer and spokesperson to take that love to faraway lands? For the taping, Leeann described her barn as "an old soul place filled with lots of music."
Brett Dennen is the toast of Rolling Stone, and Austin's John Thomasson tells how he was touring with another band a year or so ago and Brett was opening with just his guitar and a drummer, and he was gassed at the good sounds and offered to play bass (doing double duty) for the rest of the tour -- and now he will be going with Dennen to Europe in August. The Norwegian hosts noted that Rolling Stone had called Dennen a 25-year-old soul living in 1972. It was a little before that time I wrote a poem about going to Modesto (his hometown area). Songs for this day included "Do Not Fear What You Don't Really Know" and "She's Mine," plus the joyful "Love Will Come and Set Me Free." In describing this young singer, the only name that came to mind was Roy Orbison -- even though he surely does not look like nor even sing like Roy -- but he has that aura.....

Is it really fair that Bill Kirchen is still hanging around Austin schooling just about every other guitarist young and old (I mean, are we not spoiled enough with Redd Volkaert?)?? Sure, we have lots of young guns who either grew up here or moved here at an early age -- and of course Bill has played Austin since the Armadillo daze ... but NO ONE can crank it up and have more fun still jumping around on stage (faking it, yeah!) than Commander Cody's favorite lieutenant. And then the Spankers -- Wammo and Christina Marrs and Nevada Newman and Scott Markus, plus newer members Josh Hoag on bass and Charlie King on lotsa stuff. Their newest CD is their "kids" album (their only non-R-rated effort), but even when they did "You Only Love Me for My Lunch Box" Wammo could not resist a little tongue twister that inevitably led to some language not acceptable on American radio (at least before midnight).
Of course, I had plenty of fun on Friday -- first at Bull McCabe's Irish Bar, where Adoniram Lipton had convinced the owners to bring in live music for what was in reality kind of an open invitation private party featuring Slowtrain, Faultline for Now, and the Bryce Clifford Band and a special solo appearance by Pittsburgh's Eric James. This serendipitous ensemble of talent kept even the passers-by happy all afternoon -- James for the record used to play in a band with Slowtrain's Brett Staggs (and Brett's brother-in-law Reed, who was also in town), and his own brother-in-law is the lead singer in Faultline for Now, B Sterling Archer.
For an evening treat, I stopped by at Opal Divine's Penn Field to catch the tail end of the Chicago House 20th anniversary party and caught a little of Will T. Massey, a single song from Michael Fracasso, a short set by the amazing Betty Elders with husband Gene on fiddle, and a rocking set by Jimmy Lafave, who got his start in Austin at this legendary acoustic venue that lives forever in the hearts of longtime Austinites. Betty is promising to get back before mikes and audiences after what has seemed an eternity (I last saw her at the Texas Music Theater in a singers-in-the-round show with Lafave, Fracasso, and Eliza Gilkyson that my lovely Nancy STILL talks about as one of the best shows she has ever seen). And Jimmy has a brand-new CD that will be out on May 4th -- and a band with BOTH John Edmond and Andrew Hardin playing lead guitar, plus Radoslaw Lorkovic on keyboards and accordian.
And somehow I may have forgotten to mention catching a smokin' set from Kim Deschamps on (was it?) Wednesday at Maria's Taco X-Press -- with Country Matt Giles on guitar -- plus Kim had as special guests Lee Winright and Andrew Walker. And on Thursday night I went to Pipes Plus on the Drag for a cool lineup of singer-songwriters hosted by the wonderful Graham Weber. I got there for most of Ricky Stein's solo set (he wowed the Saxon Pub tonight, I hear!) plus sets from Kristy Krueger (from Dallas), Chris Brecht, Ted Hodgie, Neva Geoffrey (now in Kentucky), Jason David Hyatt, and Mike Schoenfeld (who has a CD release party on April 5th at the Mohawk for his quirky songs). My friend Betsy says that Graham is the second best songwriter in Austin (after the beloved Mario Matteoli) and the world, too! But for me the highlight of the evening was that Nashville's Tommy Womack - one of my favorite songwriters - had stopped and blessed us all with a song from his brand-new CD, "There I Said It," called "Nice Day" -- a really sweet song about real life as a musician living on the edge with his family.
Finally, I vaguely recall an afternoon at Epoch Coffee House with the Zookeeper and a couple of minutes watching MothFight with the amazing Marcus Rubio sitting in -- and his next-door neighbor Sean McCarrey on hand to invite me to an upcoming gig at the Parlor in April. These San Antonio boys are quite talented, and Zhenya Rock (for whom Sean is opening next week at SA's Red Room) told me today he really likes it that Sean is stretching his music out into new territory. Of course, Sean is telling everyone he knows that Zeegrass is the best band in the whole wide world -- and maybe so.
Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Antone's, Wendy and the Whitmores:
More Than the Blues!

Bonnie Whitmore;
Eleanor Whitmore;
Wendy Colonna;
Shawn and Will;
Rachel Lynn;
Sunny Sweeney;
Abi Tapia and Caleb.

So much music - so little time to write. Nancy Coplin reminded me (while we were at the Whitmore Sisters show with Chris Masterson on Monday) that I had not told my friends about the amazing Wendy Colonna show at Antone's last week -- and I realized I had been having too much fun and not sharing the joy. Please forgive.
Antone's -- Clifford would be proud that his beloved venue is still the place for people to truly showcase their talent in Austin. And thanks to ME TV for filming Wendy's show (and many others too, see below). We are talking lots of tables with white tablecloths plus tapestries and such on the stage and Wendy first all dressed up and later in a funkier (but very stylish) outfit. Harmoni Kelley on bass, Chad Pope on guitar, the amazing El Goins on drums, and Dave Madden (who had opened with a solo set) on keyboards -- including the fabulous Antone's Hammond B3-plus organ.

The Lake Charles Mafia was out in full force, along with lots of special musical guests -- Will Taylor and Shawn Sanders of Strings Attached, Nakia, Ed Jurdi, Shelley King, Kat Edmondson, and Simon Wallace (on harmonica!). Wendy did old old songs, new songs, brand new songs (including maybe the best song she has ever written, "Your Parade," which she wrote while reading "Peter Pan" -- well, what else would you expect WENDY to be reading?).

From the opening number, "Oh My Love," through the very new "Bound to Fall" to "Easy" and "October" and "Vacancy" and ending with "Coffee Today," Wendy reminded the big crowd that she is the queen of the poignant ballad (and just why any guy would break her heart is mystifying to me). But then on "Girls of Stone" and "Sodom" and and the smokin' duet with the Chadster on Ike and Tina's "Someday", Wendy shows she can rock the house, too. A special treat was Wendy's timeless rendition of the Neal Kassanoff jewel, "Noah." Yet another highlight was "Does It Satisfy?" which featured some NASTY guitar by Chad Pope and harmonica by Simon Wallace.

The only thing apparently keeping Wendy from being recognized worldwide as the superstar she is might be Norah Jones' agent (if you get the drift). This woman left the huge room at Antone's spellbound -- and I can hardly wait to hear "Your Parade" ten more times. The great news -- ME TV recorded the whole show, and presumably will edit and broadcast much of what we were so privileged to meld into on this magical evening. Hopefully, there will be a DVD.

Mind you, earlier that afternoon I had stopped by Waterloo Records to catch a live preview of the Greencards' new CD (though I missed their Saturday night show at Threadgill's while waiting to pick up friends whose flight had been delayed) and by Irie Bean Coffeehouse on South Lamar to hang out while the lovely Rachel Lynn serenaded folks with passing cars nearby. What can be said -- Kym, Carol, Eamon and the ever-present guest guitarist Robbie Gjersoe knocked out TEN SONGS for free beer at John's K's joint, doing "Mucky the Duck" TWICE (Carol claimed she had missed some notes, and they too were recording the set). Keep an ear out especially for "River of Sand."

Friday night was equally special, as the lovely Nancy and I took the handsome grandson Caleb to the Green Mesquite for an evening with Abi Tapia and the All Curl Band (Lauren Gurgiolo and Bonnie Whitmore -- no straight hair allowed). How can I have waited to long to hear Abi, who is also one of the coolest women in Austin? I was having too much fun to take notes, and I will thus save my review for another visit to her stage.

Then on Saturday when I DID get my Canadian friends from ABIA, I took them to the Carousel where we mourned the loss of our beloved (and Canada-born) Stella Boes but cheered Eve Monsee and the Exiles and especially Brent Malkus with his Texas Sapphires (who were also recording a song for ME TV for its special on the Carousel). What can one say -- Rebecca Lucille never looked lovelier or sang better, and the band was smokin' hot.

Then on Monday it was back to Antone's (as mentioned earlier) to see Bonnie and Eleanor Whitmore PLUS Chris Masterson (who just moved from Jack Ingram and his two No. 1 country music hits in 2006 to Son Volt, just in time to promote their new CD now that his pal Brad Rice is touring with Keith Urban). Bonnie is an old pal from our Shelley King cruise days, and Eleanor I know best from her environmental work but also for her haunting fiddle and mandolin work with Slaid Cleaves (who was in the house) and many others (now including Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis).

The great news is that both of these beautiful women have taken giant steps in their songwriting careers, both individually and in collaboration. Eleanor is now letting us all know that her voice is just as refined an instrument as the fiddle she plays so well while sharing with us the innermost secrets of her heart. I guess we will have to wait a while (till Chris either ends or has a break from the Son Volt tour) to get more of this good stuff, but it will be worth waiting for (and by that time we may have a whole bunch of even newer songs). I have long held that one way to judge the quality of an artist is by what other musicians show up to hear them sing and play -- and by that standard, this too was a special night at Antone's. BUT MORE TO COME -- Reckless Kelly's Cody Braun and his lovely bride Kathleen O'Keefe share the stage NEXT MONDAY (and who knows what "friends" may drop by).

And just to catch you all up, Ego's on Tuesday featured (in order) Sunny Sweeny (just back from The Grand Ole Opry), Leeann Atherton (I FINALLY got my review copy of "Mama's House" and Leeann promised that her NEXT CD will be done all at one time in the same studio AND that she is planning to go on tour worldwide later this year), and the best set I have yet to hear (with more surely to come) from the recently reconstructed Slowtrain. There's hardly time to tell much about these sets, except that Sunny DID sing "Delta Dawn" taking advantage of having Tanya Tucker's guitarist on stage with her and that Leeann debuted her brand new ELECTRIC guitar -- and that you all would be wise to check out Slowtrain, fronted by keyboardist Adoniram Lipton and drummer Brett Staggs (with Andy Keating on guitar and Matt Roth on bass). Named for a Dylan song, these guys blew away Ms. Atherton who did not even get to stick around for their covers of The Band. These guys have a Wednesday residency at the Triple Crown in San Marcos but will hold forth at Bull McCabe's on Friday afternoon ... and MAY have a BIG SURPRISE residency in Austin soon .... details to follow.
Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Good Music -- Blowin' in the Wind!

Southpaw Jones, Raina Rose, and Johann Wagner at Flipnotics; Doug Walseth and Brian Dyer of Crawling with Kings; yes, Brent Malkus fans, that's a TELECASTER!; Jason Nunnencamp and Meagan Tubb at the Texas State Arts Festival.
That old saying about March coming in like a LION sure proved right on this year, what with the freezing nighttime temperatures and high winds that can give a kid an earache all day long. But at least here the Sun has been out to warm us in the afternoons. Flanfire got out on Saturday to the Texas State Arts Festival, mainly to hang out with the Meagan Tubb Band (with bonuses from the Hudsons and from Idgy Vaughn (playing with Erin Condo and Mike Meadows).

My old friend Damon Lange was running sound. Damon used to run sound at the Empanada Parlour for the Imperial Golden Crown Harmonizers and others but these days is a world traveler with his Nomad Sound (that's Damon spelled backwards!, and I do not THINK he has one of those old Chevys but I would bet he would like one). Last time I had run into Damon was at a gig in which a certain performer and his pals would not leave an outdoor stage despite torrential rains that amazingly did not wipe out his equipment -- I had gotten quite wet myself helping to rescue the gear from the downpour!

Damon just got back from Miami and hanging out with Grupo Fantasmo (he was for a long time their sound man but passed the job onto a pal) while THEY were hanging out with Prince! Damon says he has 47 sound jobs to oversee during SXSW -- and he's just one of many of the unappreciated who will be laboring hard so that our ears will not be offended while we are hoping to enjoy the shows. If you think their job is easy, just try doing it sometime! But if you like the sound at the shows you attend, just remember the gear guys as well as the headliners.

[I would herewith go into a diatribe about not so great sound engineering, but then you would have had to be at Trophy's on Friday to get the full picture! AND YET it was still a good time.] But I digress. Back to Thursday, er, FIRST Thursday. Cissi's Market -- frou frou food, but yummy, along South Congress ... and I even ducked into PINK to hear Phil Brown and Pat Mastelotto and Selton Cole get into a groove before heading to Flipnotics to catch the show by Southpaw Jones, Raina Rose and host Johann Wagner. Since I am pressed for time, let me just say that Raina is just as lovely as when I reviewed her new CD three weeks or so ago, Johann is still the consummate host and a fine songwriter, and Southpaw is -- well -- fall down on the floor and roll around in the mud funny! I have not laughed that much in quite a while (and, yes, Johann and Raina were a big part of the fun and banter). Because who knows who reads these blogs, I will refrain from describing the lyrics of some of Southpaw's songs ... I mean, some people would be too embarrassed if they did not get the innuendo. Good coffee, too!

And speaking of good coffee, I checked out the new Brazilian coffee bar/deli?? -- Bossa Nova at 2121 E. Sixth Street. Hearts of palm on the pizza, plus sandwiches, salads and soon to be soups -- and yes desserts!!!!! -- prepared by real Portuguese speaking Brazilians (full disclosure means telling you all that I do have a Portuguese heritage on my mother's side of the family). Comfy.

My work on Saturday ended with a visit to Ego's -- and Ben the Quitter (though his interviews on behalf of the American Cancer Society about his continuing successful battle against killer cigarettes have been wiped out by hackers who must hate fighting cancer) at the door. It was Bryce Clifford's birthday, so a whole bunch of his very best friends had gathered to pay tribute to the Canadian (but his mom is a real Texan living in the frozen north) who calls Austin home. The Nay Says and Slow Train opened, and Crawling with Kings ended the evening, but I got in just in time for most of Bryce's own set (with help from Will Rhodes, Doug Walseth, Andy Morris, and the newly warbling Zachary Firnhaber). But the BEST SINGING of the evening was when the 75 to 100 people gathered all sang "Happy Birthday" in unison at the end of Bryce's set.

It was my first time hearing Crawling with Kings for a full set INDOORS (one near-freezing night outdoors at the Scoot Inn hardly counts, and I keep getting to shows in time for one or two songs at best). Zach, Doug, and lead singer Brian Dyer have been pals since high school -- and I am still working on meeting the rest of the band. Brian (I was told) looks like JFK, Jr., but reminded me of David Bryne as he gyrated on stage during their high-energy songs.

Last but certainly not least, I got out for the tail end of Neal Kassanoff's Groundwork Music Project benefit (sponsored by Whip In!) at Ruta Maya -- a full set by Nathan Hamilton and No Deal (see recent CD review!). No Deal will open (10 pm) for the Weary Boys at the Continental Club next Thursday -- and anyone who likes real rock'n'roll with feedback and distortion coupled with A-list lyrics and real passion would do well to drop all other plans to catch one of the (sadly) RARE shows with Billy Brent Malkus on lead guitar, Chepo Pena on bass, and Andy Tyner on drums -- and who knows what special guests may show up. Just be there!!!

Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

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