Not much has transpired in the last days. I played Fralo’s again. I wasn’t getting paid because it was a Tuesday, but I made $39 in tips and ate pizza. I tried to make a firm connection with Frank the owner, but he seemed very nonchalant. I drove to Austin. I remembered having a love for the quirky outdoorsy quaintness of Austin but a slight distaste for the culture. My experience this time around is unfavorable. I could not locate an active open mic event on a Wednesday night in the “Live Music Capital of the World”. At least half of the places I called did not pick up their phones. My interactions with people here have been almost combative. I am not a fan of Austin and am tempted to leave without doing anything significant here.
On the upside, I have made some progress with guitar practice, and perhaps that’s what I’ll focus on while I’m here.
I sat down to do more booking for this tour. The rate at which I’m getting responses is quite dismal. Lining up gigs proves to be very difficult. I am certainly spending more than I am taking in. So this has me wondering about the future of this tour. Perhaps I can take 3-4 months of road experience back to Long Beach and start the band. Maybe I need to be more diligent and more aggressive with booking efforts.
Yesterday and today were the first rains I’ve experienced in months. It was nice; particularly to again experience rain during a sunny day.
Again I haven’t done much. Austin has fallen flat. I can’t find open mic nights. I can’t find good information on where to busk. Even asking employees in Guitar Center proved to be unhelpful.
I’ve played too much and worked too little. I have put in quite a bit of practice on the guitar. More than usual. This is a positive. I eagerly want another opportunity to perform soon. I have a good idea for how to inspire my performances. I guess there’s no rush, but Austin is a disappointment.
I am struggling to motivate myself to book further ahead in the trip. I don’t know if I want to continue the tour past New Year’s Day. Booking has been such a disheartening pain in the ass. The amount of work that goes into getting almost no responses from places that would benefit from booking me, is frustrating and could induce madness. Fortunately I do have some gigs coming up soon and I won’t be in Austin much longer.
I do have an open mic to attend in Austin tomorrow night, so I will have one more shot at an Austin crowd.
Here I’ll cover the last several days of happenings.
Kick Butt Coffee. I found an open mic I knew would be reliable in Austin. It was a Thursday at Kick Butt Coffee where hard liquor is served. It had a good stage with a somewhat tacky logo.
There were some interesting performers. Particularly there was one keyboard player with a voice that fluctuated between rich strength and shaky unpolished. His writing was inventive and original, his keyboard playing energized and flowing, and his performance inspired and authentic.
There was a male duo with a guitarist and a singer. The singer touted his giant belt buckle of a heart with a gun inside. They were some of less sonically talented open mic-ers I’ve seen in a while, yet the comedic songwriting was pretty good and the performances were comfortable and fun.
The host was obsessed with his girlfriend and had a chip on his shoulder. He was not the right candidate for a position as host of an open mic night. By and large I was unimpressed with the Austin talent and environment.
The next several days were a frustrating low point in my tour so far. I searched for performance opportunities unsuccessfully. I could not locate an active open mic for either Friday or Saturday. Thankfully I encountered the Strange Brew open mic, hosted by Kacy Crowley. This open mic featured a wonderful stage and sound system with a host, bartender, and sound guy, all dedicated to the room. The order of performers was decided via random drawing and each performer can play one song. It was a beautifully run open mic with a warm and attentive communal atmosphere. This was the redeeming light of Austin in my mind.
Kacy Crowley led a group of the remnant open mic-ers to sign my van. I put a guitar in her hand and asked her to play a song. She gladly obliged and it was a treat! Her song and voice had a gritty tenderness, a purity of tone, and the authentic delivery in a grungy parking lot was indeed special.
I left Strange Brew and drove until almost 5am when I arrived in Dallas.
I played Opening Bell Coffee and met Annie Benjamin.
We were scheduled to play a “songwriters in the round” style event for this hip/eclectic coffee basement. It was a rainy politic-y Monday and got an appropriate seven person turnout for such a gloomy night. We did not let this deter us in the least and had a great time. Annie busted out her flute from time to time, and I brought in the djembe. We had some great jams and she plugged into my songs easily with the flute.
She told me she has been playing in the Dallas area for a few decades so I picked her brain a little about the Texas scene. She recommended Houston as perhaps the best and underrated songwriting scene in Texas. There was one young woman who stayed till the very last song and told me she had been wanting a good concert earlier that day. She sent $25 to me through Venmo.
Afterward, I walked over to Poor David’s Pub and found Troll and another fellow sharing a blunt at the backdoor. Troll called me by name as I walked up and gave a warm greeting and introduced me to his friend. They shared the blunt and I took one small drag. It was Troll’s fifth anniversary of hosting the open mic night at Poor David’s Pub.
We went inside and there were a handful of people inside, several of the same performers from the week before. There was an older man with a black fedora who was dressed like a ninja last week for Halloween. He played choppy a-tempo stuff with vocals that were at times anguished and at times quite dry. There was a big man with a big sweet country/folk voice who carried the same energy throughout his songs. Troll told me there was a performer named Alice Wallace from California who had been there earlier and would be performing at Tavern on Main in north Dallas the following night.
I performed to a less enthusiastic audience than last time and thought my performance may have been falling a bit flat. Several people approached me after to thoroughly compliment my performance and one man bought a CD and apologized he didn’t have more than $10 to give.
The act that followed me was a spooky fellow in a sharp red overcoat and a black top hat and some real skills on the guitar. He overplayed and over-sentimentalized and used the same tricks every song to the point that after a little while it grew stale, but his skill can’t be denied. He also had a unique slapstick yet serious style and liked to establish a slightly tenuous relationship with his audience. He’s a character from a movie I saw growing up, I just know it. He closed the night and sang a happy anniversary song to Troll.
The following day was what made the second Dallas experience truly special. In the evening, I had made dinner plans with an old classmate from high school, Grace. In the meantime, I practiced and then called up Alexander Webb, a man I met at Poor David’s Pub the week prior. He was out on a jog and we made plans to meet at his recording studio, Studio 516, in Waxahachie, TX.
He was a very gracious host and not only did I get to explore the layout of his cool studio and listen to the fantastic productions and mixes he has created for clients of many kinds, he showed me a bit of the town and treated me to a few beers and good conversation. I learned about his vision for his role in building the Waxahachie music scene. Waxahachie has an authentic small town feel while being thirty minutes from Dallas, a quite cultured city. It was a real pleasure to share a few hours with him. We stopped in a local guitar/violin repair shop and met Jim, a gentle, hardworking, and honest man, who gathered us in an impromptu group prayer. While I am not a religious person, I love and respect people like this man and am honored to share in the blessing of a group prayer. The delight he found in showing off what he had done to develop songs into works that brought a client of his to tears; in my opinion it is the most important trait of a producer/engineer. I certainly look forward to working with him in some capacity in the future.
Afterward I drove to an Anytime Fitness to exercise and clean up for dinner. I met Grace at Kirin Court, a Chinese restaurant in north Dallas near Tavern on Main (the place Troll told me about). It was a new experience for me to see someone who I remembered with some clarity, but hadn’t known for over a decade. She was very sweet and sneakily paid for the meal. We talked about all sorts of things and I noticed so much more about her that I never noticed before. The election was playing on a screen nearby so we were distracted by the baffling news that Trump was winning. We ordered too much food, but it was tasty. Grace had me take the leftovers for road snacks!
Then we went to Tavern on Main. Alice Wallace was indeed performing. I asked the door man about the open mic night and how it worked. There was no open mic night. I mentioned Troll from Poor David’s Pub had sent me and that Alice had played at Poor David’s the night before. The door man corrected me and combatively said Alice had played somewhere else the last night. I said, “Well Troll sent me here because she played at Poor David’s Pub last night; she probably went to the open mic after her gig.” I guess the door man thought she was too good for the likes of me, a long haired casually dressed guitar strapped guy talking about open mic nights. Troll posted a video of the Monday open mic night and Alice had indeed performed. People decide to be combative about some stupid stuff.
Anyway, Grace and I took each other on in pool. We played a couple games of 8-ball and a game of 9-ball. I’ve never made as many shots in my life as I did that first game. I hardly missed. She won the second. After pool we grabbed seats at the bar to watch Alice play. I sort of gave play-by-plays on the nuance of what was going on in the music and on stage. Alice’s strongest song of the first set was the last one, in which she yodeled. She hit a stretch of yodeling which was truly impressive, but what made the yodeling song special was that it was the sound that the band most united around. The most recent original song she performed was strong because she carried the song and the band on her shoulders. The yodeling song was strong because the band loved it.
I love watching performers play original songs. She played one song from her first album and there was a distance in her performance. It was not as rich and impassioned as the original she performed from her newest album. This is very typical of performers in my listening experience. It is difficult to plug back into years old emotions. Another common issue with music performance lies with covers, and I think this issue is true for popular music in general. Great songs are covered and aired so much that they start to be played in a “aren’t we cool we know classics” kinda way, which pretty much never has anything to do with the song. To tap into the depth of the song and bring personal experience and nuance to the performance, that is the challenge and fun in playing a cover, and many performers don’t do it. At the end of the night I gave Grace a CD which she tried to pay $20 for and was saying she wished she had more. What is it with these generous people???
On to Tulsa.