Results tagged “music” from Guy's Blog

The Fate of the Cactus Cafe


     One of the first times I played music in Austin was right outside of the Cactus Cafe. I was new to Austin, just a 21 year old kid playing guitar on the street, but the Cactus had already spawned a bubble handful of Texas music legends.  I saved the quarters that I was thrown for busking on Guadalupe and used them to pay the cover charge to get into the Cactus to see John Hammond, Bill Monroe, Rory Block, and many others. Next to me on the drag I watched David Garza with Twang Twang Shock-a-Boom gather crowds that chased the band into the Cactus.  A few years later my band The Asylum Street Spankers played a weekly daytime gig with the doors open to the spring air, students just a year or three younger than me spilling in and out of the spring air.


     As the years past, I found myself at the Cactus time and time again, always nourished by the talent of the musicians and also impressed and grateful for the quiet, attentive and educated audience. I have talked to many other touring musicians and find that the Cactus is known for its great sound, great ears, and great history. For me, even though I was not a UT student, this was one of the most important elements to my professional education. This was a room dedicated to Song, a place people went to bask in poetry and melody, be healed, understood, and made whole.  As much as Antone's, Austin's blues throne room was where I learned about The Late Night Voodoo Sex Ritual, Cactus was where The Story was told, where guitars became conch shells and the mystery was taught. Townes Van Zandt's songs still hold potent medicine, more than any of the books of the Bible for this mystic.


     I was in the van crossing Texas on the way to a gig when I first heard of the proposed closing of the Cactus, and after the first wave of sadness a familiar despair set in, this was not the first club I have seen close, nor the first home I have lost. And I wondered of the battle of Art vs. Cash, and the sad history of that long war. So I went to the Town Hall Meeting that UT President Bill Powers called to address the budget cuts that include the axing of The Cafe.


     I got there early, one of the first in the room and watched it fill up. Mostly older than student age, I recognized more that a few Austin pickers, making eye contact from across the room with brave smiles and bright eyes and talked with those who were close by.


     Soon Bill Powers opened the conversation, this was the first time I had seen him speak, and he spoke as someone used to having to defend policy to crowds, not as one who enjoyed it, more that this was a necessary evil, that his job requires him to stand in pillory and take a few soggy vegetables in the face to appease the masses.  In fact as he was questioned by the crowd he made it clear that he did not intend on requesting that the Union readdress their choice, and this was an empty exercise.  It also became unclear if the club was being closed to save money (and not that much money, 66K is the number quoted to keep the doors open a year, about an eighth of Powers UT salary) or to be reopened as a venue that Powers characterized as being responsive to UT students wants and needs.


     Anyone can play at the Cactus, by the way, all you have to do is show up early enough on a Monday night and sign up for the open mike. But I wonder what might take the Cactus's place, and I wonder who would benefit. I also wonder if this is about somebody on the Union Board who thinks they can do it better, and I think of all the others I have known that thought they could open a club, put on a show, and be the next big thing. I think that is a noble struggle, but it is always easier to talk about it from offstage, than to pull it off under the lights once the show starts. It is much more than a good sounding room and a PA.  I don't know the rules of the Student Union, but I have seen musical events in several of its many rooms, sometimes while the Cactus had shows going, sometimes not, but it seems that if someone wants to provide their version of "what the students want" they could do so without erasing this storied room.


     Although I feel righteous about all of this, I have no illusions about what my assertions of the importance of art and song on quality of life are worth to those who might decide (or have already decided ) the fate of the Cactus Cafe. It is the nature of song to be chased from the gleam of gold and by natural wisdom it grows best where it is needed most, away from such important things as money in inhuman amounts, and is best nurtured by those who afford little time for worldly concerns.




January 10, 1990


January 10th, 1990, I put all my belongings in a rented U-Haul trailer and drove south on I-35 from Kansas City, Kansas.  I was alone in the cab, the speed limited by the internal limiter to 55 miles an hour, but I was on my way. In retrospect, that was the start of my adult life. Kansas City was home, filled with friends and family and had been kind enough to me that I could have stayed. Rent was cheap there, my folks were always supportive, but I had something to find.


The first night in Austin I slept on a friends floor, found a room to rent the next day and started going out every night, diving into the music scene that was always roaring and spitting up and down 6th street then. I have a picture of me then, playing on the street on a borrowed guitar across from the University of Texas on the main drag. Still in the shoes I came to town in. So much has changed sense that day which I can still recall, but I am still here playing for the passer by, looking for a song which will catch a hook in your heart long enough to coax some change from your pocket. To remember that one song you thought you would never hear again, or reveal that tune you always new had to be there, somewhere...


Twenty Years. Love, loss, peace, war, oceans under the bridge, over the bridge but still, I am here. This town has changed so much, the Austin I moved to perfectly remembered for me by Richard Linklater's Slacker.  Now, Austin fights to keep its home grown soul against the corrosive glitz of cash. And music fights to be heard over cars stopped in traffic, work cranes lifting prefab apartments over prefab apartments, the chirp of cell phones, and the sound of deaf progress.


What happens next? What shape does our life take now? What will it sound like? What do we want it to sound like? As we go forward what will we take with us this time? I want to know what you think, as I understand that this music is something that only matters if it is of use to your heart, helps you in hard times, keeps you warm in winter and cool on fire. I want to know what makes you rewind that song twenty times in a row, what songs you wake up singing first thing in the morn, what you want to be singing that has yet to be written.


I am close to making a tech leap. Some have asked me to Twitter, to keep this conversation on music active, let you know what is under my hands while we try to keep this thing in the air. Further updates as the situation warrants.


Blogging at 1:13 AM

We just left Sam's Burger Joint in San Antonio. It is 1:13 AM. Ian is at the wheel for the drive back to Austin. I am stretched out as much as one can on the bench seat of Skeletour, our Ford van, shirt still wet with sweat from a wondrous gig filled with inspiration and transcendent grit.

Only a few hours to run home and grab a few hours of sleep and a shower before I am up at 7 AM to be on TV to talk about Pocket Full of Soul, a documentary about harmonicas and the people who love them. I was interviewed for the film and if you like what I do you will really enjoy it. It was made with love of music. And love of music is what I am here to talk about. Sometimes I forget, and the little pains fill my head, the day to day drudgery of busy work and station keeping cloud my eyes. But all that is the illusion, the reality is music is humans at their best, beauty for beauty's sake shared. It doesn't matter what type, or even how well it's done, what matters is the joy and intent of sharing what it is that we find good with others. I'm glad to be able to play for people, and I hope that I always feel this way.

Sent from my iPhone, don't YOU wish you had an iPhone? Heh, heh, heh...

Austin Rocks!


What a wild weekend in Austin, Texas. I am so lucky to get to do this for a living, and I hope not a day goes by without me realizing that. On Friday the 13th I played at the Saxon Pub with my deadly band and the cream of the Asylum Street Spankers as the Hot Nut Riveters! Wammo on washboard and harp, Nevada Neuman on National Steel guitar, Charlie King on mandolin, Rob Hooper on drums and Cajon, Willie Landin on Sousaphone and washtub bass, everyone sings their asses off. What a joyful noise. The theme of the night was "The Sacred and the Profane" so we mixed old time gospel with hard blues and just plain old "blue" songs, so we scratched our itch from both above and below.

Thanks to everyone who came to the show (and all the shows this weekend) because, and this is a secret, musicians feed on you. Not just the food we buy with whatever we make at the door or from the tip jar, but rather the spirit that you bring with you when you walk in the room. that is what makes live music so magic. It is something that is made fresh, out of the ingredients in the room, and I find who is sitting in the front row is just as important as who is on the stage. This is another reason that I love Austin; even though the audiences here have seen it all (hundreds of shows a week, hell, more than that every Saturday night) if you give it up so do they.

This Saturday was Lamberts for our "Love and Lust" review featuring one of my favorite incendiary acoustic duos The Finer Things featuring bandleader and fiddler Sick and burlesque terpsichorean and uke jockey Raina aka Lady Bangs. Love songs, sex songs, heart break songs in mixed order were the order of the day and the room was full of lovers or at least people willing to take a running jump at it.

Sunday morning at Maria's Tacos, Hippy Church! South Austin's finest turn out for tacos and Bloody Marys and it's the Hot Nut Riveters again, this timie with an all gospel set list with folks dancing on the tables. My good friend Christina Marrs brought her brand new son to see his first show, what an honor. Later that same night, Willie, Rob and I played Leeann Atherton's South Austin Barn Dance, a back yard party thrown on a Sunday every month close to the full moon. Hollywood can reach for it but will never have the soul of this truly organic throng. Austin Rocks!

City Hall


Today in Austin the Austin music community came out in mass to hear the findings of the Live Music Task Force.

Austin has called itself the Live Music Capital of the World since 1991 when they adopted the phrase and used it to take advantage of the glorious music scene that drew me here in '90. Although the city boomed in the '90s, filing to the brim with high tech industry and dot com carpetbaggers, the money that came with them changed the face of Austin, and the sharp rise of the cost of living left most of the music scene in the cold. The music continues, but live music venues and musicians found that they were being pushed to the fringes of the town they once called their own. The city grew, but at the expense of the cloture that drew the young hopefuls that hope to find a life filled with creativity and sound.

The Live Music Task Force hopes to reverse that trend so that the new generation gets to enjoy the music as well. I have heard many stories from couples, now parents, who met at shows I played in the '90s, and they all want to share with their kids the joy and freedom that they enjoyed. But much more is at stake here.

History, even that which predates audio recording technology, tells of music in every culture, and all religion has music at its core. when Austin was built, the second building that went up was a music hall tavern, so that the workers would have a place to celebrate the task at hand.

The reason is simple. Music builds community. Anything that brings people together and raises them up in ecstasy, whether religious or secular, is a spiritual experience. That connects people. And even more, it teaches them that they are made of the same stuff. That drum beat, that melody, that catchy line, when it works it works because we all feel it, we relate. All talk of brotherly love is useless without us feeling that we are one. And when the crowd sings together, at church, at the ball game, at closing time we are at our strongest.

Music, and all art, teaches empathy. Without time spent enjoying the poets work, whether it is in words, paint, architecture or food the world is a lonely place. A simple song can make the loneliest person feel understood.

Home Stretch


     This is the home stretch; we are on I-70 bound to St. Louis, to BB's Jazz, Blues and Soups, one of our favorite venues from last January's tour. It is strange and fun to see the same places we last saw framed in the depths of winter now recast in summer's haze. Although we do stay in some fine hotels we also sometimes end up on floors and couches. Last January we all recall the wind whistling through old houses, thin blankets and ice and snow. Now, it's all sweat stains and no AC. Like always, touring is about extremes.

     The best of the tour is up to debate, here in the van; Chicago American Music Fest at Fitzgerald's, Ottawa Blues Festival on the inside stage at the Canadian War Museum, the second night in NYC at The Rodeo Bar, taping a live show for XM radio in the swamp that is our nation's capital. Ont he other side of the scale is Williamsport, where nobody told the sound man that we were coming (despite our picture in the window), or last night's show in Terre Haute, where we played for about five hard core music lovers and against 50 or so drunk college kids. The music was good, the band kicked ass (as they always do), but the music was just another kind of noise to drink and breed by.

     I think about this a lot. Without the endorsement of mass media, music (or any art) must compete with all other input, which includes all advertising. To the unprepared, uneducated and undefended mind, the tools of advertisers are well tuned to play upon our most vulnerable instincts. Self image, sexual repsonses, and desire are all manipulated to maxim effect with a surgeon's precision. Some of the best minds of our generation work over time to create desire, invoke a response, and get you to spend your money on whatever product paid them to pimp. Over time, in order to survive in this environment, we must develop a filter to protect us from this constant assault. Any art that you come into contact with must also deal with this filter, and I would like to think that the message that we are trying to communicate in our music is more complicated than a deodorant ad or beer commercial. And I don't want to have to tell you that you're stinky or need to get people drunk to get laid.

     When we were monkeys living in the wild (and we were monkeys, still are, and God loves monkeys) in order to survive we depended on our senses to warn us of danger and to help us find food and other monkeys. The finer our senses were the better the chance we would survive. Now, if we are open to our environment and respond to all stimuli we encounter, we quickly spend all available money and end up living under an off ramp. We depend on our ability to discern what is good for us and what's not. But the media gets louder and louder, and we find its reach expanding every day, flashing lights at little monkeys, flat screens over urinals, computerized calls to cell phones, ads everywhere you can look. So, for millions of years we have honed our senses, but no longer! Now our survival depends on our filter, what will we allow ourselves to see?

On the Road



Already passing through Dallas, we left Austin at 8 and it is now 11:11 AM. I have given up the wheel to Rob Hooper, Beat-master and mighty thread leg of the three legged monster of a Band. On the Road, Kerouac and Nelson sing harmony as we burn some of the first of less than a half of the oil the monkeys get to play with. Rob hooks his iPod up to Skeletor's sound system (that's the name of our road chariot) and through the cassette tape CD adapter it pipes out piano jazz and now The Who's first sounds. Our July tour starts tonight in Memphis.


This is a state of the art of DIY rock and roll road show, American music in its natural habitat. Morale is good, still have a few of my Wife's(!) chocolate chip cookies that the band reveres, but the conversation hinges on the $100 cap on the gas pump credit card purchase. Bands who would have made a good living (for a musician) at $2.00 a gallon find the price of go juice comes out of their coffee money. The Band of Heathens (heard 'em yet?) had to replace the engine in Colin's sprinter, which could mean a month of work for nothing but the glory.


Is it Glory? Some big shoes to fill here. All of us in the van (including new road manager Lauralea) fell so hard for music we were willing to give up the comfort and security of home to chase the ecstatic rapture that we tasted at some live show in our past, something powerful enough to still have us in its claws. All rock and roll posturing aside, and that is a lof of posturing, let's be clear: Brittany Spears drinks for a reason; the music has got to be good or this is a waste of time. Gather around chillen', we are called by a higher power to act as the Instruments of Love.


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