USA Edition: Part II
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve visited some of the biggest music cities in the US. Before I start to tell you of my adventures, it should be noted for the record that everything is bigger in Texas. From the hospitality industry to gigs, I highly recommend that if you’re headed to the US to listen to and experience the scene, Austin is on your agenda.
Our first night in town started out as a memorable night and something that I’ll never forget as long as I live. Arriving in town on the Monday, we were headed off to El Mercado to watch the Bellarine’s own Sarah Carroll rip it up with local musician Bill Kirchen who is best known for being a part of the sixties group Commander Cody and His lost Planet Airman. With an all-star cast of musicians including George Wilson (Sarah’s son) on bass for a couple of tracks, it was a great night of laughter and music. Not to mention, quite possibly the best Mexican food in Austin!
The most impressive thing about this gig is that for a Monday night there was a minimum of 140 people there. Coming from Geelong, it was quite a shock to me that there were so many people there for the start of the week. That said, Austin is most often referred to as the ‘Live Music Capital of the World’, and with countless music venues around town, there is always something to go see.
As most of the music starts at 6 p.m., it is easy enough to see three or four gigs a night. The venues might be at polar opposites of the city but a quick taxi ride with the fare shared between four or five people makes it quite an economical affair. Although I didn’t really know most of the musicians I was headed off to see, I was instantly in love with some new acts. Johnny Nicholas and David Grissom are two local players that spring to mind as I think about the awesome gigs. Both with killer rhythm sections, these guys are seasoned professionals playing residencies all around town. Johnny Nicholas’s up-tempo cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue’ and David Grissom taking on The Allman Brothers’ classic ‘Jessica’ are definite highlights and worth YouTubing. The amount of music that has come from Austin is quite astounding also. From Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan to Gary Clark Jr. and new talent Shakey Graves, the idea of seeing the next big thing without even knowing it is quite high.
Although I don’t really like jazz music, the opportunity to go to the Continental Club and see Ephraim Owens and his band featuring Red Young, who plays with Eric Burdon and the Animals, was something that was quite surprising. Twisting the modern sounds of jazz, the musicianship of these three guys was simply breathtaking and a ‘had to be there’ moment. The songs weren’t too drawn out but with so many elements to the music and the unpredictability of what was going to happen next, there was always something to keep me interested in the groove.
One of the optional day trips was to Fredericksburg, which is situated in the Texas Hill Country, and stopping in for lunch at Johnny Nicholas’s Hilltop Café. On the menu, the infamous chicken fried steak …Why not, eh? It may be a while before I get back to America. In a fifties-style diner similar to the one in Happy Days, the walls are plastered with memorabilia and photos of all the stars that Johnny has had the opportunity to meet over the years. A young Eric Clapton is a surprising shot in the photo set.
Whilst I have been touring around the States, I have had my eye out for a left-handed guitar because it seems easier to get one given that the population of America is quite bigger than Australia. Walking into one of the preferred local stores I was surprised to see that Andy McKee was doing a guitar in-store performance and workshop. To this day, his claim to fame, ‘Drifting’, has racked up 50 million views on YouTube. To meet him in the flesh and have a quick chat was an awesome moment, I must admit.
There are so many other moments to write about and not enough space in this column. More tales from the road in the weeks to come! :)
By Tex Miller