A Music Night on the Town in Austin

Austin is a town known as "The Live Music Capital of the World." It's not a shallow claim by any means. At the airport, a large collection of huge artistic guitars stands as mute testimony at the luggage claim area. At the center of the incoming area where all the gates empty down an escalator to the luggage reclaim areas, a live music venue (and bar/eating area) hosts Austin musicians at least once a day. The local newspaper has pages upon pages of live music listings each night of the week.

My wife and I have had (young) visiting relatives come and stay with us for the two huge music festivals each year: SXSW (South by Southwest) in the spring, and the Austin City Limits Music Festival in the fall. It's a happening place.

A week or so ago, my first cousin, a retired MD who lives near Fort Worth, called to say he was coming down to hear Chuck Prophet, someone I'd never heard of. Said we should go hear the show. Now I'm certainly not an expert on musicians, so it wasn't a big deal that I'd never heard of Prophet. A check on his website and other pages on the Internet indicated he's very active, and in fact, had just recently returned from a 25 day tour of Europe, where he and his band played 24 gigs! Good grief. The group is based in San Francisco, and were on a two-city short tour of Texas. Then back to California for several weeks. Do these people ever rest?

My cousin and his wife, over the years, have produced nearly a hundred well-regarded music performances at the White Elephant Room and other venues in Fort Worth, and have made friends with many musicians. One of these, a well-known guitar player, Andrew Hardin, would join us. Hardin has accompanied many musicians, usually singer-song writers, including Tom Russell. He also produced record albums and has toured the world over, living a really eclectic and peripatetic life before settling down in the artist colony of Wimberly, Texas.

The local venue was intriguing to me, as I'd never been to a show at the Continental Club, one of the oldest and best known clubs here. It's not on Sixth Street, the hard-core entertainment and club portion of town. At one point, that might have been a disadvantage, but with changes over the years in South Austin, specifically the SoCo area on South Congress, the club now is smack-dab in the center of the hippest part of "happening Austin." Bottom line, I jumped at the chance to get out and see the show. So "Kentucky Cousin" Johnny bought the tickets, which were on "will-call," and he showed up here at the house.

Finding a parking spot was no easy task for Johnny and me, and we ended up in a public parking garage, a sullen concrete bunker a half-block from the action on South Congress. Walking toward the Continental Club, it was clear that SoCo is a totally happening place, with queues outside many restaurants. The line outside a trendy hamburger joint, Hopdoddy's was fifty people long! We made it across the street, crossing from Perla's, another totally "in" eatery, and walked to the Continental Club, where a line at least a half-block long already was in place. This was an eight p.m. show, and the crowd seemed to reflect the early-show demographic, with most of the women between thirty and fifty-ish, and the men perhaps a decade or even more than that. Lots of gray hair, and moderate clothing. Nice people all.

Andrew, who drove separately, somehow had scored a free parking place directly across from the club.  That had to be a positive omen of some sort. He joined us in the line and when the "will-call" operation opened, and that was the only way to get a ticket, the line moved fast. The "ID" process was fast. Is this name you? Yes. Okay, go on in. Clearly this wasn't a high-security process. Inside, the club clings to its heritage, and exudes atmosphere, including fifty years of smoking, which is not allowed any longer. The main bar runs along one side, the stage is in the rear, and a quite small "back area" includes ... and this is important ... the exit door to a rear alleyway in case of an emergency. This rear area includes a mini-bar and a private staging room for the performers.

The show was scheduled for 8 p.m. and by 8:10 people were a bit restless, but the crowd was so large - it was a sold-out show - that it took some time to get everyone in and "sardined" onto place. It was hard to avoid bodily contact with the people next to you.

The first four band members came onto the stage with no fanfare; the (outstanding) drummer hit some great riffs. It was electric. It was loud. Chuck Prophet bounded onto the stage, waved to the crowd, and the show was on. No intros, no lead-up, it was going full scale.

Pardon me for the iffy quality of the phone photos. This first shot exemplifies the closeness of the stage to the crowd as well as the interaction that Prophet carried on all night. This man, in his early fifties, clearly has done this for a looong time, and is really good at involving the audience. His pleasing personality as well as accomplished guitar licks and more than decent vocals made for a really good old-time rock and roll show in the venerable club. It was good.

Over two hours, the sound, which was really blasting, totally bone rattling, got to Johnny and then even Andrew, and they moved to the small rear area. I stayed my ground for a while, but the sardine-can situation along with the audio eventually got to me and I joined them. The rear area turned out to be quite good, as we could see the band from the rear/side angle

After a solid set and a final song, Prophet and the group took a bow and came back to the little "green room," but quickly (thirty seconds at most) returned to the stage for an encore. All was good. They passed right next to me, and seemed to be a pleasant group.

After the set and encore, I was ready to leave and get some fresh air. The club was emptying out since another group was coming on for the 10-midnight slot, and Chuck Prophet and his band were going to do a second show from 12-2. Oh, the life of a rock and roll band, even in their fifties or sixties! Andrew Hardin and cousin Johnny were occupied with conversation with several men, whom later I learned were Darden Smith and James McMurtry. Jon Dee Graham was reported to be in the crowd as well. Apparently, quite a number of local luminaries came to see the show based on Prophet's reputation as a guitarist and showman. That reputation is well deserved.

At some point, all were ushered out so the new crowd could come in. Johnny and Andrew and I, with me the outsider and onlooker, decided to get something to eat, and after trying all the "walkable" places, places with waits of at least a half-hour, got in Andrew's car, and ended up at Kerby Lane, a twenty-four hour place a mile or so away. They had a line as well, but the "fifteen minutes" turned out to be only two minutes. Johnny and Andrew had a late-night breakfast, while I had a healthy meal of someone's special apple pie and vanilla ice cream. The conversation was great. It was so much fun! Andrew Hardin took us back to our concrete parking bastion, and soon we were on our way back to the house, where Johnny and I sat in the living room and went over the evening, a really special one in the Live Music Capital of the World.

J.K. (Jim) George



Please feel free to post a comment here on the blog, or email me directly at <n3bb@mindspring.com> with any remarks. Also, I'll very much appreciate your recommendation of "Contact Sport" and/or "Reunion" to friends and book clubs. In addition, I'd be pleased to appear at book clubs and/or radio clubs within a two-hour drive of Austin to discuss either book.




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