Texas … I thought this would be an ideal opportunity to play in Austin, the music capital of Texas, their motto the same as Portland’s “keep Austin weird” – yes this would be a perfect opportunity. Not so. Austin is full to bursting with musicians, as a result it’s venues are unresponsive, unwelcoming and unwilling to book traveling musicians. For example, the website of BD Rileys states : NOTE: WE BOOK AUSTIN BANDS ONLY. NO OUT OF TOWN ACTS OR BOOKING REQUESTS PLEASE In an Irish pub which is not in Ireland ? Come on ! Where do they get any outside influence?… Hahaha – I’m sorry – but that is just ridiculous.
I eventually gave up trying to book anything there. Michelle, my tour manager joined me about then and stepped up to the task… nothing… try again… nothing… “Earth calling Austin… ” nothing. Time was a-drifting by, so we looked south to San Antonio, within a few weeks Michelle had landed 6 gigs in San Antonio – I wouldn’t even have time to visit Austin – we thought we’d have to cancel our RV park booking in Austin… but we didn’t need to as they (unlike every park we contacted) hadn’t replied to our booking request (there’s a theme forming here). We didn’t go to Austin.
We drove through New Mexico, then West Texas and arrived at San Antonio on the Friday. We drove up to the Highlander bar and grill (my gig the next day) just to check out the lie of the land. Turned out to be a good idea – just as the navigation system sent us on a left turn, Dorothy spotted the Highlander bar on the right – ha-ha- gotcha – you can’t fool Dorothy with that northy, southy, easty, westy stuff!
When you’re playing in a venue you play more often, you forget what it was like the 1st time there (where’s the stage, power, lights, do I use their PA system or mine, how good’s the monitor, who’s the contact person, oh, they’re not there tonight – ok, who’s my contact… ) when you’re touring (as I am) every night is your 1st (and probably last) time playing there – and you are John Snow … you know nothing! So it’s good to check the place out beforehand, if you can, so that you can be organized on the day you’re playing – all you have to do is focus on the music and crowd.
I walked into the Highlander, there was a lady with long auburn hair dressed in tight black clothes, short black shorts, fishnet tights, high heels, ears and whiskers waving at me in her lacy gloves… yes – it was halloween. I looked away from the waving cat and a man with curly white hair and broad grin exclaimed “Bill!!…” He shook my hand laughing and said how delighted I was to meet me – this was Mike Specia, one of the owners of the Highlander.
The cat appeared at his side, introduced herself to me and gave me a big hug… she worked there – and had put up my posters – which have my picture on them – so she and Mike felt like they knew me already. Dorothy, bemused, was receiving a similar delightfully warm welcome. We talked and laughed, they fed us, our server brought extra food – deep-fried mushrooms – a house speciality we apparently needed to try (even though we were feeling full we tried them – wow… they were great!!!), more beer… man, this was the Texas welcome everyone talks about – and I hadn’t played a note – that would be tomorrow. I hope I would live up to this great treatment.
The next night, Saturday, was great. Quieter than halloween, costumes were back to normal… well, Texan normal… the people there were exceptionally friendly, Mike brought his brothers and their families along, Mike’s business partner (the other owner – an Irishman – McCabe) was there and each song received applause, smiles and appreciation. I was having so much fun, I only took one break and played on to midnight. When I finished, Mike had to leave with his family – but not before he thanked me profusely and made sure we had food to take away with us (I never eat before a gig – so I had (politely) refused when he offered earlier). I went up to the bar for a drink at the end – and got paid for the night without asking by a beaming female bartender – full of smiles, praise, compliments… and a pint! You can’t ask for better!
On the Monday, I was playing in the Lion and the Rose British pub in Alamo heights, which turned out to be just out of San Antonio city limits – and they were a smoking bar. It was like going back to my old days in the Back-in-Town in the Netherlands cigar and cigarette smoke mingled with the lovely smell of beer and spirits … I have to confess – I love it! It’s how a pub should smell … sorry – maybe it’s nostalgia … but I liked it.
I got set up on a stage at the side facing the long bar / restaurant area. I started and so did the crowd – people joined in immediately and an Irishman and Welshman at the bar (good start of a joke there) were loving it and whipping up the rest of the folks. I nodded at the bar manager to check if the sound was ok – she jerked her thumbs in the air – great – turn up! That is a first, I have never been asked to get louder – louder I went, on the verge of feedback and blasted my way through the night… great!
On Wednesday I was due to do a whisky tasting at another Lion and Rose…. well the weather intervened and it rained in torrents all Tuesday and Wednesday – that somewhat dampened people’s wish to go out – so the event was cancelled – and I stayed home and dry. Now, this would have been an epic tasting – they wanted to so an introduction tasting (7 whiskies) followed by a blind tasting (4 whiskies) – part of me was glad it was cancelled – but the whisky lover in me forced me to open one of my bottles as a consolation prize (a lovely 18 year old Caol Ila single cask Islay malt from Montgomerie’s (an independent bottler) which I got from “Total Wine” in Phoenix… deee-licious.
On Thursday I got an email via Michelle from the Lion and Rose in the Forum where I was playing that night – she was being asked if I was going to play music as well as do a whisky tasting. Ooops… that’s the only one I hadn’t been in touch with or visited – so I called the manager – a friendly Texan – who had arranged 8 Irish Whiskeys for me to taste and wanted to be sure I was going to play music too in case there was no-one for the tasting. As luck would have it, he’d chosen three of the Jameson whiskies from the Mahers St Patrick’s eve tasting (130 people in a whiskey tasting… that’s really too many) and three bushmills whiskies two of which I had several (serious) encounters with in my youth… then there were two Powers whiskies, one I knew well and the other nobody knew as it was just released in April this year… so I agreed, did a bit of homework and was all set. That evening, I played 30 minutes, gathered the folks together for a tasting where we nosed, tasted, savored, laughed and chatted our way through the eight generous pours of Irish Whiskey. I musht shay, even thow I lykes my Shcottissh whisshkies… hic… I grew quyte paarshaal to the Powers Signature… Irishh Whishkey… who would have thought… hic!
After the tasting, the tasters staggered back to the bar and I played the rest of my set … and remembered (again) why I drink lightly during a gig… but I managed fine and ended at 10pm in time for the guy who runs the open mic there every week on a Thursday to take over. Fifteen minutes later, the guy was still not there, the young musicians (about 5 acts) who were to perform were all there all keen to perform. I had started taking down my PA when I thought – hmmm – I should help them out. So I had a word with the manager who assured me this wasn’t my problem, I could just go – I’d done a fine job and she was happy… it was up to me. Well it didn’t feel right to leave these kids with no venue to play, so I set them up to play through my system, then realized that nobody felt they could do the introductions – so I introduced the acts, got them organized, mixed their sound … and we had a ball until it finished at midnight.
The Friday was surreal, I was playing at the Lion and Rose in Sontera. These places are very nice pubs, every one is a different layout and the theme is good food and good drink. In this one there was a pub area, a restaurant area, a sort of sitting about area then a secluded area. I was to play in the sitting about area. I got set up … and still when I started there was only me in the sitting about area. There were people in all the other areas… but only me, and Dorothy as my sole supporter, in the area I was to play in. Those who know me know I like to get people involved right from the start… but, I couldn’t see anyone and they couldn’t see me. After a quick consultation with Dorothy, we decided I should change my set around and as my 1st song I played “Brown eyed girl”. When I get to the chorus I sometimes stop completely and the crowd keeps going with the “sha-la-la-la-la… ” bit which is a surprise and a laugh to them, “gee’s them up” a bit… and let’s me know they’re “in”. I’m playing the song, it sounds good but I’m looking at an empty space in front of me – so I think, “what the hell… I’ll do it …” it came to the chorus, I stopped and voices all over the place were singing “sha-la-la-la-la… “. After that we all laughed, I made fun of us all – them for being an invisible audience and me for being the lonely guy playing in the corridor… A few people came over to join me, a good friend (ex-colleague Marianne Sheeler) arrived from Austin Texas especially to see me, I played and we had fun with my varied physical and virtual audience until I’d played my time. I got lots of compliments and praise… it will remain a weird memory for me…. and a lesson for us all – make the best of what you’re given, put as much energy and effort into every gig… and it will work out fine.
We left San Antonio on the Sunday, heading through Texas – next Stop – New Orleans.